Photo of Randolph Hartzenberg

Randolph Hartzenberg

Born in Cape Town, 1948. Lives in Cape Town.

Through his paintings, installations and performances, Randolph Hartzenberg produces works that are as emphatic in their physicality as they are cerebral in content.

 

Art in South Africa, The Future Present

Staking Claims catalogue

One and another – Art South Africa, Volume 8, Issue 3, Autumn 2010 –  article by Randolph Hartzenberg

Grahamstown National Arts Festival Performance , 2012

Randolph Hartzenberg, created “Three Days” for the Making Way exhibition curated by Ruth Simbao at the 2012 National Arts Festival. The performance took place at Fort Selwyn in Grahamstown.

Art Education

1994: MA Fine Art, University of Cape Town.
1989: BA Fine Art, University of Cape Town.
1982: Higher Diploma Drama in Education, University of Cape Town.
1968: Certificate Art Teaching, Hewat Training College.

Solo Exhibitions


2008: Prints, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town.
1996: Map of the Neighbourhood, Metropolitan Life Gallery, Cape Town.
1994: Domestic Baggage, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town.

Selected Group Exhibitions (South Africa)


2016: Burr, the AVA/Strauss & Co. print portfolio 2016. The AVA Gallery, Cape Town
2013: Making Way, Curated by Ruth Simbao, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
2012: Making Way, Curated by Ruth Simbao, Grahamstown Art Festival
2009: Dada South, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
2007: africa south, Curated by Mario Pissarra, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town.
2007: ReCenter, Curated by Mario Pissarra, Look-out Hill, Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
2006: Facing the Past: Seeking the Future — Reflections on a Decade of Truth and Reconciliations Commission, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
2006: Amajita in Conversation, Curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town.
2005: Botaki 3, Curated by Mario Pissarra, Old Mutual Asset Managers, Pinelands, Cape Town.
2004: Botaki, Curated by Mario Pissarra, Old Mutual Asset Managers, Pinelands, Cape Town.
2002: Outdoor Sculpture Biennial, Spier, Stellenbosch.
2001: Telling Tales, 3rd I Gallery, Cape Town.
2001: Homeport, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town.
2000: Kwere Kwere: Journeys into Strangeness, Curated by Rory Bester, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.
1999: Staking Claims, Curated by Emma Bedford, The Granary, Cape Town.
1998: !Xoe Site Specific, Nieu Bethesda.
1998: 30 Minutes, Robben Island Prison Complex, Robben Island.
1997: Hong Kong, etc., Curated by Hou Hanru, Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg.
1997: District Six Sculpture Project, Cape Town.
1997: Cyst: Works in Paint, Curated by Claire Menck, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town and Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg.
1996: Hardground Printmakers in collaboration with Stellenbosch University Gallery curated by Jonathan Comerford
1996: Faultlines, Curated by Jane Taylor, Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.
1978-1979: Response To The Detentions, Curated by Dimitri Nicholas-Fanourakis, Space Theatre Gallery Bloem Street, Cape Town
1968: Artcom, Argus Gallery, St Georges Street, Cape Town

Group exhibitions (international)

2003: Kwere Kwere: Journeys into Strangeness, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
1999: Dialogue, Arhus, Denmark.
1995: Transitions, Bath Festival, UK and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
1995: Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberation in South African Art, Curated by Colin Richards, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, UK.
1995: Venice Biennale (participant in work by Malcolm Payne), Venice, Italy.
1994: Displacements, Curated by Jane Taylor and David Bunn, Northwestern University, Chicago, USA.

Performances


2013: Three Days, Making Way, Curated by Ruth Simbao, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg.
2012: Three Days, Making Way, Curated by Ruth Simbao, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown.
2000: I Want To Hear My Brother, The Granary, Cape Town.
1996: The Ninth Haptic String, Faultlines, The Castle, Cape Town.
1991: Eight Haptic Strings, Michaelis Gallery, University of Cape Town.
1982: Member of the Community Arts Workshop, (CAP) Mime Group, Culture and Resistance Festival, Gaberone, Botswana
1977: Hand Signals, Space Theatre Gallery, Cape Town.
1976: The Zoo has Nothing to Hide, Space Theatre Gallery.

Collections (Public and Corporate)

South African National Gallery, Cape Town; The Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town; The University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg; Vodacom, Cape Town; The Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Chicago, USA; and Norad, Oslo, Norway.

