The Seated Self, 2001 - 2004
Mild steel, laser cutter. Object dimensions 2'x 2'. Installation dimensions variable. Exhibited at various venues including Franchise Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa.
From HIV(E), a Pulse Project organized by Greg Streak in Durban, South Africa. Working in collaboration with Gozololo Center for Children, an orphanage that cares for children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Under the leadership of Miriam Cele, we created new structures, playgrounds and other fixtures on the property. With limited space for the woman who look after the children to sit in the shade, I decided to work with collapsable seating as a concept.
Review by Virginia MacKenny
Art and Social Responsibility
Greg Streak's latest Pulse project 'HIV(E)' was initiated in Durban during January. Pulse, part of the RAIN international network of ex-graduates from the Rijks Academie in Amsterdam, provides a platform, every two years, for South African artists to meet and interact with their international peers in projects that tackle local concerns. The last project 'Violence/Silence' opened simultaneously in Nieu Bethesda and Durban, and was well received critically.
'HIV(E)' looks to address a number of complex relationships simultaneously. The word 'hive' means a collective body of workers (normally bees but here the metaphor is stretched to refer to the human community) who work to safeguard and nurture the greater whole. Ironically, it also means 'to separate off from a larger group', and thus infers retraction and isolation, conditions that are often enforced onto many of those affected by HIV (an none too subtle acronym hidden within the word).
Streak maintains a critical stance toward Mbeki's attitude and official government policy towards HIV/AIDS. It is an attitude he sees as having fostered a society whose ignorance has secured it top position in AIDS-related deaths worldwide, and resulted in 4.7 million people living with the virus.
Quoting Arundhati Roy, Streak notes: "The relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they're engaged in". He points out the ironies of a South African audience watching America on CNN 'avenge' the death of an estimated 3161 in the September 11 attack, insufficiently aware of the "calamity that rages through the rural areas not more than 30km from where we live, as each day 5500 people die of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa".
In an attempt to acknowledge the problem in his own backyard, and proactively engage with it artistically, Streak began to work with 'Gozololo', an organization established by Miriam Cele in 1997 in KwaMashu, a township north of Durban. 'Gozolo' provides care and support to a growing number of HIV/AIDS traumatised and orphaned children. 'Gozololo' means 'for a short while', and it now provides care to over 1200 children in five different communities, giving refuge and nurture to them before relocating them into society.
Streak's reflections on his position as an artist and curator of contemporary art projects, forced him to consider how he could have some impact on, or affect some positive change for, a place like 'Gozololo'. While clear that he saw art as having a social responsibility, and believing that it can affect social change, he did not see himself as a social worker.
He was concerned with how he could contribute in a significant way while still retaining some sense of poetry and artistic autonomy. Wanting to avoid the well-trod path of community murals 'HIV(E)' looks to engage the issue of social conscience coupled with artistic integrity in a way that both are adequately addressed and inter-related. The core of the project is finding innovative solutions to everyday needs.
'HIV(E)', like most of Streak's projects, involves artists working intensively together for a period of time in specific sites, acclimatising themselves and then processing their experiences. Through intensive discussions with the volunteers at 'Gozololo', the artists ascertain critical areas of redress and endeavour to provide a functional solution while engaging their own artistic sensibility. On January 16, artists jetted into Durban from around the country, as well as from Argentina, Indonesia and the UK. They will work for a month, completing the process by mid February.
Artists involved in the project are Sofia Garcia Vieyra (Argentina), Jose Ferreira (United Kingdom/ South Africa), Ade Darmawan (Indonesia), Paul Edmunds (South Africa), Jena McCarthy (South Africa), Goddy Leye (Cameroon) and Streak himself.
Each artist will produce two works, one that gets installed at 'Gozololo' in KwaMashu, and another to be presented in a gallery context. This dual process will highlight the possibilities of producing cutting edge, conceptually viable contemporary visual art that, according to Streak "goes beyond just being obsessed with itself".
In order not to exploit the communities of 'Gozolo' by making a spectacle of them Streak will ensure their privacy by having a corresponding work of the one made for the 'Gozololo' site made for gallery exhibition. This component will include documentation of the site-specific work, with improvised equivalents, in the gallery context. This will not only bring attention to the projects at 'Gozololo', but also allow the project to reach a broader spectrum of people.
The project is supported by a written publication. Commissioned writers have been asked to engage the topic HIV/AIDS on a local as well as global level. The varying essays look at interventions carried out by other people in different parts of the world - interventions where the key focus has been nurturing the human spirit. For Streak, 'HIV(E)' is not about HIV/AIDS per se but is rather a metaphor for nurturing and giving - either as an individual, a collective or an institution.
Streak thus sees 'HIV(E)' as a small contribution to a larger societal problem, a pilot project whose ripple effect will hopefully continue to reverberate and encourage similar inclinations so that individual efforts compound to a collective consciousness that is genuinely influential.
The HIV(E) project is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Development Co-operation, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and Doen.
The exhibition will take place in the gallery space in the new 44 Stanley Avenue complex in Johannesburg during the month of April.
Miriam Cele with the children at the center