SulSouth - Voyages Into Mutant Technologies (CURATED BY JOSE FERREIRA 2001)

An exhibition in Maputo, Mozambique, with Jose Ferreira as artistic director. Curated by the Trinity Session from Johannesburg. This exhibition was the first video installation project in Mozambique. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue with information on the artists.

Exhibition Review by Kathryn Smith

It is difficult to review an exhibition objectively when the context in which one sees it is infused with other sensations - for me, not just the heady familiarity and strangeness of Maputo, but also having written for the catalogue and following the process closely for about a year. 'South' is not just an exhibition of videos by artists. Artist/curator José Ferreira dedicated some 18 months of research to this project, interrogating public and private video and film archives in countries that have experienced some form of Portuguese influence, either as full blown colonies or in terms of a less formalised presence that continues today.

An exhibition of video art in flood ravaged, poverty stricken Mozambique, you shriek? Is this not the kind of irresponsible, neocolonialist exercise in indulgence that we love to hate? No, it isn't. It's a carefully considered, exquisitely realised project that amply reflects Ferreira's desire for intimate interpretations of memory, trauma, dislocation and exploitation "artistic creation biased toward the formation of previously unarticulated cultural narratives".

Many of the artists on 'South' were not immediately familiar to a South African audience. (And I imagine even fewer were familiar to Mozambicans). The works originated in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Portugal and Brazil. The selection of films seemed fresh even the more familiar works (Greg Streak's Dreams in Red, Stephen Hobbs's If you can make it here and Ferreira's own Sweeping Maputo) seemed to shift a register in the midst of some pretty radical films, the most interesting of which came from Brazil.
Satisfying both the monitor and big screen fetishists among us, the exhibition was laid out in "stations" of monitors on stands or the floor, in dialoguing groups or standing alone. Some were placed in intimate proximity, while others seemed to vie for attention from across the room. Headphones prevented sound leakage. Around the corner, there was a small "cinema" area where you could sit and watch a projection (on a loop) of all the films. Catalogues were tied to each chair for ease of reference. This choice of a more public experience versus a more private one worked very well, and made for some interesting scale relationships, as you caught glimpses of the monitors in your peripheral vision.

My favourite piece on the show, Marcopaulo Rolla's Jumping (1999), which sees the artist jumping from two chairs to the floor, trying to exit the picture frame simply by this action (which left him rather bruised post filming), was on a monitor just alongside the big screen, facing in the same direction. This desperate action, which speaks so much about certain futilities and traumas, was always visible, a neat reminder of what the exhibition was trying to address.

For those unfamiliar with the conceptual terrain of the show, or the semantics of the postcolonial in relation to some pursuits in the contemporary visual arts, Migual Petchkovsky's Ylunga provided a pointer in the right direction. A (black) janitor in a European museum experiences a sort of personal epiphany when an object in the African section of the exhibition wields its power and transforms him into a ritual performer, robe and face paint included. He dances through the night, eventually collapsing in a diorama type space. Eager Japanese tourists find him asleep, and he eventually exits the museum, barefoot but wearing an expensive suit. Those in tune with the arguments would be forgiven for trying to suppress a yawn, but the film nonetheless maintained a visual lyricism that one couldn't help being seduced by.

Responding to the obvious questions around relevance and significance, Ferreira commented: "This choice of technology is specific in defining and dealing with the impact of media related imagery in decolonised countries like Mozambique, Angola, South Africa and Brazil." Further to this, we begin to think about how we define the cultural landscapes of such countries as interpreted in media that are so often inaccessible to the economically disadvantaged.

In South Africa, our own artists have had their fair share of criticism for apparently jumping on the "video bandwagon". That aside, 'South' unearths a new line of inquiry for artists working in video and film.

Instituto Camões- Portuguese Cultural Centre, Maputo, Mozambique