ART AFRICA in conversation with Dineo Seshee Bopape in light of her first solo exhibition in the UK; ‘slow-co-ruption’ at the Hayward Gallery Project Space at the Southbank Centre, London. Combining dense sculptural installation with video montages, her artwork engages with powerful socio-political notions of memory, narration and representation.
Born in 1981 in Polokwane, Bopape studied at the Durban University of Technology, South Africa, and earned her MFA from Columbia University in 2010. Her work has been shown internationally, including presentations at the New Museum (New York), ICA (Philadelphia), Mart House Gallery (Amsterdam), and the 12th Biennale de Lyon. Bopape lives and works in Johannesburg.
ART AFRICA: Please tell us more about the title of your show, ‘slow-co-ruption’? Where does it originate and what significance does it have in relation to the work on exhibition?
Dineo Seshee Bopape: I was thinking a lot about memory loss, dementia and data un-synchronised or destabilized, and also a kind of rupture that may be possible after or at the moment of corruption. Corruption as something that destabilises what seems stable and normal – an interruption of a memory, a file, or a story – a death, a ‘productive’ death.
The show has three main works and two supports so to speak. In the first room is same angle, same lighting, a mechanical sculptural work that I made in 2010 but is now in its third incarnation. The first version had a light that was shining repetitively – back and forth onto a dark photograph, just looking over and over again. The second version, which I had shown in Cape Town at Stevenson, had a camera that was supposed to capture the information on a photograph and send it to a nearby monitor – but the machine kept on failing and what stood in the monitor with it was a pre-recorded video showing the movement that was supposed to happen; an external memory of sorts.
Now in its third reiteration in ‘slow-co-ruption,’ the camera sends information to several monitors, screens or hosts. The camera goes back and forth scanning the information off the paper, a scanned colour photocopy of picture of a lush garden from a Garden & Home magazine from the early 1990s. This machine is hosted on and by these wooden supports and shop displays. Also anchored on the wooden structure are some floating ‘place holders’ in the form of colours and shapes.
Around same angle, same lighting are several copies of the video grassgreen/sky blue and also slow-co-ruption (stickers of flowers and eyes). The flowers are an almost random selection of native South African flowers and some from the garden image in same angle. The eyes are those of an anonymous person and also those of philosophers Biko and Sobukwe, who are also known for having written much about a need for rupture – both mental, political and spatial (so to speak). Together embodying something beautiful…
In the other rooms are the videos why do you call me when you know I can’t answer the phone and is i am sky. why do you call me is a piece from 2013, which is itself about the rupture of meaning or sense, a corruption or narrative, while is i am sky speaks of a thing of absence, self presence and of a kind of a metaphysical death, to make a very insufficient summary.
Each of your installations is created with the space in which they will be exhibited in mind. Could you tell us how the Hayward Gallery space lent itself to the installation work in ‘slow-co-ruption’?
The ceilings are quite low and the space quite small. The one room has a lot of light, so it would have to contain a work that was okay with the light. The carpet unifies the ground space and the monitors on the ground made the distance between the ceiling and the ground less awkward. The space somehow changes the work, so one has to make adaptations.
As an artist who works with digital montages, sound and installation, your work is often referred to as ‘surreal’ or ‘kaleidoscopic,’ something that is both immersive and elusive. How does this assemblage of elements speak to your experience as an artist?
Life itself is quite ‘kaleidoscopic’ and surreal. Perhaps as an artist or a ‘self,’ it is an assemblage of possibilities, probabilities and the real as more strange than the fiction. The fictions also are too heavy.
Your work has been exhibited extensively between the US, the Netherlands, South Africa and the UK, however this is your first solo show in London. Do you find the context in which you are exhibiting has any effect on the works’ interpretation?
Yes, sometimes. While preparing the wall text for the show, I struggled quite a bit about what information should be known about the work – the background of the work – as often that dictates on how the work will be read. Particular references in particular contexts mean otherwise, mean too much or too little. Meaning is a very unstable sometimes overbearing thing, so there had to be a balance of signifiers when making a summary.
I ‘m not sure if it is about trust – trusting the audience or the reader with anecdotes – but I’m also not sure where or what my ideal audience is. Perhaps it is made over time. What the work is and what it is about also changes slightly depending on where, when and with whom it is shown. Because words and names mean particular things in particular times, meaning is rather impure. This is something that the work same angle, same lighting tries to navigate.
Finally, please tell us about your upcoming projects; what can we look forward to from you?
I have a couple of solo shows coming up next year – one at Palais de Tokyo in June, a Collective Gallery solo show in Edinburgh in November – and a lot of thinking in-between. On my mind at present are a number of questions and concerns with mental health, types of ‘madnesses’ and the problem of representation. The problem of representation is an ongoing concern, so I will read some more on that. I will re-read Bessie Head’s A Question of Power – I have recently bought an old copy of it. I’m not sure if all those ideas will nourish the work wholly, but I am also thinking of my organs and body, which needs some nourishing.