One Take: Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Performance of Self-Excavation – 一个取材:Keang-Wa-Leulule的自开挖性能

Kemang Wa Lehulere, not quite 35 years old, could easily be mistaken for an artist of another era: a multidisciplinary mystic of 1940s and ’50s Black Mountain College, like John Cage and Merce Cunningham, say, or an embodied and freewheeling spirit of Willoughby Sharp’s 1970s Avalanche Magazine circle. Indeed, the Capetonian Wa Lehulere was inspired in recent years by Japanese fluxus veteran Mieko Shiomi and shares with those predecessors a sense of levity and play. His work engages with bodies and their environments and he repurposes the detritus around him, resuscitating it as something wholly new. During his commission for Performa 17 in New York, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter (2017), Wa Lehulere moved lithely around a set, shoeless and clad in loose-fitting white garb – like a house painter – while conducting a beautiful cacophony from an array of rough-hewn instruments. During a biennial conceived around the theme of dada, his intervention perhaps most clearly channelled the spirit of his forebears at the Cabaret Voltaire, a whimsically anarchic response to a world riven by nationalism and violence.


One Take: Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Performance of Self-Excavation - 一个取材:Keang-Wa-Leulule的自开挖性能

Kemang Wa Lehulere, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, 2017, performance documentation. Courtesy: Performa and Marian Goodman Gallery, London; photograph: Paula Court

Wa Lehulere’s practice is, in its way, deadly serious, not stuck on form as such, but deploying assemblage, readymade and kitsch as modes of subversion during a precarious moment in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. He came to prominence after his selection for the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2015 – among the country’s highest honours – conferred only four years after his graduation from Johannesburg’s Wits University. He was already well-known in Cape Town circles, though, as a founding member of the Gugulective, which he established as a platform for performance and social intervention in 2006. A group of activists, musicians, actors and writers, the Gugulective signalled Wa Lehulere’s ongoing engagement with the poetic and ephemeral. In a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2015, he recalls that the group and its manifesto was focused ‘initially on discourse around institutions, accessibility and visibility […] inclusion and exclusion […] the geopolitical landscape of urban planning of South African cities’. Gugulective’s name refers to its place of origin, Gugulethu, a township constructed as a black (primarily Xhosa) area in the 1960s, at the high watermark of apartheid and its systematic campaign of biosocial control and spatial segregation. Gugulethu was the final destination for those from the demolished District Six in central Cape Town, and for many from increasingly overcrowded townships such as the neighbouring Langa. Taken together, areas like these constitute the Cape Flats – a broad, windswept expanse of cheek-by-jowl corrugated structures that typify the new landscape of global sprawl. While apartheid did its methodical work by banning interracial contact, separating families, demolishing cosmopolitan neighbourhoods and confining black workers to barracks-like conditions, it also structured education. The 1953 Bantu Education Act, for instance, segregated schools, offering a generally poorer standard of education to non-whites. As late as the 1980s, the prospect of a black or coloured person earning a university education in the arts was so dim that collectives and workshops were established by activists as a workaround to the baccalaureate.

While the free elections of 1994, which ended five decades of National Party rule and swept Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) into power, augured a new era – perhaps, at last, a postcolonial one – apartheid’s spatial logic has persisted. The population of the Cape Flats has swelled. Colour and class are still powerful life determinants and, especially in the Cape, whites still enjoy privileged access to land and a good education. So, even as South Africa produces global-calibre artists year after year, most graduate from one of several programmes, and precious few come from places like Gugulethu. The last few years in South Africa have seen the advent of two grassroots movements in response to these disparities: Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall. The first echoed the wider turn in the US and beyond toward the removal of controversial sites of public memorial: in this case, the statues of Cecil Rhodes – mineral tycoon and architect of British empire – that featured prominently on university campuses. Rhodes did indeed fall at the University of Cape Town, and next were the fees that kept many, even 25 years after the rise of the ANC, out of university.


