Virtual voyage into digital space

2011-09-16 10:06

On the surface, the series of video artworks now showing at the Stevenson gallery in Joburg don’t seem to communicate any particular meaning or specific coherent narratives.

It’s the work of Dineo Seshee Bopape, one of South Africa’s bright stars in the art world today.

For her current exhibition, Bopape has prepared four video projections and an installation of found objects – old and debunked television monitors, broken furniture and pieces of canvas frames.

 Three of these monitors beam looped video sequences of the main work.In coming to terms with her method, it becomes clear that Bopape intends to frustrate the viewer’s need to be told a tale or be entertained; a common need or expectation of an audience weaned on television and cinematic narratives.

And perhaps she is right to do so because as that beatnik Bill Collins once wrote in a poem, artworks should not be tied to a chair with a rope and beaten with a hose until they tell us what they mean.

 Just as we don’t ask a flower for its meaning, we shouldn’t interrogate Bopape’s videos.

But the truth is that artworks are not flowers that exist and flourish regardless of our human awareness. They are a product of the human experience – thoughts, ideas or ideologies – whether deliberately or incidental.

We know through the accompanying text to this show that the artist is interested in “the space within video...[that] if there is space in the virtual, how deep does it go? How far can a sound or an image recede?”

So, she wraps the show under the heading of a Sepedi phrase: “lešobana!! lešobana! lešobana!! (le bulegile) lešobana! lešobana! lešobana!! (go phunyegile),” alluding to “a sudden small opening or abyss, a perforation or puncture – a reference to holes, eyes, circular frames, the acts of looking, framing and editing, as well as ideas of rupture and rapture”.

This wordplay sends her on a virtual voyage into the digital realm using four floating screen projections. So she transforms the physical space of the gallery itself, turning the hall into a cave of sorts, which viewers are required to enter by passing through a purple velvet curtain into the dark where special benches are prepared for them to sit on.

The actual videos include The Problem of Beauty, which plays for just more than 12 minutes. Here Bopape plays a visual game with different images and sounds. She chops up, inverts and plays back these sounds – pieces of music, a ringing phone, static and more.

The visuals play on the idea of looking through a peephole (lešobana!!), which also suggests voyeurism or stalking.

This as the viewer peers into a digital hole to watch a female figure standing on the edge of land and water on a beach. It then moves on to a projection of a pair of eyes framed with a shape of spectacles.

Other images include a video clip of a smiling female figure and a running tiger. These too are cut up, abstracted and turned over until they lose any specific resemblance to a subject.

Another work, which is being shown in South Africa for the first time, is her three-channel video titled They Act As Lovers: Microwave Cosmic Background: So Massive That Its Decay Opened The Ultimate Hole From Which The Universe Emerged: Effect no.55, 2 Ends Of A Bent Mirror.

As is the case with the other work, this one plays a comparable game, only with a different symbolic set including roses, drainage holes and the ocean. Perhaps a different debate of the semiotics of Bopape’s chosen iconography would go further in discussing her meaning.

She was born in Polokwane in 1981, and in 2007 she graduated at De Atelier in Amsterdam. Bopape completed her master’s at Columbia University in New York last year. She is the 2008 MTN New Contemporaries winner, to mention a few accolades.

»The show is on at Stevenson in Braamfontein, Joburg, until Wednesday

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