9 Weeks maps a journey through an artistic landscape, at a particular moment in time. Over the course of nine weeks in South Africa at the end of 2015, I held nine conversations with artists represented by Stevenson. It began as a way in, and as a means of coming closer to the artists’ practices. As the project unfolded, with each new encounter I began to build a picture of a place, of South Africa, of Cape Town in particular and Johannesburg too, and of the sites of significance for each of the artists I spoke to.
As an outsider of English-Nigerian heritage, with shared histories and cultural practices inherited through legacies of colonialism, but renegotiated through personal journeys with visual art, finding my place in Cape Town was an intricate act, in constant motion. I was deeply affected by the persistence of racial segregation in the city and the visibility of people living at the extremes of the economic divide. I was also energised by an openness with which new generations of people are talking about the issues of racial and economic inequality that continue to permeate society, and taking action to make change happen.
The conversations and essays in 9 Weeks portray a number of different approaches to art-making – through levels of engagement with politics and the social, uses of materials, conceptual frameworks and historical references; and yet a number of concerns began to coalesce across the project. Concepts of time, the body and the silhouette as form, and a deep engagement with language and narrative in spoken and written modes are all expressed from multiple perspectives.
Most persistently, the politics and the poetics of representation would come to the surface. Signs that we read in visual landscapes to make meaning, and that we seek to find in works of art, are shown to be culturally dependent, and many of the artists I spoke to are undermining, re-appropriating or negating symbolic representations. Questions of who can or should represent whom, from what position they are speaking and the implications of that act, continued to seep through, with all propositions, possible answers and potential meanings shifting from speaker to speaker.
Shared meanings and connections slipped in and out of reach, guided by the structures of conversation itself. Within each interaction meaning was negotiated over shifting ground. Unfixed and floating, rather than a truth to be found, meanings were held in the exchange of ideas. As cultural theorist Stuart Hall has proposed, meaning emerges as ‘a process of translation, which facilitates cultural communication while always recognizing the persistence of difference and power between different “speakers”.’
9 Weeks evolved out of the generosity of the artists who agreed to place their time and trust in conversation. Who participated in the event of dialogue, acknowledging its imperfections. Who recognised moments of beauty in misunderstanding and found fleeting connections when signs aligned to create shared meanings.
Reference: Stuart Hall. Introduction to Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by Hall. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 1997