Commissions

2003: Breadline/Waterline, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
2000: Breadline/Waterline, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa.
1995: Commissioned participation in Malcolm Payne’s installation for the Venice Biennale, Italy.

Residencies

1996: Artist in Residence, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa.

Publications

2014
Mario Pissarra, “Quiet Provocations: thoughts on two sculptures by Randolph Hartzenberg”, http://asai.co.za/artist/randolph-hartzenberg/

2011
Thembinkosi Goniwe, Mario Pissarra and Mandisi Majavu (eds), Visual Century Vol.4, Wits University Press, Johannesburg.

2010
Randolp Hartzenberg,, “One and Another”. Art South Africa 8(3): 12.

2008
Deela Khan, “Salt on my breath”. http://asai.co.za/artist/randolph-hartzenberg/

2007

Visual Century Vol.4 , Ed. Thembinkosi Goniwe, Mario Pissarra and Mandisi Majavu, Wits University Press

2005

Mario Pissarra, Botaki Exhibition 3: Conversations with Donovan Ward, OMAM, Cape Town.

2004
Botaki: Conversations with South African artists, Ed. Mario Pissarra, Old Mutual Asset Managers, Cape Town.

1999
Emma Bedford, Staking Claims: Confronting Cape Town, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

1997
Clare Menck and Johann Louw in collaboration with the William Fehr Collection and the Sandton Civic Gallery, Cyst: Works in paint, The Artists' Press, White River.
Emma Bedford, Contemporary South African Art, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
Sue Williamson, Thirty Minutes: Installation by nine artists, Robben Island Museum, Cape Town.
Philipa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa, David Philip, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

1996
Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamal, Art in South Africa: The future present, David Phillip Publishers, Cape Town.

1995
Clive van den Berg, Panoramas of Passage: Changing landscapes of South Africa, University of Witwatersrand Art Galleries, Johannesburg and Meridian International Centre, Washington DC.

1992
Joe Dolby and Deon Viljoen, Friends’ Choice 1975-1991 / Vriende Se Keuse 1975-1991, Friends of the South African National Gallery sponsored by Creda Press, Cape Town.

1988
Gavin Younge, Art of the South African Townships, Thames and Hudson, London.

Links

Salt On My Breath

Prints in the Artsstrip by Randolph Hartzenberg at the AVA Gallery: 14 July – 1August 2008.

 


The exhibition comprises works from Hartzenberg’€™s Monotype Series “Map of the Neighbourhood” and a selection of Screen Prints from his series “Abbreviations”. The contiguity of the imagery, metaphor and iconography make a powerful statement. They bear testimony to the artist’€™s concerns with the ‘inner neighbourhood’ that has evolved for more than a decade.

In the hallway of the exhibition I’€™m confronted by the first monotype with the Man Ray-like spiked iron cutting through space, a model of society’s bloodied canvas with translucent beams holding up a folder protruding the ebony edges of a face. The folder is reminiscent of the Nansen Passports that were used last century as identification and travel papers for refugees and illegal aliens. There are also black stairs in the air, coal dust and a line drawing prism containing the danse macabre of man carrying earthquakes on his shoulders. Inscribed on the dirty pink, brown, greenish, blood streaked and smudged background is “€œhaptic vp //object.”€ It makes me ponder the significance of the virtual prototype it is referring to. Atlas carried the world on his shoulders while we, pygmies in the mist, bear earthquakes.

This monotype, invites the viewer to undertake a haptic and synesthetic quest. This is an interactive mode of art that returns your gaze. It is the signpost pointing to resolutions that will emerge only after engaging with each frame; unfolding like the frames of a movie. The collective impact of the show will yield the insights and resolutions. The viewer, however, will be unable to say “The End”€ and walk away. The stripped prints in the Artsstrip show, uncovered of their veils and socially rewarded pretensions shape-shifts the viewer into a dialectical image, which resists and evades resolution. The contiguity of the play of images induces an imagery of shock with revelation gaining control over estrangement.

I step inside, face the second monotype. Hlukuhla! I’m shaken awake. I grab my Molotov cocktail as the compass directs my eyes to scenes of dismemberment and decapitation. The black talking head contained in its sulphurous frame tells the tragedy of Orestes. The blades in the picture are not Carrol’€™s vorpal swords here; they’€™re sacrificial blades in medicine bottles, marinating in tumblers of blood. Indeed, “there are great puddles of blood on the world!” Yannis Ritsos’€™ poem, Orestes, surfaces. Orestes imploring, “€œIs this the right way?”€ echoes startlingly. Images of the crossed out, condemned head, silently transmits: “Listen with the ears of your heart.” I have just begun but I’m already overwhelmed as I’€™m confronted with the mapping of an expansive, ever expanding industrial and cybernetic wasteland which the exhibition is designed to reflect and condemn.

