David Gryn blog

Penny Siopis screening preview by Yvette Greslé for FAD

In Artprojx, David Gryn, FAD, Frieze Art Fair, Penny Siopis, Prince Charles Cinema, Stevenson, TJ Demos, Yvette Gresle on 24/09/2012 at 1:06 pm

http://www.fadwebsite.com/2012/09/22/frieze-penny-siopis-at-prince-charles-cinema/

master12 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘THE MASTER IS DROWNING’. DIGITAL VIDEO AND SOUND (STILL), 9 MINUTES, 2012. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

‘My interest is in combining sequences of found 8mm film with sound and text (appearing as subtitles) to shape stories about people caught up, often tragically, in larger political and social upheavals. The elemental qualities of these stories appeal to me as they speak to questions far beyond their specific origins’ – Penny Siopis.

‘This is a true story’ is a screening of four short films by South African artist Penny Siopis. Part of the Frieze Art Fair VIP programme, the screening (presented by Artprojx and Stevenson) is to take place on Thursday 11 October (8.15-10pm) at the Prince Charles cinema, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BY.  The event includes a conversation between Siopis and art historian T.J Demos.

obscure7 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL), 15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

One of the most significant artists working in South Africa today, Siopis’ career spans over 30 years.  In the 1980s her ‘history’ paintings imagined counter-narratives to the history propagated by the apartheid regime. Her paintings, object based installations, photographs and films explore what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’.  In her films, human vulnerability is given form in fragile images and materials that tell stories about anonymous, everyday people – their lives shaped by political violence and domination.

Siopis is represented by Stevenson (a gallery based in Cape Town and Johannesburg). Stevenson focuses on contemporary art practice in South Africa as well as Africa and the diaspora. Its FOREX programme – initiated in 2009 – has brought the work of international artists to South Africa. These include Francis Alÿs, Glen Ligon, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Walid Raad.  In London, Stevenson’s artists have appeared in shows at Tate Modern, the Photographers Gallery, Haunch of Venison and the V&A.

master1 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘THE MASTER IS DROWNING’. DIGITAL VIDEO AND SOUND (STILL), 9 MINUTES, 2012. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

In 2005, Siopis showed at the Freud Museum, with Three Essays on Shame. The show, at the centenary of Freud’s Three Essays on Sexuality (1905), staged a dialogue between Freud’s work, and the conditions of South Africa. Siopis often explores stories that are idiosyncratic and buried beneath the surfaces of history and society. Her re-staging of events, counter the idea of history as an objective, rational project. She deliberately blurs the boundaries between what we imagine to be true and what we think of as fiction. Films such as Obscure White Messenger(2010) are constructed from found 8mm film (home movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s which she converts to a digital format). The original footage is an intriguing document of domestic life and travel, recast in narratives that are ambiguous and open to the projections of the viewer.

In Siopis’ films, texts and sound draw us into an emotional space that confuses the relationship between our own inner narratives (as we watch) and those presented by the film. Emotion and its various registers are an important part of Siopis’ process as an artist. We read her films as dream-like sequences of apparently disconnected parts, their surfaces disturbed by effects of light and age. Artefacts in a digital age, and objects with a life, and material history, of their own.

obscure8 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL), 15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

The stories the films tell speak also to larger political concerns: to histories of migration, exile, colonialism, apartheid. Both Obscure White Messenger and The Master is Drowning are idiosyncratic explorations of 1960s South Africa, and apartheid in the era of notorious South African Prime Minister H.F Verwoerd (known popularly as the ‘architect of apartheid’). Siopis produces an alternative history told through the stories of Dimitri Tsafendas who assassinated Verwoerd in the House of Assembly in 1966, and David Beresford Pratt, who attempted to assassinate him in 1960. Both Tsafendas and Pratt exist as marginal figures imagined by texts and images that range from psychiatric reports to the media.

obscure6 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL), 15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

It will be interesting to see how the site of the Prince Charles cinema mediates how it is we watch the films. The cinema, which opened in 1962, has a cult following, and a programme that includes cult, classic and arthouse films. Moving pictures are part of Siopis’ family history, and My Lovely Day (1997) was originally shown in a spatial reconstruction of a 1920s movie theatre (produced on an intimate scale, and complete with shabby folding velour seats). The installation first appeared at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor in 1997.

my lovely day still1 300x239 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘MY LOVELY DAY’ (STILL). 8MM COLOUR FILM TRANSFERRED TO VIDEO AND DVD, 21MIN, 15SEC, 1997. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.

