Awards, Exhibitions, Festivals

Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz to represent South Africa at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017

Image © Mohau Modisakeng, courtesy Tyburn Gallery

Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz will represent South Africa with a major two-person exhibition in the South African Pavilion, at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, running from 13 May to 26 November 2017 in Venice, Italy.

The South African Pavilion exhibition will explore the notion of selfhood within a context of global marginalisation.

“What is it to be visible in everyday life, yet invisible and disregarded at the level of cultural, political or economic representation?” they said in a statement.

Lucy MacGarry and Musha Neluheni will curate the pavilion.

“Breitz’s photographs and multi-channel video installations offer nuanced studies of the structure of identity under global capitalism, while Modisakeng employs a highly personal language to express ideas about his own identity and the body,” MacGarry said.

“This marks the first time that Modisakeng and Breitz will be shown alongside each other in the context of a significant exhibition.”

Placing new works by Modisakeng and Breitz in dialogue, the exhibition will reflect on experiences of exclusion, displacement, transience, migration and xenophobia, exploring the complex socio-political forces that shape the performance of selfhood under such conditions.

This exhibition marks the first time that Modisakeng and Breitz will be shown alongside each other.

Mohau Modisakeng’s work is directly informed by his coming of age during the country’s violent political transition, grappling with black male identity, body and his place within a post-apartheid context.

Modisakeng presents critical responses to ideas of nationhood, leadership, inequality and migrant labour that manifest visually as moments of grief and catharsis central to the lived experience of contemporary South Africans.

Modisakeng was born in Johannesburg in 1986 and grew up in Soweto.  Modisakeng completed his undergraduate degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town in 2009. He currently lives and works between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

His work has been exhibited at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), MOCADA, Brooklyn New York (2015), Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria (2015), the Museum of Fine Art, Boston (2014), 21C Museum, Kentucky, Massachusetts (2014), IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2014), Saatchi Gallery, London (2012) and the Dak’Art Biennale, Dakar (2012).

His work has been placed in public collections including Johannesburg Art Gallery, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Saatchi Gallery and Zeitz MOCAA.

In 2016 he was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, the most prestigious award in Africa.

Candice Breitz, born 1972, in Johannesburg, South African, uses found video footage and stills images as a way of “appropriating” popular culture.

She currently lives in Berlin, and has been a tenured professor at the Braunschweig University of Art since 2007, and is represented by White Cube (London), Kaufmann Repetto (Milan) and the Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg and Cape Town).

Despite representing South Africa at the Venice Biennale, Breitz is careful to elevate her work beyond socio-political or nationalistic concerns. Speaking to Rosanne Altstatt in an interview titled Killing Me Softly, she said:

“To be honest, in the beginning I often felt that I was being invited to exhibit more because I was South African than for any other reason. Obviously that was not a situation that I relished. I quickly became uncomfortable with the expectations that my work was being asked to meet. Of course, the tendency of biennales to insist on the ethnicity or nationality of artists is a problem that has been experienced by many artists who have had their first opportunities to exhibit in contexts such as Biennales.

“In fact, it seems that there is an almost inevitable chronology: as a country gains global acceptability in economic and/or political terms, artists from that country are increasingly likely to be invited to show their work internationally and may enjoy a moment of being fashionable within the art world for a season or two (take for example the unprecedented fashionability of South African artists in the post-Apartheid moment or the fresh respectability of Russian artists after the dissipation of the Cold War).

“While German artists are not expected to make work about würst and Canadian artists are not expected to make art about ice-hockey, there is often a silent rule when it comes to the inclusion of artists from less mainstream art countries: “make art about where you’re from, and about what makes you different… or stay at home.” It’s a double-bind for many artists because some were making perfectly sincere work that was specific to their experience before being ‘discovered,’ but once the work gets thrown into the global machine, any reference to cultural specificity or ethnicity or nationality starts to serve very different purposes.

“I saw this happening in the critical response to my work – people would spend more time discussing where I was from in their reviews than looking at the work. Since this kind of socio-biographical reading of works of art has never interested me, I realized that if I wanted to continue exploring the ideas that were important to me, I would have to find a way to do so that avoided these kinds of obvious and intentional readings.”

Writing of Breitz’ work, the academic Jennifer Allen says:

“A recycler at heart, Breitz scavenges the overwhelming remains of popular visual culture, applies a highly reductive editing process to them and ends up with another – and more primary – set of materials. Like the crushed Coke can, the final product is a mere sliver of its former self: distinct enough to be recognisable and yet so distorted that we balk at the memory of its original form and our pleasure in using it. Yet Breitz’s work, however simple in its execution, is far from simplistic.

“While appearing to subscribe to minimalist strategies, Breitz on the other hand owes much to pop. Her work brings the sparse conceptual idiom of the former to bear on the colourful realm of the latter. From the perspective of art history, her method appears as a unique, if not cacophonous, marriage of Sol LeWitt’s formulaic wall-drawings to Warhol’s production line of silk-screened Marilyn Monroes, freshly cooing out of the Factory.”

The 57th Venice Biennale in 2017 will run from 13 May to 26 November 2017 in Venice, Italy.