I walk on, pick out the leitmotifs, witness the recurring profiles of the decapitated heads imprisoned in their glowing sulphurous frames within the frames of the monotypes. My gaze is captured by the bodiless heads dialoguing across contiguously linked frames. The protruding mouths reflect their status as the ever expressive locus of conflict and pain. The heads are defiant. They say what they like; they’re “€œbloody but unbowed.”€ I find the mouths triggering an interior monologue in my head. Visions of Picasso’€™s Guernica, Munch’s Scream, Baudelaire’€™s Les Fleurs Du Mal, Prevert’s Song in the Blood, Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib, crowd my head. The process of re-membering is sparked. I am plunged into a Proustian remembrance of things past.

Submerged accretions of the crystallized salt of memory are cracked and shaken loose. Old wounds and sutures are re-opened and saltpetred. I begin to see shards of fragmented time melt down like Dali’€™s melted time-pieces, merging and collapsing into nightmare. Confronted with the long- forgotten runes of disappeared and unspeakable things I become muted. Expressing what I’m experiencing is hard. It becomes inexpressible. The illusion of “All’€™s well with the world”€ is rent apart as the interacting images relentlessly screen and map the salt, terror, pain and suffering endured across the timelines and still continuing in current time.

The exhibition dares me and I walk the mindful walk. Soon I concur that our planet is a theatre of cruelty, a universal alchemical theatre of the absurd that burgeons with flowers of evil. I am compelled to traverse the continuous, continuing cartography of our eyeless, sleeping neighbourhood. Each frame is a movie strip projecting the sacrificial blade, the blood, the writing against the wall, the time and the salt of our brutal past, present and future collapsed into one. Cruelty has been the same through time and is the same everywhere. In agreement with Jamieson (2007) “€œArtaud would sum it all up as common as “dust breeding… This spectacle of banality reigns supreme. It is the ugly spectacle of indifference, insignificance, and platitude; the opposite of the Theatre of cruelty.” The man with earthquakes on his shoulders precipitates tremors, demands a break from the commodified, dislocated world silenced in the mists of banality.

I continue with the flow of the river of images that reveal the concretised patterns of cruelty and the cruelty of patterns as Salt Theatre and the Theatre of Cruelty unfolds before our eyes. We’re pushed right into the centre of the action. The strong medicine shocks us out of our complacency. Lee Jamison explained that “The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator designed to shock them out of their complacency.”

Psychic Myopia has become part of the human condition. Freud terms the blight as the “blindness of the seeing eye.” The artist, said Freud, “should be a seeing-eye dog for a myopic civilization.” Honouring this role, Hartzenberg employs the recurring trope of failing vision. It Hlukuhlas the enslaved mind to lazar its cataracts and experience the dislocated social fabric. It also demonstrates the unrelenting flourishing of dissident art through time.

I walk. I have salt on my breath. The salt stings my skin as I wrestle with the concept of tactile vision. My brain intuits that the recourse to sensory methods of vision is the result of Hartzenberg’s search for an aesthetic capable of depicting human society as it is, no frills, disrobed; to see and feel the perpetual wars and the chaos, transmit the will to transform and demand the need for a more humane paradigm. The power thought to inhere in the artistic gaze is challenged and questioned as this more inclusive, engaged art pleads to my sense of touch and compassion.

In his (2006) The African Renaissance: Confronting the Unspeakable paper, Hartzenberg in his role as poet-seer strongly articulates that the time has come for us to face up to the gravity of the crises we’re faced with:

“…a signal that desperation point has been reached … and that desperate measures are needed to salvage a better future for the [planet].

…locking ourselves inside “die huis van die dowes” is no longer an option.

…When the signposts are down, when the map of the neighbourhood is a confused blur, when deep feelings of hurt rise to the surface, desperate questions become deafening… A truly humane movement is needed.”

The elements strewn across the monotypes call out for change:

“In air, fire, earth and water
World on the scales.
Air, fire, earth and water
Balance of change
World on the scales
On the scales.” [1]

This in mind I continue to feel my way along the map of images. My eyes see, hear and feel the silent commentary, sights and insights they yield. I am rendered wordless, beyond expression. The images reel around an unspeakable pivot recurrently depicting the memory chips of our losses, registering the signs and symbols of our historical excesses, the alchemical chaos required for change and the threshold between blindness, insight and transformation through the union of opposites.

