INTERVIEW / ED YOUNG / ATHI-PATRA RUGA

Courtesy of Skattie, what are you wearing?

EY: Can we start at the end?

APR: Where’s my money. Hahahahahahaha.

That’s the end. On to the next show. Let’s rather do the beginning ‘cause the money’s still pending.

Courtesy of Ed young

EY: Why is your work such rubbish?

APR: I don’t know hey. I think there was this like… I think I find myself like somewhat… well… very self-indulgent. I’m all about me hey. If you see the work you see me. At the moment I’m really obsessed with people fucking up circumcisions. It’s like… Is it only Xhosa people who are fucking up circumcisions? I think Jewish people also fuck up because that’s how I started. I was just sitting around…

EY: You are not circumcised?

APR: I got circumcised… without anaesthesia. That was crazy. I ended up eating my foreskin too. Hahahahahaha. I’ll eat my foreskin. Hahaha. And, and um ja… I’m just obsessed with people fucking up circumcisions. I think I’m gonna leave the artworld and just start a support group. [Sings: You tooook my foooreskiiiin…]

I was exploring this and it seems to be a unifier. I came up with this character of Ilulwane, which started with performances that we sort of videoed. That was the beginning of the work. From there on I just went on to making pretty images like I usually do.

EY: It’s really pretty…

APR: I like pretty stuff! Disarmingly pretty so I can sommer turn you around and naai you with pretty.

EY: I’ve seen most of your shows. You’ve shown with us… We’ve seen the work develop from scratch and it has reached some kind of maturity or logical conclusion. I don’t really know why. We walked through the gallery earlier and it was kind of gallery rubbish again but it’s sort of tighter now. Why do you think that is?

APR: I think it is tighter. I feel I’ve reached a point whereby I can focus my ideas. However, at the same time I do miss that time when I was more desperate. Where you could see the desperate images because it’s validated by self-indulgence. But now it’s tighter. It becomes more coherent and more consumable. That’s what it boils down to [laughs].

EY: Where’s my money…

APR: Where’s my money… Tell the man with the money it’s time for me to get paid [laughs].

I think there is a maturity to me because there are more resources and I am in a position to sort of… do that now. Sort of sit around and explore my medium – one show here, one show there.

EY: It’s quite a different mode of working… [God-awful Neotel ringtone in background interrupts]

APR: That’s my new soundtrack [laughs]. There’s my money [laughs]. It’s the one arm bandit calling me: ‘Hello Athi [laughs]. Come spend your money’.

But I also feel that there is a responsibility that I have to technique. My work is really based on that as well.

Courtesy of Whatiftheworld

EY: When you first sort of started… Like with Bettina Malcomess’ Upstairs/Downstairs and I think you were still Jo’burg based…

APR: Ja, I was living in Jozi then.

EY: You were kind of energetic about it. You made the work with very little cash. You were running around from openings to performances and more performances. It’s a very disparate way of work from the studio work you are doing at present. Do you miss that kind of…

APR: I miss it, but I think I do sort of pacify that urge, you know. I do interventions still and they do appear. But at the moment the problems… The concerns that arose from that is how I really access, I don’t know, people. And I think that I access the white cube now and I’m doing it [laughs]. I’m doing it. I’m fucking the white cube man. I’m rocking it.

Back then there were lack of resources and everything and I had the body. Making a tapestry started out as performance as well with Miss. Congo – the video that was shown at Michael Stevenson. So it started becoming consumable. I started introducing tapestries into the mix. And you know the commercial aspect: Ok Great! 2D or something, you know. Let’s go with it. And ja, we went with it and it’s putting me into a position to sort of focus more and have more discipline about my performances, because I always want to go back to performance. And most shows start out with a series of performances and that’s where I get the vibe. Or making a character. That sort of becomes the spirit of the show.

Is that what you’re asking Ed? [laughs]

EY: You’re giving me a hell of a lot to transcribe. But I mean, we are all artists, fuck, we know how it works – what it is like making work with no cash – when it becomes more commercially viable and it raises a demand for that kind of work. It’s sort of shit, but do you think you are making more tapestries because of the commercial aspect, or do it’s just because you started enjoying that mode of production. I mean, you don’t have to answer it. It’s kind of rhetorical…

APR: I think it’s a question that warrants and answer. I have fallen in love with the process of making tapestries and also this drive for me to push myself technically.

EY: They must take you really long to make.

APR: I have staff.

And, and ja… there is also this space of discipline, also with the performances, physical performance and stuff. You’ve seen how my body has changed with some of the performances. I have done performances whereby I had to gain weight back in 2008. At the beginning of 2008 I was quite small. And then I went back to skinny again to do more Beiruth stuff for last year’s show. And now I’m just trying to go hyper masculine and not be the kid… the evil kid anymore… that I used to be [laughs].

EY: So that’s why you are doing all that stupid cycling.

