Critics’ Picks

Cape Town

“You & I”

A4 Arts Foundation
23‭ ‬Buitenkant Street District Six
September 13, 2017–January 28, 2018

Collectivism has been a major force in South African art pretty much since the New Group, a vanguard of white modernist painters, declared themselves, in 1938, “united against junk.” Rather than didactically survey artistic associations and cooperatives in their home country, though, curators Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang wa Lehulere—both members of the influential Cape Town arts group Gugulective—opted instead to elliptically parse ideas and demonstrations of collectivity for this space’s inaugural exhibition. A ranging and worldly affair, “You & I” dutifully includes works by actual collectives, notably the Propeller Group’s video The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014, an impressionistic documentary of funeral traditions and rituals in south Vietnam, and Avant Car Guard’s Die Verlore Kind, 2007, a granite and enamel tombstone commemorating artist Kendell Geers (who is still very much alive).

The disruptive potential of concerted action, however, extends beyond the tactics and strategies of artists voluntarily coming together. Yoko Ono’s instructional work Mend Piece, 1966/2015, a long table displaying broken china and various bonding agents, locates unity in audience participation—the artist’s Fluxus credentials seem incidental to an appreciation of this piece. By contrast, Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s short Fishermen (Études, No 1), 2007, offers community as something tantamount to everyday fact. Set on a Benin beach, the unembellished video portrays a group of fishermen’s futile struggle to pilot their rudimentary craft out to sea. Cameroonian artist Goddy Leye’s We are the world, 2006, pits individual resolve against a strain of grandstanding associated with world peace ideology: The video depicts the artist, haloed by stars and fruit, performing a nonchalant karaoke version of the 1985 charity song for which his video is named. “We are saving our own lives,” he provocatively sings.