One Take: Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Performance of Self-Excavation - 一个取材:Keang-Wa-Leulule的自开挖性能

Kemang Wa Lehulere, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, 2017, performance documentation. Courtesy: Performa and Marian Goodman Gallery, London; photograph: Paula Court

This is the immediate cultural context in which Wa Lehulere’s work must be understood: a time of widespread activism and dissent led by the so-called born free generation, who were denied the utopian prospect that was to be their birthright. Wa Lehulere’s process is one of accretion. He often works in chalk, an unstable medium that marks its own erasure and also recalls childhood and its myriad miseducations. So, too, do the rough-hewn wooden forms that frame many of his installations – fort-like structures often fashioned from old schoolhouse desks. In Cosmic Interluded Orbit (2016), an astronomy lesson seems to play out for an array of onlooking pupils: mass-manufactured ceramic dogs painted in lustrous gold or black. These knee-high German shepherds, familiar and unnerving, observe with typical alertness. In their repetition, they evoke kitsch sentimentality and manufactured conformity. They are also rich in symbolism: for Wa Lehulere they echo the novelist R.R.R. Dhlomo’s The Dog Killers (1975), an allegorical account of the slaughter of pet dogs that once belonged to barracked mine workers. The National Party used dogs as a form of terror during rounds of policing the township, including the famous standoff between police and student protestors in Soweto in 1976.

As the title suggests, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter seeks a form of release, the dislodging of an irritant lurking beneath a smooth surface, a willful act of self-excavation. Splinters are also a risk of play, of losing oneself in the makeshift battlegrounds of youth or in long days in the studio. The dogs form a phalanx of placid witnesses atop the proscenium, but the action is on the ground, amid the hulking sculptural forms placed around the space like jungle gyms on a playground. They are kinetic, wired for life, amplified. Glass bottles, churning water, the guttural drone of strings: all reveal the liveliness of Wa Lehulere’s unsettling assemblages. A mournful trumpet cuts through the air like a missive from the days of hard bop. Over the course of the hour (and roughly ten short movements), the artist’s troupe activate this machinery and, in turn, their own bodies. The astronomy lesson, too, appears as a recurrent motif: rotational forces abound in the movement of bodies and mechanisms in the darkened theatre. Wa Lehulere notes that the work was inspired by the astrophysicist Thebe Medupe, who has built a career from bridging mainline astronomy with indigenous (that is, precolonial) understandings of the cosmos.

Ultimately, a studied naivety pervades I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, and one wonders how so schooled a performer, and how inured an audience, might find common ground in what often feels like nightmarish child’s play. But the piece coheres. Where Wa Lehulere’s installations trigger subtle and uncanny resonances, the addition of performing bodies fulfils the theatrical promise of the Gugulective. It also re-animates a defiant current within modernism to do new work in the nuanced terrain of South African history – a place whose contemporary art has long relied on more literal strategies of documentary or archival practice. The precision of such mediated forms also re-inscribes certain academic inheritances, certain colonial relics so central to the formation of each generation of young South African artists. I cut my skin to liberate the splinter is jarring and incantatory, confrontational and refined; it occupies layers of material and mnemonic space. With it, Wa Lehulere has arrived, on his own terms.

Kemang Wa Lehulere is an artist based in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2018, he has had solo exhibitions at Marian Goodman Gallery, London, UK, Pasquart Art Centre, Biel, Switzerland, and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, and his work was included in the 11th Mercosul Biennial, Porto Alegre, Brazil. 

Main image: Kemang Wa Lehulere, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, 2017, performance documentation. Courtesy: Performa and Marian Goodman Gallery, London; photograph: Paula Court

Published in frieze, issue 199, November/December 2018, with the title ‘One Take: A Miseducation’.

Ian Bourland

Ian Bourland is a critic and an art historian at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA. 