APR: I’m cycling, I’m weightlifting, I’m eating protein shakes, I’m taking anabolic steroids…

EY: Drinking Black Label…

APR: [Takes a sip] Drinking Black Label because it’s also good but two can get me into to trouble. But also I like a bit of a paunch. Hahaha I like that paunch. Back then my nieces were always like: “What kinda uncle are you? You don’t have a paunch or anything.” So I kinda want to be a good uncle and start looking big and start working with that hyper-masculine thing for more works, you know. And it’s getting more physical. It’s getting more physical than climbing buildings… ha… and stuff. [Laughs]. More physical than climbing builds. Nice gym six times a week.

EY: But Athi not just with the tapestries but also in terms of the new video… What’s it called?

APR: Um… Brother Brother Nightmare.

EY: I mean the production value has increased.

APR: Because I think that I want to start talking about… surface. And just being plain glam. You know, to ad some glamour to something because I think everything is all bleeding heart and all… it’s ok to be low tech. But for me at the moment I’m flying first-class. [laughs a lot]. And you have to drive through a James Webb soundtrack [laughs].

EY: Yes so I’m sorry I made you drive through Woodstock…

APR: That’s Ok…

And it’s just really surface… because I can’t talk about camp and, and, and aspiration and all these things that I really am obsessed with and going through at the moment personally as well [laughs] without sort of like showing it in that way… you know?

Excess is like… Just an excess of material and excess of gesture and all of that.

EY: I mean It’s quite MTV…

APR: Yes yes, I wanted to do that Ed. One has to push that glam.

EY: What is it like being black?

APR: You… look… I don’t know. The new racism is saying I won’t go to that place it’s too BEE [laughs]. You know if you say BEE it’s Black Economic Empowerment… don’t you like? Yes, you thought it meant bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I really wanted to start interrogating this, because I think I am in that position whereby I have somehow managed to slip into Mbeki’s dream, that middle-class that’s a buffer zone [laughs] between things, you know?

EY: But do you think it’s ok to be in a position not to give a fuck and do you?

APR: I give a fuck more than I did. But some days I feel like its also something that like interrogate and sometimes I don’t give a fuck. And with this opera video that we’re going to be showing and that one is the first time that I am actually working towards slickness, still low tech but the colours are just… It’s black and white.

EY: Why do we [YOUNGBLACKMAN] always get the low-tech?

APR: Maybe next year we’re gonna turn that one around.

For me, it’s just me testing myself. I’m attracted more to things that are beautiful because there is a Trojan Horse element to it. You think ooh! It’s pretty. But when you come in you start interrogating the fact that there is no substance. You know there’s a zone but there’s no substance and I am sure it could be an ammo of mine [laughs] if I put my mind to it, and just work and not having substance. It translates as camp if you want to move tapestries [laughs a lot].

EY: You know… I don’t find your work that camp.

APR: No? Maybe it’s a new camp. It’s my kinda camp. The self-indulgent camp.

EY: A nudist BEE camp…

APR: But beyond BEE, it’s me just working with the idea of being glamoured by something… like, being totally fooled by the rocks. It’s a translation through everything… I’m a brand babe [laughs]. Do you know that saying in American Beauty: ‘To be successful you have to project and image of success’ [laughs]. That’s me you know… and it’s translates in my work. It translates in surfaceness of it. Because it was testy when I showed it to the gallery the first time they were like: ‘What? This looks like an aerobics video’, and this and this and this. And I was like, let’s open a conversation let’s start a conversation about the fact that you know, one just doesn’t  do like a performance video and it was just like: ‘Ok this is me… doing this. But it’s me…’ and then having that technique of presenting it. It’s made it more accessible. And I like accessibility. I don’t want art that separates people. I want everyone to like me.

EY: Ja well I mean Athi…

APR: I really do… Well everyone is probably like… it’s like oh, accessibility. It’s that thing we were talking about last week – accessibility for all. You know it can never be like that. No I don’t think so. I don’t want someone’s stuff like that. And it’s tough to do just stuff that’s accessible to all. I’ve come to terms with that.

EY: You do realise you are speaking out of committee here.

APR: [giggles] Oh no, no, no, no, no… [giggles] but… I’m speaking for the brand baby… speaking for the brand [laughs]. I’m the ultimate brand ambassador for myself. For me… I think that when one looks at it like that it also sort of tests like just how bourgie the attitude towards interrogating South African art is at the moment. And that video to me is sort of like… It was testy for me. It’s was ok. I’m gonna go do aerobics and shit. But it boils back to also having… the fact that I went for training while going to gym in my heels and drag on a treadmill in a gym. And then get off you know? That process to me is what translates to that. But also like those little performances that I do in my daily life. That sort of like, a sneak peak into the final work… you know? Into basically how I live my life.

EY: So what makes you weep? What makes you harder than MTV and I don’t mean your porn.

