STEVENSON is pleased to present Fiction as Fiction (or, A Ninth Johannesburg Biennale), the third exhibition in the year-long Trade Routes Project, in which the gallery pays tribute to the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale.
The idea of a fictional biennale is a rewarding one when examining the history of the Johannesburg Biennale. Its second edition, organised by Okwui Enwezor in 1997, was also its last. How would (local) art history have been altered if the Johannesburg Biennale had not ceased to exist? What if we imagine there was a third incarnation in 1999? A fourth in 2001? A fifth, after some delay, in 2004? A ninth in 2012?
Jacques Lacan famously said that truth has the structure of fiction. In this exhibition, 12 artists from Africa and elsewhere allow us to imagine the boundaries of that structure. Where does fiction begin, and where does it end?
The historical tradition of fiction illustrated by Peter Clarke is made up of stories and characters. But do characters require a story? Lynette Yiadom-Boakye invents characters and simply lets them be; nothing else is provided. The opposite question is posed by Robin Rhode in his work Yard: does a story require a character?
While the sequence of images and words in Penny Siopis' new paintings suggests a story, inner life is privileged over traditional narration. Narrative is altogether absent from the work of Dineo Seshee Bopape. Instead, she turns her attention to the special effects that inevitably embellish and distort narrative. The detritus of ideas and objects in Kemang Wa Lehulere's work suggests a story, yet the storyline proves elusive. Ângela Ferreira freezes a frame in an imaginary film, played on an imaginary projector. Meaning comes from the juxtaposition of ideas and forms.
When memory - by nature flawed, fragmented, incomplete - is turned into narrative, it cannot avoid fictionalising lived experience, as Yto Barrada does in her collage of home movies. History as a category is possibly even more tenuous than memory: when reading history, in most cases we are not able personally to ascertain the facts. We rely on authority to differentiate between history and fable. Where does that leave Frohawk Two Feathers' account of the life and times of 18th-century Caribbean soldier Titus Andronicus?
To the extent that mythology and metaphor illuminate reality, they cannot be said to be fictional in any straightforward sense. The reliance of Nicholas Hlobo on the content and structure of Xhosa mythology allows him to speak of South Africa today. Yang Fudong uses Chinese mythology and cinematic history to create a haunting atmosphere in The Nightman Cometh. Neither artist provides a clear narrative - rather, they let the symbolism of mythology speak for itself.
Yael Bartana shows how fiction also allows the exploration of real, pressing moral questions. This capacity is especially important when dealing with historical events of which the sheer magnitude eclipses reality, such as the Holocaust or the bombing of Hiroshima.
Ultimately, the structures of fiction presented in this 'ninth Johannesburg biennale' collapse into themselves (much as the original biennale did). Fiction might be a fiction.
The Trade Routes Project commenced with Trade Routes Over Time, which presented artists who participated in the original biennale, including Pierre Huyghe, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Wangechi Mutu, Stan Douglas, Olafur Eliasson and Yinka Shonibare. If a tree..., the second installment, took place at Stevenson Johannesburg and looked at the effect of the biennale on local artists such as Robin Rhode and Nicholas Hlobo. At the end of the project, Stevenson will publish a catalogue of writing on and images of the 1997 biennale, as well as the three shows organised during this year.
The exhibition opens on Thursday 29 November 2012, 6-8pm.
Curator Joost Bosland will give a walkabout of the exhibition in support of the Friends of the South African National Gallery on Friday 30 November at 11am. Entrance is R20 (members and non-members); all are welcome.
The gallery will be open throughout the season except on public holidays. Hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.