David Gryn blog

Artprojx and Stevenson present films by Penny Siopis 11 Oct

In Artprojx, David Gryn, Film and Video, Frieze Art Fair, London, Penny Siopis, Prince Charles Cinema, Screenings, Stevenson, TJ Demos, Video Art on 03/09/2012 at 4:06 pm

Penny Siopis – Artprojx at Prince Charles Cinema – Thursday 11 October 2012




11 October 2012, 8.15-9.45pm (doors open at 8pm)

Artprojx at Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BY

With TJ Demos and Penny Siopis in conversation and introducing the films


STEVENSON and ARTPROJX are pleased to present four short films by Penny Siopis at the Prince Charles Cinema in London as part of the Frieze Art Fair VIP programme. The screening will be introduced by writer/curator TJ Demos in conversation with the artist.



Based in Cape Town, Siopis has been exploring ‘the poetics of vulnerability’ in various media, including painting and installation, since the 1970s. She made her first film, My Lovely Day, for the second Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, prompted by the artistic director, Okwui Enwezor, who later described it as ‘one of the masterpieces of the biennale’. Since then her films using old home-movie footage have come to play an increasingly prominent role in her oeuvre. In all of these, Siopis combines sequences of found 8mm film with sound and text (appearing as subtitles) to shape stories about people caught up, often traumatically, in larger political and social upheavals. Siopis writes: ‘The elemental qualities of these stories appeal to me as they speak to questions far beyond their specific historical origins.’

FOUR SHORT FILMS (1997-2012)

My Lovely Day [1997,21 min 15 sec]

My Lovely Day (still) – Penny Siopis

My Lovely Day combines spliced sequences of 8mm home movies that the artist’s mother shot in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa to tell a story of displacement and migration. While the narrative ‘voice’ is that of Siopis’ maternal grandmother speaking of her literal and emotional journeys to Greece, England and South Africa in the early part of the 20th century, and to some extent overlooking the apartheid moment from which she speaks, the film has wider resonance as an allegory of globalisation and exile. The sound comprises traditional Greek music and an old 78 rpm record, made in 1955, of Siopis’ mother singing ‘This is my lovely day’. The uneven quality of the found footage dramatises the nature of the film as artifact and resonates with the fragmentary nature of memory.

Obscure White Messenger[2010,15 min 7 sec]

Obscure White Messanger (still) – Penny Siopis

Obscure White Messenger uses found home-movie footage to tell the story of Dimitrios Tsafendas, who assassinated the South African prime minister and ‘architect of apartheid’, HF Verwoerd, in 1966; it takes its title from a reference to Tsafendas in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. What drove Tsafendas, a man of mixed race, a migrant, working as a parliamentary messenger at the time, to commit this act? Siopis explores the intermingling of madness and political motive evident in transcripts of interviews with Tsafendas. Throughout the film there is the question of who the ‘illegitimate’ Tsafendas is and where he belongs; of what it means to be stateless in a world where citizenship all too often establishes and legitimates what it means to be fully human.

Communion [2011,5 min 30 sec]

Communion (still) – Penny Siopis

In Communion the story is about an Irish nun, Sister Aidan, who was also a medical doctor, Elsie Quinlan. She was murdered by a crowd of angry people in the Eastern Cape, who were protesting against apartheid laws during the Defiance Campaign in 1952 in South Africa. Many of the people in the crowd knew and loved Sister Aidan, but she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In newspaper reports and scholarly articles, questions emerged about ‘common cause’ and culpability – which of the crowd committed the murder? Pathologists could not determine how she died, because parts of her body were missing, some allegedly eaten. Siopis situates Sister Aidan’s ‘voice’ (read as subtitles) in the first person: she narrates her own death, as if from the grave. Contingency is hooked to historical fact through Siopis’ selective use of text in combination with film sequences – anonymous home movies that do not connect in any way to the empirical facts of the story. The sound is an African lullaby.

The Master is Drowning [2012, 10 min 25 sec]

The Master is Drowning (still) – Penny Siopis

In The Master is Drowning the artist extends her use of found film beyond home movies to historical documentary, combining private and public film sequences to create a story that is both fictive and ‘real’. The narrative unfolds chronologically, culminating in the attempted assassination of the South African Prime Minister HF Verwoerd by David Beresford Pratt, a white liberal businessman and farmer. The attempt occurred in 1960 on the eve of the inauguration of the apartheid South African Republic, and is depicted through the inclusion of actual news footage from that time. Pratt went to the annual Agricultural Show in Johannesburg and shot Verwoerd twice in the face at point blank range following his opening address. Miraculously, Verwoerd survived, and in the ensuing court process Pratt, who suffered from epilepsy, was declared unsound of mind. The words in the video are Pratt’s, drawn from different sources including transcripts of his trial and newspapers of the time.


Penny Siopis is a South African of Greek descent. She lives in Cape Town where she is an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Siopis works in painting, film/video, photography and installation. Her work since the 1970s has covered different foci but her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’ characterises all her explorations, from her earlier engagements with history, memory and migration to her more recent concerns with shame, violence and sexuality. She has exhibited widely, in South Africa and internationally, and has taken part in the biennales of Sydney, Johannesburg, Guangzhou, Havana and Venice.

TJ Demos lectures in the Art History Department at University College London. He writes widely on modern and contemporary art, and is the author of Dara Birnbaum: Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (Afterall Press, 2010), and The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp (MIT Press, 2007). He was recently the co-curator of Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalisation at Nottingham Contemporary in May-June 2010, and was director of the research-exhibition project Zones of Conflict: Rethinking Contemporary Art during Global Crisis in 2008-09.

STEVENSON is a gallery with spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The gallery hosts solo and group exhibitions that engage with contemporary art practice in South Africa as well as Africa and its diaspora. In addition to giving (South) African artists access to the rest of the world, its FOREX programme, started in 2009, has brought the work of international artists like Francis Alÿs, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Hirschhorn, Glenn Ligon and Walid Raad to South Africa, often for the first time. Stevenson has an active publication programme that includes catalogues for many of its exhibitions and artists. Art fairs in 2012 include Frieze New York, Art Hong Kong, Art Basel, ABC – Art Berlin Contemporary, Frieze London, Paris Photo and Art Basel Miami Beach. http://www.stevenson.info

ARTPROJX over the last 10 years has become established as a leading brand that screens, curates and promotes artists’ moving image and other art projects, working with leading international contemporary art galleries, art fairs, institutes and artists. Artprojx has worked with: Art Basel Miami Beach, MOCA TV, Sadie Coles hq, Lisson Gallery, Gagosian, Whitney Museum, Tate Britain, ICA, Frieze Art Fair; and artists include: Christian Marclay, Dara Friedman, Mark Wallinger, Christian Jankowski, Jeremy Deller, Natalie Djurberg, Susan Hiller, Jesper Just, Martha Rosler. http://www.artprojx.com




Thursday 11 October 2012

Artprojx at Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BY

8.15-9.45pm (doors open at 8pm)

Tickets £10 (discount £5 for artists, students, curators and PCC members)

Box office: +44 (0)20 74943654 www.princecharlescinema.com

(Each ticket is entitled to one free beer and popcorn)

For more information on Penny Siopis please contact press@stevenson.info and for the event contact events@artprojx.com



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