APR: It’s actually creating imagery. I think that’s what makes me weep; it’s production it’s tough to produce hey? Fuck. It’s…

EY: You know that’s not what I am asking.

APR: What Ed? My life’s focussed to do the Trojan Horse thing. To come in in the most, most, most camp and passive way and then get into you, and then sort of spew my HIV inside of you. But what does that mean? It is a reflection on basically probably a work method that I can’t really describe right now.

EY: Do you remember the night we first met?

APR: [pause] I kidnapped your ass. Tracey Rose, me and Feisal kidnapped you, Storm and Simon Gush.

EY: For fuck’s sake…

APR: [laughs] That was slick [laughs]. But that’s a part of my life I really do not want to revisit again. It’s not good for the brand. I don’t know. We were drunk. We felt bad we shouldn’t let you guys out… for a bit… in Mayfair, [laughs] Johannesburg. You guys were not going to be able to go outside actually.

EY: I went outside for a pee.

APR: Did you go outside for a pee? Did you see the three-legged dog? It was a heavy night and those nights happen…

EY: To a large extent a lot of the problems and hardships of this country become fictional and for many these are tales merely told in the media etc. And the day-to-day circumstances of many go unnoticed. I do understand that there are many complexities within our collective heritage and is what you do a slight negation?

APR: Um…I don’t think I neglect it but I think that my mere existence and me going through these emotions and everywhere and being open about them or experiencing them and seeing drama happening in this world, is a great influence is a great influence on my work. Like everything from HIV, because that relates to the body not being with the body. Like a dis-ease with the body – a kind of disembodiment. It moves on to issues of those who have and those who do not have. That’s where ideas of surface and aspiration come in as well as ideas of sexuality, but also that links back to the body, the performing body, because you perform and you want to get laid. And most of the time I make art to get laid.

These issues, they all come together and for me. I feel that dwelling with them in a very macabre way and weeping and all of that, I don’t do that. I’d rather laugh…

EY: But beside the bling and the surface shit you work is still very macabre.

APR: It’s demons… everyone has to cope with their own. I don’t want to cope with them. And there are class issues that I’m trying to cope with. Aspiration issues, poverty issues that I am trying to cope with and disease issues that I am trying to cope with… you know? And humanity… and I think that humanity for me, or even for our generation, what is always presented on TV and you know, it becomes more accessible and then it doesn’t become something that’s didactic. You clash your image with the work, and then the thing, or the blood that comes from crash is the work that I make. And then you can just take from it and work with it.

EY: I also think that the work does not sit on the walls…

APR: The work is not on the walls. It’s the brand. The brand is the work baby. Let’s keep it like that. It’s the brand and the blood.

EY: And what are your thoughts on current racial segregation issues, particularly within our generation, happening within the white cube sector of the art world? Although the contemporary SA artworld has seen a rise and at least a more stable representation of different ethnicities and cultural backings. There is still a general idea that support primarily exists with in these groupings – which becomes a problematic term in itself.

APR: I try to disregard the idea of the artworld because I approach it in a very personal way, you know? I disregard the fact that there is a world. There’s a fashion world. There is an art world. There is an interior world. That doesn’t feature in my world. The white cube historically has always been a segregated space. And the participation within it is something that is quite a process for black artists. However, my statement with that is that with participating at all cost and also owning a destiny is something very important.

I don’t know Ed. The whole race question for me… For me it really is something personal. Politics happen with the body. You’re sitting in the corner of a room – you’re an event because of what people are imparting on you, you know? They’re little prejudices. But you should just be there to break those prejudices by merely existing and demanding you’re basic human rights that the freedom [laughs] charter stated in 1955.

It’s all right.

EY: Do you want another beer?

APR: Yes, yes, let me just klap this one.

And also denialism. I’m just interested in little tiny politics and things. We were talking in the car about…

EY: Woodstock…

APR: Ja, or Obs-lavatory, or whatever. It’s like why would I not wanna go there, nê, maybe because I have prejudices against certain places, because I’m scared that I’m gonna get mugged, because I’ve been mugged in places that look like that before. And you know I get a shock. But one has to sort of be a better human being and start working on a personal level and not work on those images. The moment a person has prejudices or these things that separate, I try and break them apart by just laughing. And actually making people laugh at them as well because someone’s gonna be quiet and like, that jokes on me. And then go home and then start discovering more.

I’m just there to make images.

EY: So do you think that working with a younger gallery and not have anyone dictate your production and allowing you a certain kind of freedom. Are you willing to compromise cash for that freedom?

APR: Yes. I think I did [laughs].

EY: But when speaking to lot of young artists there is this general idea that cash is king. And I feel this makes the work contrived.

APR: You don’t do much 3D do you [laughs]? You don’t do D much.

EY: But for me your 2D stuff does not seem to have the quick buck element to them.

APR: Ja, I think I’d have problems with my soul.

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