You’d think that even the scabrous specimens of pondlife which are unpaid self-appointed art critics would balk at the obvious futility of reviewing the same show twice. Think again. The thing is, I was confronted by a battalion of amoebae on Thursday afternoon at half past five, and they mesmerised me with powerful interspecies message-transmission, with the effect that I found myself at the African Studies gallery the next day, pounding on locked doors and demanding to be let in to see “Finding UCT”, curated by Linda Stupart with Clare Butcher.
The amoebae in question were inhabiting Brett Murray’s permanent installation called “Specimens”, which clips onto the corner of the Medical Research Unit in Anzio Road, main drag of the UCT Medical School Campus. At half past five on Thursday afternoon the work was officially unveiled, amid speeches which prompted me to think about UCT’s patronage of the arts.
Murray’s work was a pleasure to behold, as was the mosaic piece installed by Lovell Friedman in a bus shelter a little further up the drag. If you stood near enough to these works and kind-of hob-nobbed with their beautiful craftsmanship and intelligent themes, you could imagine yourself for a moment in a city that celebrated its art. Certainly, the Medical School is contributing commendably towards this vision, and is interestingly placed to do so as Anzio Road is also a public thoroughfare connecting the highway to those bastions of South African culture we know as Cash Crusaders and Pick ‘n Pay.
But alas, these jewels are hard to find if you haven’t been told where to look, hidden as they are like Easter eggs amongst the sprawling shambling oblivion of semi-industrial Observatory. With this thought in mind, I lurched into the “Finding UCT” show, and laughed out loud to see, hanging above the show, the text piece which reads “there is nothing else but this”. It captured perfectly the mood of local artists, in their barely-noticed struggle for art to be noticed, barely. The arbitrariness and fragility of South African art culture was reflected again in the curating of the show. It seemed to view the UCT art collection, not as a coherent and serious voice of authority, but as a bargain bin in a thrift store, which the curators picked through looking for the funniest pieces. Their glee was evident in the junk they found, and the way they put it next to other junk to make the kind of arbitrary narratives that pervade a culture like ours, peppered as it is with the flotsam left behind by abandoned experiments in cultural engineering. Each of these experiments had left its mark on what the university considered at that time to be Art.
Tucked into this, of course, were more contemporary works which anticipated the mood of this show, such as Sanell Aggenbach’s “Port” and Georgina Gratrix’s “Girl Masturbating in a Forest”. It’s hard to stop here, because as one does with the thrill of digging through a thriftstore, one wants to rave about every find. But certainly this was an entertaining way of finding fresh amusement, of the wry sort, in our shaky little nest of Easter eggs.