The monotypes watch me watching them. They elicit the feeling of images watching us as we see and don’t see. We become unhinged by the uneasiness of being observed by much more than we’re able to see or read. They flood the viewer with the trope of a fast failing vision; we’re somnambulistic perambulators blind to all the signs we’re proffered. They provide the rude awakening that comes when we’re shocked into noticing. The signs have been there all along, but we weren’t. We were looking, but we weren’t seeing. We have forgotten how to look, see, read.

The recurrent mapping of this disturbing collaged symbolic imagery alerts the viewer to the precarious state that the canvas of our world is in. The hallowed talking heads in the mapped dreamscapes of facelessness, erasure, terror, brutality, torture, drag the viewer into taking sides, siding with the abject and asking, “Is this how it ends?” Arranged dialogically the heads spell out that wars, suffering, and social dislocation has been part of the marathon or neverending story, of tyrannical patriarchal power exercised across time and time zones.

Still walking I see that print upon print also memorializes lost histories. Histories we have chosen to forget. They silently scream out for us to connect with the images, feel the salt on our breath; learn to demythologize the packed symbols and read them historically. The monotypes haptically reveal the ways power structures operate. They invite us to look for the power behind the disturbing images, to discover and uncover the invisible, alternative realities, our lost or archived histories. The shock of the horror is capable of opening us up. It’s imperative that we do not forget as Merlin in Excalibur warned, “… for it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Hartzenberg solders together disparate things such as the brain as black box, depicted as a musical Pandora’s box left open, humans as breath vessels, crushed glass, saltpetre, strange fruit and flowers of evil like the blades and a slip from Orestes’ tree flourishing in blood-filled planters, nails, a detached brass tap tarnished with spattered blood, pails cold-bloodedly engaged in the perpetual pumping of blood darkened with memory, scattered ears like disconnected snail shells, handwritten poems superimposed on the imagery in Greek and English, the bloodied Book opened on a page urging the viewer to Walk/Walk and read, dusty stands with shelves laden with pyramids of excavated or incinerated human debris, specimens of humanity bottled and commodified for posterity, isolation hangars, ballot boxes with drawers for the voteless, with voice withheld, breath withheld, Dust, Dust Minus Zero and the artist paring his fingernails on a rock. Thrown together in the constraints of their frames we witness how the play of the objects are brought into close proximity while they still retain their own identity, but create brand-new form, by the energy of things juxtaposed.

The walking, reading and excavating triggered by the collective impact of the monotypes and their abbreviations left me stirred and inspired and driven to act, Read the Oresteia. I accede that “in [our] time of crisis there is a greater need for the activation of the humane in the midst of so much subterfuge,” as shamanic artist, Randolph Hartzenberg had said.

Deela Khan – August 2008

Notes

[1] “In the Wake of Poseidon ~World on the Scales”. www.songsouponsea.com/Promenade/PoseidonC.html

References

Artist, The Quotes, www.quoteland.com/topic.asp

Hugo Heyrman. “Art and Synesthesia: in search of the
synesthetic experience”. www.doctorhugo.org/synaesthesia/ – 92k

Lee Jamieson (2007). Antonin Artaud, From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, p.21-22

Lee Jamieson, “Antonin Artaud” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonin_Artaud – 58k

Randolph Hartzenberg (2006). “The African Renaissance: Confronting the Unspeakable”. www.asai.co.za/forum.php?id=27 – 19k –

William Bogard. “1000 Days of Theory, The Coils of a Serpent: Haptic Space and Control Societies”. CTheory.net

Quiet Provocations: Thoughts on two works by Randolph Hartzenberg

Randolph Hartzenberg has worked most of his professional life as an educator. For several years, he taught art at Alexander Sinton High School in Athlone and later lectured in design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Alongside his work as an educator, Hartzenberg has produced a rich body of artworks. He first attracted attention for his work as a painter, notably Domestic Baggage (1994), and later received some attention for his printmaking (Map of the Neighbourhood (1996)). In more recent years, there has been increased interest in his performances and installations. For the latter, there is typically a strong sculptural element, although these pieces tend to be categorised as installations because most make use of found materials and are produced for specific locale, usually in response to invitations from curators.

