Critics’ Picks

Mitchell Gilbert Messina, The Fluxus Commune (still), 2018, video, color, sound, 11 minutes 40 seconds.

Mitchell Gilbert Messina, The Fluxus Commune (still), 2018, video, color, sound, 11 minutes 40 seconds.

Cape Town

Mitchell Gilbert Messina

50 HARRINGTON STREET Ground Floor, The Harrington
September 27–December 1, 2018

Mitchell Gilbert Messina is a post-internet collagist whose practice humorously examines the contradictions and entrenched hegemonies of postcolonial South Africa. The centerpiece of his installation Fluxus Troupe Steal Cruise Liner (all works cited, 2018) is a twelve-minute film about a luxury cruise ship named the Symphonia, which is hijacked by a group of radical Fluxists and rechristened A Comuna Fluxus. The troupe initiates a “participatory social revolution” that sees the ship’s passengers voluntarily check their “power fantasies and social hierarchy” in favor of creating a communal food hall and engaging in play, until authorities intervene. The story is nonsense, of course, but perfectly angulated as criticism of a society engulfed by spectacle—what the troupe calls the “theatre of oppression.”

Messina’s DIY film is narrated textually and visually: It features handmade lettering, which he photographed and collaged onto a red backdrop, intercut with painted props that deployed like stick puppets during filming. These twenty-nine rudimentary sculptural elements are displayed pell-mell in the gallery alongside four deck chairs equipped with headphones. The film’s soundtrack is minimal: Long stretches of silence are punctuated by an occasional saxophone interlude, gun crack, or police siren—dramatic elements sourced from Foley sound effects.

The arch tone Messina adopts in his narrative skirts laugh-out-loud funniness. The Fluxists troupe, we learn, lay siege to the British Museum, “demanding the return of all expropriated items.” When they take over the ship, their charismatic leader announces a key article of faith: “The actor is the only participant understanding that theirs is just a series of roles, to flit between or flesh out, to unpack and find moments in.” As with his previous film, A Brief History of The Institute, a brilliant mockumentary implicitly about the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Messina’s principal theme is alienation, disguised with a thin carapace of millennial irony.