Issue 199

First published in Issue 199

November - December 2018

Features /

Decolonizing Culture
Ian Bourland
Kemang Wa Lehulere
Black Mountain College
Performa 17

不到35岁的克曼·瓦·勒胡勒很容易被误认为是另一个时代的艺术家:比如,20世纪40年代和50年代的黑山学院,比如约翰·凯奇和梅斯·坎宁安,或者是威洛比·夏普1970年代《雪崩》杂志中体现的、随心所欲的精神。圆圈。事实上,开普敦的Wa Lehulere是近年来受到日本豪华车老手Mieko Shiomi的启发,并与前任分享一种轻浮和玩耍的感觉。他的工作与身体和环境有关,他重新利用他周围的碎屑,使之恢复活力,成为全新的东西。瓦·勒胡勒在纽约参加17场演出的委托期间,我割破了皮肤,解开了碎片(2017年),他穿着宽松的白色外套,一双无鞋,像个室内画家,一边在一排粗糙的器械上演奏着美妙的杂音。在围绕达达这一主题构思的两年期中,他的干预或许最清楚地传达了他在伏尔泰内阁祖先的精神,这是对一个被民族主义和暴力撕裂的世界的异想天开的无政府反应。img_2307-cmyk.jpg One Take: Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Performance of Self-Excavation - 一个取材:Keang-Wa-Leulule的自开挖性能 Kemang Wa Lehulere,我切开我的皮肤,释放碎片,2017,性能文档。礼貌:表演和玛丽安·古德曼画廊,伦敦;照片:保拉法院,瓦·勒胡勒的做法极其严重,不拘泥于形式,而是在南非不稳定的时刻展开集会、现成品和媚俗作为颠覆的方式。种族隔离后的历史。他在2015年被选为标准银行青年艺术家奖——全国最高荣誉之一——之后才从约翰内斯堡威茨大学毕业四年,就名声大噪。不过,作为Gugul.的创始成员,他已经在开普敦圈子出名了,Gugul.是他在2006年建立的表演和社会干预平台。一群活动家,音乐家,演员和作家,古古古里蒂号标志着瓦勒胡勒与诗歌和短暂的持续接触。在2015年与Hans Ul.Obrist的谈话中,他回忆道,该组织及其宣言最初聚焦于“围绕机构、可达性和可见性[…]包容性和排斥性[…]南非城市城市规划的地缘政治景观”的讨论”。Gugulive的名称指的是它的起源地,Gugulethu,一个在20世纪60年代被建设成黑人(主要是Xhosa)地区的城镇,处于种族隔离的高潮及其系统化的生物社会控制和空间隔离运动。古古列苏是开普敦中部被拆毁的六区居民,以及邻近的朗加等日益拥挤的城镇居民的最终目的地。综合起来,这些地区构成了开普敦平原——一个宽阔的、被风吹过的、并排向下的波纹状结构,代表了全球扩张的新景观。虽然种族隔离制度通过禁止种族间接触、分离家庭、摧毁世界性社区、将黑人工人限制在军营等条件来有条不紊地工作,但它也组织了教育。例如,1953班图教育法将学校隔离开来,给非白人提供了一个普遍较差的教育标准。直到20世纪80年代,黑人或有色人种获得大学艺术教育的前景还是很渺茫的,以至于活动家成立了集体和研讨会,作为学士学位的替代方案。1994年的自由选举结束了纳尔逊·曼德拉的五十年国民党统治,并席卷了纳尔逊·曼德拉的非洲国民大会(ANC)上台,这预示着一个新的时代——也许,最终,一个后殖民时代——种族隔离的空间逻辑依然存在。角公寓的人口激增。肤色和阶级仍然是影响生活的重要因素,尤其是在开普省,白人仍然享有获得土地和良好教育的特权。因此,即使南非年复一年地培养出具有全球水准的艺术家,但大多数都毕业于几个项目之一,而珍贵的少数来自古古卢瑟这样的地方。在过去的几年里,南非出现了两个草根运动来应对这些差异:罗德必须堕落(Rhodes Must Fall)和费必须堕落(Fees Must Fall)。