[-empyre-] Is the Internet like a Medium of Art?

Daniel Herwitz herwitz at umich.edu
Mon Apr 7 04:48:39 EST 2014

Tim the problem with finding indigenous artists who might be working on the
Khoi/San archive of Bleek and Lloyd is that unlike Australia, where there
are five hundred thousand indigenous people living throughout the country,
some amazing number of whom are artists, there are literally no direct
descendents of the South African indigenous Khoi and San left. They have
been eradicated from the planet by the colonial rifle and also, it has to
be said, Xhosa spear. Those who are descendents are mixed in descent, and
some of those peoples are highly educated and part of the University of
Cape Town project for sure. But the historical poignancy of this work,
digital or otherwise, is that the archive is nearly all that is left, apart
from mixed descendents, some of whom are no longer wanderers (hunters and
gatherers), but live and work in communities.
But the issue of website architecture and content addressing multiple and
highly varied kinds of communities is a general theme of South Africa, and
the global south in general I think. One that goes beyond art into
questions of heritage, the preservation of archives, knowledge production,
and so on.
The larger issue of indigenous, or traditional art, and its fate in global,
and digital culture, is a central one both in Australia (where Aboriginal
art filled museums and galleries), and in South Africa. The one unbroken
tradition of sculpture in southern Africa, associated with Vha-Venda and
Isi-Tsonga, in the northeast of the country near Mozimbique, is a case in
point. Artists there have been making kinetic sculptural work for hundreds
of years, and it is central (as in Aboriginal art) to their religious
mythologies. In the 1980s you could buy this work on the road to Kruger
Park where sculptors (the would not have used the term "artist") sold their
stuff along with fruitsellers, weavers and the like. In the name of a
democratizing society wishing to explore and acknowledge repressed
traditions of peoples who had been occluded under the Apartheid regime,
this work was taken up by art critics, gallery people and scholars, and by
the mid 1980s in Johannesburg galleries. A furious attempt to think new
concepts of art capable of acknowledging the status of this work took
place, since it clearly carried the anxieties and textures of modern life
but had no recognizable links to the culture of modernism. The usual story
of the globalization of modern art has to do with diffusion (of cubism to
Latin America and constructism, of the Fauves to South African townships
etc...). Questions of appropriation, influence and fusing global influence
with local life tend to pertain to that work. But here was work which bore
the traces of people's experiences of modern life, and looked modernist
(carved in tensile, frenetic gestures from wood) but which had evovled
organically within the tradition and without global influence. In the
course of acknowledging the evolving Vha-Venda and Isi-Tsonga heritage, in
the course of dignifying it as a heritage, the work, and more importantly
the sculptors began to travel to Johannesburg, then to Europe and America
as, at a moment of South African transition, the work became flavor of the
month, part of the contemporary art world, turning these sculptors into
"artists" and their objects into "work". Their experiences changed some of
them so profoundly that they felt at a loss about how to proceed to make
new work. Others got on well in this new, globalized state of rapid
influence. The point is: the very act of dignifying the tradition as a
heritage brought it within the circuits of contemporary art circulation and
in so doing caused the so called heritage to rupture. At least in part.
This fate of existing no longer in a state of isolation, which also means
continuity, is of course the contemporary fate. The question of how the
digital, by catapulting isolated communities into conditions of global
downloading, and by bringing the world at large to the isolated computer
screen, intersects with indigeneity and tradition, is therefore a very
difficult one, and not always one with a happy ending for everyone.

On Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 11:05 AM, Timothy Conway Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu>wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi, Daniel,
> Thanks ever so much for pointing us to the work coming out of the Bleek
> and Llyod Archive Cape Town: http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za  In
> your post, you indicate that the new media interventions coming out of
> this archive may have been received indifferently by the indigenous
> communities of the descendants represented in this archive.  While this is
> not surprising, I'm wondering if there are indigenous artists related to
> the archive who have embraced digital artistic making as means of
> enhancing the life of the archive and the spirit of the peoples
> represented.  Or is this archive so inscribed in the nefarious
> delimitations of the digital divide that its indigenous representatives
> feel compelled to distance themselves from technology for the sake of
> preserving their memory of the past.  Difficult questions that seem
> crucial to articulating the parameters of Making in an International
> Context.
> Thanks,
> Tim
> Timothy Murray
> Professor of Comparative Literature and English
> Director, Society for the Humanities
> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
> Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media
> http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
> A D White House
> Cornell University,
> Ithaca, New York 14853
> On 4/4/14 3:46 PM, "Daniel Herwitz" <herwitz at umich.edu> wrote:
> >----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Daniel Herwitz
Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor
Department of Comparative Literature
University of Michigan
2012 Tisch Hall
435 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1003
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