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Looking Forward 2018: South Africa and the Mediterranean

What use is art when there is no water? Sean O’Toole, Hou Hanru and Barbara Casavecchia on responding to the challenges that this year brings

Sean O’Toole
Hou Hanru
Barbara Casavecchia

igshaan-adams-saww-sallalahu-aleyhi-wasallam-ii-2017-front-acrylic-beads-polyester-rope-and-tea190-x-200-cm.jpg

Igshaan Adams, SAWW (sallalahu aleyhi wasallam) II (front), 2017, acrylic beads, polyester rope and tea, 1.9 x 2 m. Courtesy: the artist and Blank Projects, Cape Town

Igshaan Adams, SAWW (sallalahu aleyhi wasallam) II (front), 2017, acrylic beads, polyester rope and tea, 1.9 x 2 m. Courtesy: the artist and Blank Projects, Cape Town

Sean O’Toole
Sean O’Toole is a journalist and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa.

For the past three years, Cape Town, a port city of four million inhabitants, has been in the grip of a worsening drought. Estimates are that my hometown’s water supply from various dams will run dry sometime between March and May 2018, round about when performance artist Donna Kukama is scheduled to participate in a three-month public residency at Maitland Institute. Political disasters, economic crises and ecological catastrophes, all of which South Africa currently faces, have a way of challenging but also energizing the affective potential of art.

In a 2013 interview, Rebecca Solnit, a generous thinker whose Facebook posts I’ll continue to follow in 2018, noted how ‘people in disasters live in an intensified present’. It is Kukama’s great skill, through her performances and situations, to focus attention on the shambolic present – be it an immigrant community in Milan or a Johannesburg bazaar specializing in medicinal herbs. The location of Maitland Institute, along a busy arterial route in an immigrant neighbourhood of Cape Town, is a productive site for this artist, who – like Solnit – engages urgent themes with grace and generosity.

In 2011, Kukama, together with curator Gabi Ngcobo and artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, founded the Center for Historical Reenactments, a brief-lived and itinerant platform for actions and ideas. Kukama’s former collaborators will also be busy in 2018. Ngcobo will curate the 10th Berlin Biennale, which opens in June; I am interested to see what forms, concepts and counter-canons her insistently collaborative practice yields. In January, Cape Town-based Wa Lehulere will present a new solo exhibition in his hometown, at Stevenson, while Blank Projects across the road will host a new solo by gallery artist Igshaan Adams.

Following in the footsteps of Wa Lehulere and William Kentridge, Adams received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. In June he will head to Grahamstown, when the Cape’s rainclouds usually swell over the southern Atlantic, to mount his award show. It will then travel nationally. Adams’s earlier work was strongly informed by his complicated identity as an observant Muslim gay man who was raised by his Christian grandparents. The frayed textile pieces and tangled sculptures that are hallmarks of his maturing practice don’t require this pat rehearsal of his biography.

Grada Kilomba, a Portuguese artist based in Berlin whose parents are from Angola and the oil-rich island state of São Tomé and Príncipe, impressed in 2016 with her dual-channel film, Illusions. A deconstruction of the Greco-Roman myth of Narcissus and Echo, the film was an update of a lecture-performance premiered at the 32nd São Paulo Bienal in 2016, which was co-curated by Ngcobo. Kilomba’s art practice grew out of experiments bringing theoretical and political texts to the stage. She will launch her first major solo exhibition in March at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

A month earlier, in Cape Town, Tijuana-based artist and activist Raúl Cárdenas Osuna will speak in his energized manner at a forum on contemporary urbanism being hosted by the African Centre for Cities. Also in February, artist Rodan Kane Hart and book designer Ben Johnson will launch Bad Paper, a new venture committed to editions and small publications, at the Cape Town Art Fair. Abstract painter Zander Blom will release a new album through Bad Paper, which will also be offering a sculpture edition by pop artist Cameron Platter. Bad Paper has already published a small book by sculptor Daniella Mooney, whose wood and stone sculpture, Holy Water: A Study in Rainmaking (2014), may still be called upon to demonstrate its powers.

Whatever the yield of Cape Town’s clouds and taps in 2018, the flood of new gallery and museum openings that characterized 2017 – when the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, A4 Arts Foundation and Maitland Institute all opened their doors – looks set to continue. In March, collector Louis Norval’s eponymous private art museum and sculpture park will open on the slopes of Constantiaberg Mountain. Designed by architectural practice DHK, the purpose-built suburban museum will focus on 20th and 21st century art, with a bias towards South African work. Norval owns works by leading postwar artists, notably symbolist painter Alexis Preller and sculptor Edoardo Villa, and paid a princely sum for Bruce Campbell Smith’s collection of mainly black artists active between the 1920s and 2005. Works include Peter Clarke’s watercolour, The Beach at St James (1949), an effortless beach scene descriptive of how Capetonians still while away the hot summer months.

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Francesco Lojacono, Veduta di Palermo, 1875. Courtesy: Manifesta 12 and OMA

Palermo Atlas, 2017 (using Francesco Lojacono, Veduta di Palermo, 1875). Courtesy: Manifesta 12 and OMA

Hou Hanru
Hou Hanru is an art critic and curator based in Rome, Italy, San Francisco, USA, and Paris, France. He is the artistic director of Maxxi Rome, Italy and the Chief Curator of the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Urbanism / Architecture Bi-City Biennial (UABB), 2017, which runs until 17 March 2018.

