The 20 Second Johannesburg Biennale
The video opens to a long shot of the high rises to the west of Johannesburg’s central business district from on top of a mine dump just south of downtown. The camera slowly pans across the urban vista for ten seconds – heading from left to right. A solitary figure with their back to the camera appears to the right of the frame (medium length shot) holding a marine flare gun above their head, the panning shot doesn’t stop and as the figure is in the middle of the frame they fire the flare, a puff of smoke appears as the flare launches off camera. The pan continues past the figure for a further ten seconds taking in the low-rise industria to the east. When the whole panning shot has reached twenty seconds it fades to black and the video ends.
The title of this work denotes the length of time this Johannesburg ‘biennale’ lasted – just twenty seconds - but also doubt for a future time when the city might in reality be hosting a 22nd international art biennale. The camera, and hence the viewer, are looking north in this video - a reference to the historical and ongoing European support and interest in South African arts as well as the large number of once-local artists that now live and work in Europe. The flare as an overt signifier of distress represents an absurd endeavour to attract the attention of these parties 9000 kilometres away. The patent meaninglessness of this act is a product of my own view of the unfortunate, but perhaps only temporal, improbability of Johannesburg hosting a further 20 biennales*. As well as a cynical metaphor for what I think is a means used to accrue cultural capital within sectors of the local art world fixated on the ‘north’ as a singular source of validation and opportunity.
* Johannesburg has hosted two international art bienales – in 1995 and 1997