Christian alter, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, April 1994, during the lead-up to South Africa’s first democratic election when Nelson Mandela became president ... ‘Suburbs’ series ... the complete series is in the collection of the Dowse Art Museum, New Zealand.
... an excerpt from my essay for the exhibition catalogue (1995):
“On Obed’s advice, I take some MANDELA—THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE posters from the boot of the car and sit them across the rear window tray. “When we’re out walking, they’ll think it’s an ANC car and leave it alone,” he says. We stroll into the narrow, sandy pathways between shacks, Obed behind me always. There is intricate wrought-iron work forming gates and security windows. We must be crossing private property, or at least neighbourhood territory, but no one checks our walk. Obed passes the time of day with some of the locals. They’re keen to know what’s happening and one old man, drunk on corn liquor, shouts, “All Blacks! All Blacks!” We all laugh.
Through a shack door, open in the heat, I glimpse the most unexpected wallpaper. Printer’s sheets of can labels: fruit cocktail, halved pears, apricots in rich orange with slashes of blue, right up the walls and across the ceiling, placed with the rough care of student wit. But this was a family home. Uplifting again. Would they have giggled? Obed asks whether I can photograph inside. Yes, I can, they don’t hesitate. After the photographs, it doesn’t occur to me to ask, why this wallpaper or where it’s from. Or even to talk. I smile and nod an inadequate thank you” ... /complete text
‘Body of Work’ review, American Suburb X
Truly obliged for Brad Feuerhelm’s adamant, high-order take on ‘Body of Work’.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
‘Pascal Invented Horse Porn From the Void’
What do I know about Premarin? What do horse hormones have to do with the birth of my children and the balance of my aging wife’s hormonal level? Is Premarin really contrived of horse urine? “Yes”, she whispered, and “all theatres must end in tragedy or the glorification of banality to succeed in the minds of their small audiences”. And how do we contemplate our various theatres? What discipline is there to be measured in the copulating muscular mass? Binary adventures are regulated by need and avoidance in equal expenditure. Every family is still connected and is tethered by some small ribbon tied around their collective and imaginary finger to keep their memories bright while wading through the present, darkly. There are the gnashing teeth, the hair pulled tight to the neck, in which sturdy vertebrae and shivering musculature are dripping in foamy lather in warm barns smelling of harvest hay and pre-harvest Premarin.
The theatre of bliss and the theatre of cruelty are inseparable. The year of the horse has past and yet the species continues its coupling with the aid of human intervention. Why won’t that horse fuck? We had put him back in the stable with the other males where he was chewed up a bit. He became angry and by default the winner by the violence that life and his brothers had accorded him. Only when his gait was strong and his loins were swelling did we release him to the mare waiting in an apprehensive and receiving grace. Strong and willful, he was still blinded by fear of the fight. The steed as it were, attempted to mount and failed his first attempt for the fear still coursing through his veins. He mounted again and was aided by the gloved hand of man directing his lumber towards the wet female. Rife with anticipation she quivered, hooved and moist. The hand gloved in some other animal’s skin had glided the steed’s heft inside and there was a continued biting from his mouth, jaws clicking. The mare is in transference of his fear and pleasure. This was the beautiful cycle of life in the theatre of the absurd for many of the species. Here awkward and spot lit stages from which to uncoil their fear, pleasure, grimly or dimly alit from overhead and not dissimilar to an operating table. She still takes it standing.
Denniston, Westland, New Zealand, 1981
From the archives, after a peep last week at Domestic Scene: Los Angeles 1963, a shower painting in the David Hockney show, Centre Pompidou.
Bathhouse, Denniston, Westland, New Zealand, 1981 from the 1986 project ‘Beyond the Pale’. The full series was exhibited at the Dowse Art Museum under ebullient director James Mack, and is in their permanent collection. It was exhibited too at the Auckland Art Gallery, 1990, and various locations amongst the coal miners themselves, including the Rununga Working Men’s Club and the Whataroa School hall.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the great Kenyan writer
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the great Kenyan writer whom I photographed while visiting Auckland, New Zealand, July 1984 ... his novel ‘Petals of Blood’ took me by storm, published 1977, the year he was imprisoned by Kenya’s Moi dictatorship.
He is interviewed April 2017 in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Nanda Dyssou, a Congolese-Hungarian journalist and fiction writer living in Los Angeles ... the fifth question, on exile:
NANDA DYSSOU: Much of your success has been achieved outside of Kenya, as you have been in exile from your native land for over three decades. Does the sense of alienation stemming from that reality ever recede?
NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O: No, not quite, but I have tried to counter that with the knowledge that exile has impacted history in strange and even fascinating ways. Think of Moses and Jesus in Egypt, Muhammad and his followers finding refuge in Christian Ethiopia, Marx in France and London. The experience of exile germinated thoughts that later impacted home. I suppose this is what the Afro-Caribbean writer George Lamming meant by his famous title, The Pleasures of Exile (1960). Also, I have developed an outlook that I call the “globalectical imagination,” in my book Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (2012). It is really an expansion of the Blakean vision of seeing the world in a grain of sand, eternity in an hour. We are connected.
... complete interview
Voted from afar, New Zealand elections, coalition Labour/Greens/Maori ... train Thursday morning to Unseen, Amsterdam ... a new maquette while nudging ‘Body of Work’
While at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria a week or so ago ...
While at the National Gallery of Victoria a week or so ago for the corker Melbourne Art Book Fair, I wandered the gallery and found amongst their collection the Sheng Li series ‘Memories’, the photographs of his cut off finger, a protest against the 1989 events of Tiananmen Square.
In China not long before their Olympics, while working on ‘I Must Behave’, I bought a sealed copy of the May 2008 National Geographic magazine, a special pre-Olympic Games issue on China, which included one image from this Sheng Li series, although taken at a slightly different angle from the one hanging in the NGV.
I wrote the commentary below for GRANTA (105, Lost and Found, Spring 2009) when the magazine published my three-panel ‘Censored’ work recontextualizing three, censored, double-page spreads from this National Geographic issue.
The three panels were collected by the National Gallery of Australia in 2014.
‘Body of Work’ review, Art Monthly Australasia
Jenny Harper, director of the Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand, reviews ‘Body of Work’, Art Monthly Australasia.
March 2017, issue 296
‘Allure and discomfort’
Art sometimes stops us in our comfortable tracks. It presents a world we thought we knew differently – or perhaps a different world. Life was easier when we believed the camera never lied. Now we know how often the medium of photography is manipulated, starkly real images sometimes have the effect of seeming radical. Bruce Connew’s ‘Body of Work’ is as stark as it gets. These images test your comfort zone. But I should speak for myself: I hadn’t seen Connew for a while when we chatted at a Wellington opening. ‘I'll send you my book,’ he said when I asked what he was working on. I was unprepared for it.
An immensely handsome production, ‘Body of Work’ is in a hardback edition of 600: black cloth cover with the artist’s name and the book’s title in angular white text, reversed on the back. The rich black-and-white images inside are bold and spare. No titles, no pagination; one image per page with a white border, alone or paired, some close-ups, others taken from further away.
Connew notes in a short summary afterword that a picture of a stallion mounting a mare with human encouragement which he’d seen years ago had stayed in his mind. He’d sought to explore this in the exercise by gaining the agreement of a horse breeder to photograph him at work. ‘Whatever blows your whistle,’ was the pragmatic response of a man unlikely to be aware of the perverse beauty he was agreeing might now be circulated.