2018 promises to be a quieter art year than 2017, with some anxieties. There’s uncertainty across the world with Donald Trump’s presidency and Xi Jinping’s leadership: the possibility of a new Intifada with the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the shameful, ongoing expulsion of Beijing’s migrant workers due to ‘security problems’.

The art community cannot avoid the storm: a new wave of ‘corrections’ of male behaviour is underway. It’s certainly a healthy development, but could also result in a culture of fear. Along with the global increase in surveillance, the question is how not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Intellectual and pragmatic complexity and beauty should be preserved, while minds should continue to be open to the unknown. Art is privileged to operate in a space in which the real and the unreal combine; everyone should have a chance to try out things they don’t know.

In June, Manifesta 12 will take place in Palermo, Sicily, as an urban ‘renovation’ project – while refugees continue to drown in the Mediterranean. We need to work at making Manifesta a great event, while supporting every action to help the migrants – but this should not be considered artistic work. We should have the basic humility to simply help out, rather than turning our actions into spectacles and commodities for the market.

It’s to be expected that exhibitions and events will respond to crises in 2018 – but they’re very difficult to do properly.

boccioni-2.jpg

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in his house (from Wiener Illustrierte Zeitung and BerlinerIllustrierte Zeitung, 1934). Background: Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a footballer, 1913. Courtesy: Ullstein Bild / Alinari Archives © 2017 / The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in his house (from Wiener Illustrierte Zeitung and BerlinerIllustrierte Zeitung, 1934). Background: Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a footballer, 1913. Courtesy: Ullstein Bild / Alinari Archives © 2017 / The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

Barbara Casavecchia
Barbara Casavecchia is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer and curator living in Milan, Italy.

Italy will hold its general election on 4 March, under new proportional rules: since it’s unlikely that a single party will gain the full majority, discussions, alliances and a litigious Große Koalition will probably ensue – think of Germany and Spain, if you like. In the meantime, the political campaign is fuelling populist tones, and, occasionally, the sort of vocabulary one could expect from a congregation of white supremacists – think of the US, if you prefer. The Parliament, that recently failed to pass a law to grant Italian citizenship to the sons and daughters of immigrants born and raised in Italy, just approved a military mission in Niger to fight the trafficking of migrants through the Mediterranean, while other Italian soldiers will soon be redeployed to Libya for the same reason. Humanitarian issues recede.

The exhibition ‘Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943’ (18 February – 25 June), curated by Germano Celant at Fondazione Prada in Milan seems timely. This well-researched survey aims at reconstructing the ‘spatial, temporal, social and political’ context that shaped arts and culture in Italy after World War I and under Fascist rule.

A series of retrospectives confirm the canonization of modern masters often positioned at the margins of art history. See, for instance, the solos devoted to Carlo Alfano and Francesco Lo Savio (both until 22 April) at Mart in Rovereto; Franco Mazzucchelli (1 March – 3 June) and Giosetta Fioroni (6 April – 26 August), at Museo del Novecento in Milan.

New online magazines Kabul and Not are offering food for thought and critical updates. Both generate also printed publications, from pocket guides on metadata galaxies and compost, to anthologies on feminist science fiction.

Hopefully Manifesta 12, titled ‘Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence’, held in Palermo (16 June – 4 November) will provide effective interpretations of the complexities of the contemporary ‘South’, instead of staging the spectacle of its exoticism and decadence.

As for other promising-looking shows, here’s a short lineup:

Erin Shirreff, Palazzo De’ Toschi, Bologna (2 February – 4 March), curated by Simone Menegoi.

Eva Kot’átková, ‘The Dream Machine is Asleep’, at Hangar Bicocca, Milan (15 February – 22 July), curated by Roberta Tenconi.

Guido Van der Werve, ‘Auto Sacramental’, Futurdome, Milan (28 February – 11 April), curated by Atto Belloli Ardessi and Ginevra Bria.

Dora García, ‘Second Time’, Reina Sofía, Madrid (18 April – 3 September), curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and Teresa Velázquez.

Nalini Malani, ‘Retrospective 1969-2018’, Castello di Rivoli, Turin (from 7 May tbc).

Claire Fontaine, ‘These Ghosts’, Villa Croce, Genoa (9 May – 17 June), curated by Anna Daneri.

‘Somatechnics. Transparent travellers and obscure nobodies’, Museion, Bolzano (25 May – 2 September), curated by Simone Frangi.

Otobong Nkanga, ar/ge Kunst, Bolzano (from 23 November), curated by Emanuele Guidi.

Main image: Grada Kilomba, Illusions, 2016, lecture-performance and film, 32nd São Paulo Bienal, 2016. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Moses Leo

Sean O’Toole is a writer and editor living in Cape Town, South Africa. He contributed an essay to David Goldblatt’s updated 2016 Steidl edition of In Boksburg (1982).

Hou Hanru is an art critic and curator based in Rome, Italy, San Francisco, USA, and Paris, France. He is the artistic director of Maxxi Rome, Italy and the Chief Curator of the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Urbanism / Architecture Bi-City Biennial (UABB), 2017, which runs until 17 March 2018.

Barbara Casavecchia is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer and curator living in Milan, Italy.

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