 

In my capacity as curator, I invited Hartzenberg to create two sculptural installations for themed group shows in 2007 — ReCenter at Lookout Hill, Kayelitsha and africa south at the Association for Visual Art (AVA). During public walkabouts for these exhibitions, it was apparent that Hartzenberg’s pieces — Base Load Profile and Untitled, respectively — perplexed visitors, a response that gave me cause to reflect on how the least elaborate objects on show could be the most perplexing.

 

These works, I argue, are deceptively formalist. One resembles minimal art; the other, a found object. But neither of these works are self-referential — they do not begin and end as sculptures in conversation with themselves. Instead, both works prompt reflection on questions of power that extend well beyond their identity as objects of art. In particular, both pieces provoke questions about the deceptive mundanity of the everyday, revealing the normative to bean articulation of social, cultural, economic and political power. And then, having unsettled your day, they desert you on the precipice of agency… Getting to grips with these sculptures requires, in the first instance, close inspection of their form, as it is what the artist presents that provides the key to unlocking layered, open-ended readings.

 

Base Load Profile is a floor piece. It takes the form of a metal, box-like structure, with a metal bar attached to it. The box is constructed from six rectangular metal plates. The flatness of the surface of the box is interrupted by narrow, straight, low-lying ridges that delineate the edges, and which are repeated as a line that crosses the box, effectively dividing all panels into two, equal parts. The extended bar occupies more horizontal space than the box, being approximately five times its length. At the point that these strips join they overlap, disturbing but not breaking the impression of continuity of the horizontal line, (technically two adjacent lines). The outermost end of the bar is bolted to its base, a board that rests directly on the floor.[1] At its other end, the horizontality of the metal bar is broken by an abrupt, forty-five degree diagonal that connects it to the central point on the side of the box.

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From this description, it is clear that the form of the sculpture is minimalist. There is an emphasis on order, on the crisp definition of shapes. Excessive detail is eliminated. But there is also an understated sense of drama, evident in contrasts between the black sculpture and the white cube in which it is placed, and between the voluminous box and its slender extension. Presence and absence also are visualised as contrasts — if the box defines a closed, physical mass, the line evokes an open, limitless void. The short, diagonal ascent/descent between box and bar introduces a dynamism that is countered by the fixed and closed ends of the piece. There are several elements that draw attention to ideas of the centre, such as the point where box and extension meet, the joint between two identical strips of metal that makes one horizontal line and the narrow, raised ridges that divide the panels of the box into two equal halves. But there are those elements that remind us that symmetry and equivalence are not always the same. We notice that the box is not a square; its verticality is greater than its horizontality.

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If we consider the other element provided by the artist — the title — then we are alerted to questions of intent on his part. ‘Base load’ suggests a concern with bearing weight, while ‘profile’ suggests that we are presented with an outline, survey or contour. Taken together, the title intimates a visual representation that in its clinical, impersonal language and form assumes the qualities of a diagram or illustration, introducing a didactic dimension that is somewhat at odds with the abstract, ‘non-representational’ form of the sculpture.

 

Here it is necessary to introduce more detail of the curatorial brief, as this work was not produced on its own terms for display in an unspecified location. ReCenter specifically posed questions of margin and centre, of inclusion and exclusion, the in/visible, un/said, power and powerlessness. Seen in these terms, it becomes clear that the visual contrasts allude to social, political and economic inequalities, that the impenetrable box represents a centralisation of power, its emphatic closure underlining its inaccessibility, the short, diagonal bar signifying the limited engagement between those outside and those inside.

 

In his earlier Domestic Baggage series, Hartzenberg demonstrates his interest in commonplace, everyday objects, which are often imbued with hints of their metaphorical potential. In these terms, the function of a box as a container, a place to store things of value comes into play, elucidating the nature of power as defined by access to and control of resources. However, there is the simultaneous invitation to consider the commonplace association of a box, or being boxed, as being about categorisation. Through this lens, we see a critique of dominant taxonomies, seemingly omnipotent and secure for those who accept them, but from which most people are excluded.

