Colleen Alborough Johannesburg: Place beyond Fear 2015 | | Art in South Africa
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Johannesburg: Place beyond Fear 2015 | Galerie Seippel, Koln

Artist Statement: Johannesburg: Place Beyond Fear

Art and Society shaped by fear

The city of Johannesburg is viewed as a dangerous destination. It has been described as a "lawless Wild West frontier town paralysed by corruption and disease"[1]. This outlook is shaped by the reports on the violent clashes in the townships during the struggle for South Africa's liberation and later, the increase in senseless violent crime in the postapartheid era. Given the very real data and experiences supporting negative perceptions about this notorious city it makes sense that this city should instill a sense of fear. Perhaps a degree of fear is necessary to survival in Joburg. But at what point does this psychological state become irrational and out of sync with reality? When does fear become unhealthy and dysfunctional, distorting your perceptions?

These are questions Alborough's exhibition prompts, as she is constantly interrogating her relationship to this city, not only as a citizen with a studio in located in a no-go area of the city, but as a victim of violent crime who has been forced to confront her worst fears. These questions also resonate on other levels given Alborough has suffered from psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, where fear gives rise to irrational thought patterns that can be paralysing.

As the title Johannesburg: Place Beyond Fear implies the conditions Alborough is interested in evoking through her art are unseen - cannot be 'placed' - and the struggle to arrive at a 'place' where they no longer preoccupy an individual and shape their reality. The dysfunctional characters that recur in her art are not confronted with danger, but rather are so haunted by the past that they keep replaying it in an effort to break free from it. This directly represents the psychosocial conditions that permeate post apartheid South Africa while also providing a stage for Alborough to exorcise her personal, psychological and professional battles to overcome anxiety. Her art is born from fear, though it presents, in ways, the mechanics for overcoming them too.

This has encouraged her to adopt unfamiliar mediums, which are difficult to control and perfect - such as stop-frame animation in the making of Balance. As a time-consuming, labour-intensive process it presents an automatic challenge and given Alborough's self-confessed clumsiness, which frequently disrupts the fixed camera position, denies the kind of perfection she seeks out. In this way she is forced to confront the work's inherent 'failure' and embrace it by exploiting the jerky movements of the characters as a means of imparting her own and their anxiety-ridden existences. There is no impending threat in sight, despite this pervasive mood, implying that their anxiety is maybe misplaced or at least derived from what has already occurred - like post traumatic stress.

Conceived as an installation for a hotel room in 12 Decades Hotel, in the Maboneng precinct, a regenerated pocket of the inner city, 50 Stories, a series of 50 small relief prints, presents guests with some positive aspects of Joburg's history that might quell their trepidations about exploring the terrain outside the hotel - a phenomenon that famously afflicts many visitors to a city with such a bad reputation. She does this via the reproduction of factual accounts that might disrupt perceptions in the form of newspaper articles published during the time that Carlton Centre - a 50-storey building - was erected in the late sixties. The establishment of this landmark building that offers a panoramic view of the city marked a period in Joburg's evolution when the its centre was desirable and commuters from the suburbs gravitated towards it, rather than avoid it or traverse through it with a sense of trepidation. From reports on women wearing no bras to a multi-racial restaurant, Alborough reveals a society challenging the repressive laws and conservatism that defined the apartheid era. In this way she reveals the fearlessness of some of the city's citizens and the manner in which ideologies built on fear were constantly being tested.

In the Weighing of the hearts, an installation which Alborough constructs insitu, she most thoroughly lays bare her art making process by making viewers privy to the work's construction. Like a DIY map, we can detect all the diverse materials, some everyday, others low-tech mechanical devices, which all work at reconstructing a sort of psycho-geographical trace of Joburg. There is something poetic about the way in which it is subject to being reconstructed in its iteration at Galerie Seippel, though this also presents a degree of risk for Alborough, who has to (re)piece this fragile cartographical inspired artwork together in a new setting. This forces her to yet again confront and overcome her own fears around failure and her desire for perfection and then acceptance that this is ultimately unattainable. Through her adopted mediums she constantly gravitates towards these kinds of challenges in order to constantly experience and overcome professional anxieties for she realises that the value of art lies in its imperfections and an artist's willingness to embrace them. This also gives expression to the way in which she revels in Joburg’s most obvious 'imperfections' or failures.

In replaying transcendence over fear, whether via mediums that deny mastery, or via her subject-matter Alborough tackles this condition from a multitude of angles, revealing a dysfunctional society deeply fractured by fear and possibly even paralysed by it, though she too exposes the absurdity, kinship and the poetics of this context.

[1]. Jeremy Clarkson. Dare you visit Joburg, the city for softies. The Sunday Times (UK) 1 March, 2009.

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