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KEBBLE WINNERS AT NAF (article first published : 2005-06-17)

Kebble Award winners, Nathaniel Stern and the Keiskamma Project are participating in this year's Grahamstown National Arts festival. Stern is exhibiting stuttering at an interactive show called Sounds Crazy, in collaboration with Toni Olivier from the Studio for Interactive Sound and the STEIM Institute (Netherlands, Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music). The Keiskamma Project is exhibiting Altarpiece, the second monumental embroidery made by the women in the Hamburg region of the Eastern Cape.

Stern and Olivier met over the internet when Olivier was developing the concept for her interactive software; she invited Stern to show one of his works at the Sound Crazy exhibition.

Stern was first selected as a finalist in the 2003 Kebble Art Awards for stuttering where he won a merit award in the new media category. The installation was first exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery as part of the 24-7 residency in August 2003. It was later installed at the launch of the new Wits School of the Arts, University of the Witwatersrand in 2003, as a solo exhibition in the substation, and Stern is currently looking for exposure on an international scale.

The objective of Stern's installation stuttering is to create a tense environment through an inescapable flood of stuttering sound and visual stuttering noise: "stuttering emphasises how we effect, and are affected by, conversation and comprehension," says Stern.

Moleleki Frank Ledimo, judge for the second and third Kebble Awards, considers Stern's work to be groundbreaking. "It is the interactive performative time-based media that makes Stern's work so exciting, he is pushing the boundaries of how art is viewed."

Each viewer in the space triggers a large-scale interactive art object projected on the wall in front them. Only by lessening the audience's participation, will the information explosion slow into an understandable text for the viewer. The piece asks the viewer to listen rather than interact. The audience can literally create new meaning by lessening their movements and phrases.

This iteration of the work has been updated to take advantage of newer technologies that have become available since its first exhibition at The Kebble and will also use site-specific installation strategies in Grahamstown to enhance its affectivity. (Stern also jokes that although he is an avid Macintosh user, this is his first interactive software that will run on Windows!)

The Keiskamma Altarpiece is based on the Issenheim Altar which is a 15th Century series of paintings made by Grunewald for a hospice in Germany, where the inmates were dying of the then incurable ergot poisoning. The Keiskamma altarpiece depicts the crucifixion from the point of view of people without material resources trying to find meaning in their lives.

The women of the Keiskamma art project in Hamburg and surrounding villages have made the Keiskamma Altar piece in the exact dimensions of the original to show that the suffering and hardship of their communities has hope of redemption in their faith and in their shared humanity. They belong to a huge community, past and present, of those who have suffered. As with ergot poisoning, the epidemic of AIDS will one day be over. In addition the Keiskamma Altar piece celebrates the strength of the grandmothers who bear the responsibility for the children in these times.

"We hope that the tapestry will give the community some kind of spiritual comfort as our Altarpiece relates back to Hamburg and the struggles the people of Hamburg have to face." say Jackie Downs.

The second part of the exhibition is the Democracy Tapestry; a 42-metre embroidery in the same style as the Keiskamma Tapestry that won an award at the Kebble Art Awards in 2004. It depicts the first ten years of South Africa's democracy. It is an honest and personal look at these years from the point of view of the villagers in Hamburg, where life has improved markedly since the end of apartheid but continues to present many hardships for these rural people. The concept for this major artwork came from the chief director of the project Carol Hofmeyr. Studio manager and artist, Noseti Makubalo, works with Carol Hofmeyer in illustrating the original concepts. The Keiskamma project is designed and executed entirely by the women working in the project as they aim to leave behind a lasting artwork for their children.

"It is gratifying to see that the Kebble winners and finalists are so active in art production and are collaborating with international artists to enhance the cultural life of the arts in South Africa," says Clive van den Berg; curator of the second and third Kebble Art Awards.




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