 

While the above readings present generalised interpretations, a more localised lens introduces more specific concerns. In the context of post-apartheid South Africa, any work that plays on contrast between black presence and white space inevitably introduces the possibility of alluding to questions of colour, race and power. In this instance, the asymmetrical distribution between box and bar highlights an inequality within the very notion of blackness. In the Western Cape, the emphatic choice of a homogenising black colour sits uneasily with the ‘coloured question’ — political attempts to level ‘non-white’ as black do little to address prevalent perceptions of difference and questions of relative levels of oppression under colonialism and apartheid. In the context of Khayelitsha, questions of class differentiation become more acute, where local viewers, whether living in informal or small brick houses, are more likely to position themselves at different points of the bar, probably not far from the bolted end, rather than in the centre or even perimeter of the box. Seen from the vantage point of Khayelitsha, Base Load Profile visualises the polarity between city centre and the majority. From a micro-perspective, with the centre at Lookout Hill controlled by the municipality and not the community that inhabits the area in which it is situated, there are questions of alienation by residents from the venue itself. Observing this dynamic introduces yet another dimension of power. Moreover, the undeclared performative dimension that the sculpture ritually enacts — the very sense of exclusion from power that is experienced by most Khayelitsha residents — is analogous to the alienation experienced by local viewers when confronted by the impersonal presence of Hartzenberg’s sculpture.

 

Base Load Profile is a conceptual work that is clearly concerned with questions of power in society. It masquerades as a formalist sculpture and while claiming authorship of the work as an idea, Hartzenberg credits his colleague, Martin Hine, a workshop assistant from his place of employment, for the physical production of the work. This introduces the artist’s concerns with questions of ‘work’, and how certain forms, such as the intellectual work associated with art, separates the artist from the technician and labourer. These themes become more apparent when considering Hartzenberg’s untitled production for africa south. In this installation, Hartzenberg brought a well-used workbench into the gallery space. The workbench had a clamp at one end and a guillotine at the other. Alongside the clamp, there was a stack of identically sized sheets of glass. As with Base Load Profile, the deceptively static work included dramatic elements. The guillotine was raised, as if ready to activate. Normality, signified by everyday work materials, clashed with elements of incongruity, such as their presentation in the gallery, as well as the implicitly violent disjuncture between glass and tools. In the gallery context, glass panes suggest framing and conservation; Untitled exposed their vulnerability to the tools and operations of the real world.

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But what did this Dadaist displacement of art and the everyday have to do with the exhibition? A key concern of africa south was to consider the persistent legacies of colonialism in shaping the everyday. Hartzenberg’s workbench points to the disjuncture between art as historically privileged space and the world of work. Only through close examination does the work take on a more precise critical role within the context of its exhibition.[2] Placed discretely under the sheets of glass, concealed but visible to the forensic eye, is an assortment of very ordinary cutlery. This deceptively insignificant, obscure detail, once apprehended, becomes a powerful metaphor of the historical violence embedded in routine, at the base of the everyday. For what many, predominantly Western-educated, members of the public accept as normative, as ordinary is an intrusive element in advancing notions of Western civilisation. In a global context, where many cultures eat with their hands, cutlery is routinely placed, in colonially circumscribed order, for use by patrons in eating establishments, as well as in many homes. I have always taken this for granted, due to my own upbringing and socialisation. Hartzenberg’s discrete display of cutlery serves as a stark reminder that many everyday or normative rituals are in fact culturally coded, effectively discriminating against non-Western norms. With this work, the absence of a title acts as a notification that much goes unsaid, receiving little public comment.

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These two works by Hartzenberg demonstrate the artist’s predilection for physical pieces that are understated in form, but rich in allusions and significations. In providing these readings I am mindful of the risks in according fixed, literal meanings to art that presents itself in very abstract terms. The artist himself adopts the position that he does not prescribe readings. However, what I wish to articulate here is how artworks can be simply what they are, but that this non-elaborative, matter-of-fact presence can simultaneously allude to critical questions, arising from the particular sets of contexts in which the work is produced and presented. Such pieces require close examination of discrete elements and quiet introspection on questions of place and time. Through intimate engagement, their identity as provocative objects gradually becomes evident.

 

But perhaps Hartzenberg’s quiet provocations are even more challenging than they seem. For in engaging with them as works of art and in interpreting or attributing their meanings, they constantly remind us of their presence as objects. The artwork never stops prompting us to engage with the everyday, ceaselessly reminding us that the deceptive normality of things in our lives and the world at large is never one-dimensional. Everything is what it is, but means so much more, if we take the time to think about it.

 

Mario Pissarra, October 2014

 

[1] This board, actually two identical boards, was introduced for practical purposes, as we could not damage the floor by drilling into it.

[2] Very few viewers took time to look closely at what simply looked like an out-of-place bench. Indeed, with several visitors resting their wine glasses on the bench during the opening it appears that many did not recognise it as an artwork at all.