Artist Francois Knoetze, creator of Semi-Gloss, believes that “trash speaks volumes about us, and it does so without pretensions.” He and members of Via Kasi Movers and Phezulu Stilt Walkers have reanimated posters from last year’s Festival in this performance art piece.
Words by Jessica White | Videos by Zanele Mukhari
Strips of tape and knobs of Prestik attach glossy posters to flat surfaces all over Grahamstown, until the wind sweeps through, morphing them into scraps of litter. Thousands of feet then erode this paper carpet.
What some saw as dead and worthless has been reborn into sculptures that speak to the many ways in which privilege and oppression manifest and work together to create the highly unequal South African landscape.
Ayanda Nondlwana and Siyabonga Bawuti will roam the streets of Grahamstown from today, wearing a life-sized giraffe suit crafted from hundreds of 2015 posters. But their paper character is not alone.
Monwabisi Dondashe and Athenkosi Nyikilana trail this creature in individual suits of poster trash. These artists have created their characters to provoke discussions about the way they, as performers, become as irrelevant as last year’s posters once the festival concludes.
The four men, who live in Grahamstown, identify with Festival posters: “Every year, we perform at the Festival. When it ends we go home – forgotten until next time,” says Bawuti.
So the posters become mirrors, reflecting post-Festival neglect and abandonment. This 11-day stage is a lens into the structures of privilege and oppression that are interwoven into the fabric of South African society.
The performers of Semi-Gloss call themselves the “10-day men”, coming to life every winter, their usefulness discarded for the other 354 days except for when researchers and students seek out residents like the Semi-Gloss performers to “help them get their degrees”, but then discard them once the community service box on that CV has been ticked,” as Bawuti succinctly puts it.
Knoetze explains that Semi-Gloss disrupts conventional narratives and exposes how our identities are intertwined with the commodities we use. Paint manufacturers say semi-gloss paint dries with a texture between glossy and matte, and is used to protect and decorate a surface. Not this time: this production peels off the mask of consumerism.
Watching this creature amble through a jungle of gleaming 2016 posters unexpectedly evokes a series of questions in the audience’s mind. Scraps of paper, assumed to hold no valuable information, awaken the realisation of how people’s perceptions of and reactions to objects are dependent on the context wherein these objects appear. The sculpture tells stories that people are aware of but so often choose to ignore.
Semi-Gloss redefines the word “trash”, illustrating how the term is subject to interpretation and a multiplicity of meanings. While the rest of the town is preoccupied with the bright and glossy posters of 2016, this public arts performance transforms rubbish into new art, creating a thought-provoking spectacle.
The sculpture looms over and overwhelms the audience, and is eerily similar to the towering heaps of rubbish that are strewn across the country.
Semi-Gloss is insightful yet unsettling. It is accompanied by a 20-minute film made in Grahamstown. The documentary articulates the sentiments of neglected and frustrated local artists, leaving the viewer with important concepts to negotiate, and decisions to make.
Anyone interested in our current social and economic trials will both appreciate and be disturbed by Semi-Gloss.
Semi-Gloss Public Art, see NAF programme for venues, daily, 3pm
Semi-Gloss Film Installation, Hangar Foyer, daily, 10am–6pm