The voice that Siopis imagines in the making of ‘My Lovely Day’ is that of her grandmother who fled Asia Minor in the wake of Turkish invasion, and travelled from Smyrna, to England and then South Africa. The film appropriates 8mm home movies – shot in the ‘50s and ‘60s by the artist’s mother. We hear music and Siopis’ mother sing ‘This is my lovely day’ (recorded onto a 78 rpm record, made in 1955). The scratchy nostalgia of the record is interjected by the urgent rhythms of music from Greece. The film is an intimate telling of domestic life and family history, against wider backdrops of political oppression and trauma. It is also a telling of prejudice and racial segregation made ordinary. This prejudice made ordinary is a critical point of the films which make visible the nuances of living in apartheid South Africa as a person classified white. Memory is a disruptive, critical force in the telling of history. And there is much at stake in how we remember and represent the past.

obscure21 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL),15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

The screening of Siopis’ films can be situated in relationship to the many shows that have explored film and memory in recent years. Yael Bartana’s powerful trilogy ‘And Europe will be stunned’ – was presented by Artangel at the Hornsey Town Hall this summer.  Bartana’s films stage highly charged performances that are complex explorations of  how the Holocaust is remembered (she engages the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland). Kutluğ Ataman’s multi-screen video installation fff  (at the Whitechapel gallery in 2010) draws, similarly to Siopis, from ‘found family footage’ (shot in the ‘50s and ‘60s). Ataman worked with the archives of two English families in post-war Britain.  But unlike fff, Siopis’ films draw from home movies that are largely anonymous – often discovered in markets in Greece and South Africa.  Recognising people, places and events often depends on prior knowledge, if we are able to at all.

obscure3 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL), 15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010, COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

Contemporary art worlds are global phenomena. The past two decades have seen the expansion of international platforms for art production: these include biennales, artist residencies, art fairs. Travelling artists and curators are ubiquitous. While there are points of connection between art practices across the globe, there are also regional particularities. In London, the interest in performance and moving image media has culminated in the opening of The Tanks at Tate Modern. In New York Performa, founded by RoseLee Goldberg in 2004 has played a critical role in the way we think about performance and its relationship to media such as film. Both The Tanks and Performa are international in impetus as much as they are local, and both function from cities that we imagine are cosmopolitan and as concentrated hubs for creative and intellectual production.

obscure5 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘OBSCURE WHITE MESSENGER’. 8MM FILM TRANSFERRED TO DVD FOR PROJECTION (STILL), 15 MIN, 7 SEC, 2010. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

Britain has a long-standing relationship with a number of African countries, both as colonial power and as part of a globalised present. London is home to a substantial African diaspora, and migration from the UK to South Africa is in turn part of South African history. In London, contemporary art from the African continent is certainly becoming more visible.  Hopefully these will counter the stereotypes that continue to haunt the ways in which Africa is imagined (stereotypes produced by former colonial powers and Africans themselves still situate African cultural production within an ethnographic frame). It will be interesting to see how London audiences, and indeed the African diaspora itself, relate to different kinds of visibility. And to art practices that question what it is to think about art today. 

master7 Frieze: Penny Siopis at Prince Charles Cinema

PENNY SIOPIS. ‘THE MASTER IS DROWNING’. DIGITAL VIDEO AND SOUND (STILL), 9 MINUTES, 2012. COURTESY OF STEVENSON.

This is a true story is a Frieze VIP event (all welcome)

Doors open at 8pm, Thursday 11 October (www.princecharlescinema.com)

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

Box office: 020 74943654

Gallery, Art School Groups and Frieze VIP guests RSVP to David Gryn events@artprojx.com

For more information about Penny Siopis and Stevenson see:  www.stevenson.info. Stevenson, will be at the Frieze art fair (11-14 October 2012) showing work by Nicholas Hlobo, Nandipha Mntambo and Zanele Muholi.www.friezelondon.com. This is the first time Stevenson is participating in Frieze, London: previous fairs include Frieze New York, Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, and Paris Photo.

‘This is a true story’ consists of four short films:  My Lovely Day (1997), Obscure White Messenger (2010), Communion (2011), The Master is Drowning (2012).

T.J Demos is an art historian, writer and curator – based at University College London, He has written widely about contemporary art (including Dara Birnbaum, the Otolith Group, Kutluğ Ataman and Zarina Bhimji) . He was the co-curator of Uneven Geographies: Art and Globalisation at Nottingham Contemporary in 2010 and director of the research-exhibition project Zones of Conflict: Rethinking Contemporary Art during Global Crisis in 2008-9.

Yvette Greslé for FAD

(Yvette is working on Siopis as an art history PhD candidate at University College London, some of the thoughts presented here are drawn from this work)

http://www.artprojx.com

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