第一幅图反映了美国乃至世界范围内公众纪念馆的撤离:在这种情况下,塞西尔·罗兹的雕像——矿产大亨和大英帝国的建筑师——在大学校园里显得尤为突出。罗兹确实在开普敦大学就读过,接下来就是那些在非国大成立25年后仍被大学拒之门外的学费。img_2189-cmyk.jpg One Take: Kemang Wa Lehulere’s Performance of Self-Excavation - 一个取材:Keang-Wa-Leulule的自开挖性能 Kemang Wa Lehulere,我割破了皮肤,释放了2017年的性能文档。礼貌:表演和玛丽安·古德曼画廊,伦敦;照片:保拉法院。这是瓦·勒胡勒作品必须被理解的直接文化语境:一个由所谓的天生的自由一代领导的广泛的激进主义和异议的时代,他们被否定为乌托邦。这是他们与生俱来的权利。Wa-Leulule过程是吸积过程之一。他经常工作在粉笔,一个不稳定的媒体,标志着自己的擦除,还记得童年和无数的错误教育。同样,那些粗雕的木制结构也是如此,这些结构框架了他的许多装置——堡垒状的结构通常由旧校舍的桌子做成。在《宇宙穿越轨道》(2016)中,一堂天文学课似乎在给一群目光敏锐的学生上演:用有光泽的金色或黑色绘画的大批量生产的陶瓷狗。这些膝高的德国牧羊犬,熟悉而不安,以典型的警觉观察。在他们的重复中,他们唤起媚俗的伤感和制造一致性。它们也具有丰富的象征意义:对于Wa Lehulere来说,它们呼应了小说家R.R.R.Dhlomo的《狗杀手》(1975),一部关于曾经属于营地矿工的宠物狗被屠杀的寓言。国民党在镇治安巡回中把狗当作一种恐怖形式,包括1976年在索韦托发生的著名的警察和学生抗议者之间的对峙。正如标题所暗示的,我割破我的皮肤以释放碎片,寻求一种形式的释放,一种潜伏在光滑表面之下的刺激物的移除,一种任性的自我挖掘行为。碎片也是一种玩耍的危险,在年轻的临时战场上或在演播室的长时间里迷失自己。这些狗在前台上形成一个平静的目击者的方阵,但是动作是在地面上,在环绕空间的巨大雕塑形式中,就像在操场上的丛林健身房一样。它们是动态的,连线用于生命,被放大。玻璃瓶,翻腾的水,嗓音洪亮的琴弦:所有这些都显示出瓦·勒胡勒令人不安的集会的生动。一个哀伤的喇叭像空气一样从空气中掠过。经过一小时(以及大约10个短动作),艺术家的团队启动了这种机器,进而激活了他们自己的身体。天文学课程也呈现出一个反复出现的主题:在黑暗的剧场里,身体和机构的运动中充满了旋转力。Wa Lehulere指出,这项研究的灵感来自天体物理学家Thebe Medupe,他把主流天文学与本土(即前殖民)对宇宙的理解联系起来,从而建立了自己的职业生涯。最终,我割破了皮肤,发现了一种天真烂漫的天真烂漫。人们不禁纳闷,一个受过如此教育的演员,一个听众,怎么可能在经常感觉像噩梦般的儿童剧中找到共同点。但这篇文章是连贯的。在瓦·勒胡勒的装置引发微妙、不可思议的共鸣的地方,表演主体的添加实现了古古古里奥的戏剧承诺。在南非历史微妙的地形下,这个地方的当代艺术长期依赖于纪录片或档案实践的文学策略。这种居间形式的精确性也重新铭刻了某些学术遗产,某些对南非年轻一代艺术家的形成如此重要的殖民文物。我割破皮肤,把碎片解脱出来,是震撼、咒骂、对抗和精致;它占据了层层物质和记忆空间。有了它,Wa Lehulere就以他自己的名义来了。Kemang Wa Lehulere是南非开普敦的艺术家。2018年,他在英国伦敦玛丽安·古德曼画廊、瑞士贝尔帕斯夸特艺术中心和南非约翰内斯堡史蒂文森画廊举办了个人画展,他的作品被收录在巴西阿雷格里港的第11届梅科索尔双年展中。IsRATE SPLITEN,2017,性能文档。礼貌:表演和玛丽安·古德曼画廊,伦敦;照片:Paula Court,以弗里兹出版,199期,2018年11月/12月,标题为“一拍:误读”。Ian Bourland是美国华盛顿特区乔治敦大学的评论家和艺术历史学家。特征/非殖民文化伊恩·伯兰·克芒·瓦·勒胡勒·菲克斯·黑山学院表演17


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