Somewhere over the #Rainbowcore

2015-01-18 09:00

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Consciousness Engine 2: absentblackfatherbot At the Goodman Gallery last year, Bogosi Sekhukhuni launched an interactive robot to simulate a conversation with his estranged father via the internet. PHOTO: Goodman gallery

At a new school group exhibition called Working Title at the Goodman Gallery last year, young artist Bogosi Sekhukhuni showed a piece called Consciousness Engine 2: absentblackfatherbot.

His video installation looked to establish some kind of connection to his father, who he had never met. They managed to discover one another on Facebook when Sekhukhuni was 18.

For six years, they maintained a terse but desperate interaction until his father blocked him, never to contact the artist again.

It was this brutal act of online connection and disconnection that inspired Consciousness

Engine 2.

In an interview with the New York Times, Sekhukhuni explained: “I wanted to make a kind of ‘absent-father bot’,” referring to the avatars used in interactive online communications. “If you don’t have a father, you can talk to the bot.”

The work connected into a broader global art movement called The New Aesthetic and would inspire his first solo exhibition, Unfrozen: Rainbowcore, currently running in Cape Town.

Rainbowcore? Before you yawn at the advent of yet another disposable internet neologism like Normcore (the most googled fashion trend of 2014), just know that Rainbowcore is not actually a thing, at least not yet.

Sekhukhuni describes it as “a way of cataloguing what could be an additional visual language for the contemporary art world, but it’s really just some fun as well, taking a cheeky swipe at these really quick progressions in online trends”.

In 2012, an internet movement called The New Aesthetic appeared to be something actually new. The look is a style of machine-generated imagery, complete with glitches and painterly pixels, which asks how the web has changed the way we see the world. Bestselling

sci-fi author Bruce Sterling says: “The New Aesthetic is a native product of modern network culture. It’s from London, but it was born digital, of the internet.”

An image from

Its mass adaptation resulted in works as diverse as surveillance-camouflage techniques and secret Google Earth images.

Young South African artists were quick to join the fray and inject local elements into the global mix. People like the Braamfontein-based Cuss group – a collective of artists, writers, animators and web developers – were beginning to include this new way of digital seeing into their oeuvre.

The Working Title exhibition, where Sekhukhuni showed his father bot, caught the attention of superstar curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, who included Sekhukhuni in his project 89plus, pooling a group of artists from around the globe, all born in 1989.

At Design Indaba in Cape Town last year, a panel featuring Obrist, Sekhukhuni, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Jody Brand, Kyla Philander and Victoria Wigzell (South Africa’s 89plus contingent) discussed the potential of this group which, according to Obrist’s research, now represent more than 50% of the globe’s population.

Sekhukhuni continued on to the Google Cultural Institute in Paris to develop the absent-father bots further and begin work on an project that will see a full-scale sequencing of his entire genetic code.

“It’s about the principles of surveillance. Ja sure, it might not mean anything to you now, but the fact is that it’s not going to stop. What is going to stop them, the corporations, from taking your DNA sequence at birth to create simulations of you?” he asks as we chat over Skype.

“Black people are still struggling to understand themselves as fully formed human beings at a time when the digital creation of life is going to be something very easy to do.”

Rainbowcore installation: The installation that appears at WhatiftheWorld Gallery in Cape Town looks back to a classic chamber where worship, this time digital, could be observed. PHOTO: whatiftheworld gallery

His current exhibition presents what seems like a room of worship inside a neo-Romanesque temple, or Sandton-style Tuscan housing development. The chamber is complete with glowing earthenware pots and lush sateen drapery. In the middle of this gaudy ensemble, a four-sided wallpapered cone bears a small LCD screen showing Sekhukhuni’s video works. Unfrozen: Rainbowcore is a typical Tumblr-style multimedia work that collages videos of a child getting money thrown on it, “making it rain”, set to a track by deceased 90s singer TK from her Black Butterfly album. All of this is hovering above an image of Sekhukhuni floating through a glowing green cyberspace.

unfrozen Bogosi Sekhukhuni investigates two worlds, the virtual and the real, to insert a new kind of blackness into an augmented reality

The artist describes this new money that the work subtly interrogates: “I used to work for a young person who was part of this class of black people who I didn’t even know existed. I’m talking 16-year-olds who get Aston Martins for their birthdays and stuff. It’s a different world. At this level, the statement that ‘racism isn’t a problem now; it’s classism’ starts making a bit more sense. You start to realise that different classes adopt different attitudes or routines.”

His exhibition is on for another two weeks and opens up discussions about where burgeoning groups of artists go next. Its future is uncertain and, truthfully, it doesn’t matter all that much.

The time when creative intellectuals sat around in cafés and dirty back rooms tearing through newspaper clippings and arguing about the future of humanity is over.

Today’s creatives connect in virtual spaces where they can travel across continents to discover an alternative and parallel universe.

.?Unfrozen: Rainbowcore is on at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town until January 24

.?See the work online at Sekhukhuni’s Tumblr page:

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