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KEBBLE AT KKK (article first published : 2005-03-31)

Phillip Rikhotso, joint winner with Tanya Poole of last year’s Brett Kebble Art Awards will be one of the five featured solo artists exhibiting at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (March 25 to April 2). Rikhotso will be showing alongside another Kebble winner, Nathaniel Stern, who scooped a major award for his interactive piece in the 2004 Kebble, as well as 2004 Kebble finalist Ryan Arenson, 2003 finalist, Sanell Aggenbach, multi-media artist Hannes Olivier and internationally acclaimed artist Minnette Vári. Rikhotso will be exhibiting 30 wooden sculptural works titled Mitsheketo (Legends) and an additional photo-realist portrait of Rikhotso painted by his co-winner, Tanya Poole.

Stern will be exhibiting enter: hector, a new media piece he devised in 2001 and has reworked for the KKNK 2005 alongside additional prints. enter: hektor, part of the non-aggressive narrative, is a large scale, walk-in, interactive installation where participants’ movements trigger spoken words.

Rikhotso, who was born in Mamitwa in 1945 near Dzumeri in former Gazankulu in the Limpopo Province, started woodcarving in 1977 and takes as his inspiration the rich and varied XiTsonga folktales of his childhood. He now lives in Daniel Village with his wife and seven of their eight children, two of whom have followed in their father’s creative footsteps. Four of 8-year old Raster Rikhotso’s works will be showcased alongside her father’s work on Mitsheketo, while Phillip’s older daughter Alice is carefully transcribing the stories behind her father’s creations into a school exercise book.

“It’s a sad fact that the vast majority of traditional XiTsonga stories have yet to be translated into English. It’s a situation which we plan to rectify,” says Kathy Coates, Rikhotso’s agent who, together with linguist Conny Lubisi, plans to bring out a book of XiTsonga stories illustrated by Coates’ linocuts and Rikhotso’s sculptures.

“Many of Rikhotso’s woodcarvings illustrate traditional XiTsonga stories, either singly or in groups such as precautionary tales used to prevent children from straying too far from home, while others deal with war and witchcraft whereby people would practice a kind of metamorphosis into half creature, half bird, and even anthills, as a disguise to prevent being caught by warring tribes or as a protection against witchcraft,” explains Coates, “hence the often incongruous melange of human and animal, bird or serpent which characterises so much of Phillip’s work.”

Other features common to Rikhotso’s sculptures are the large piano-key like teeth and big eyes while hands often cover the crotch area, as if concealing the creature’s sexuality. The ambiguous sexuality (male or female) is a symbol with which Rikhotso engages, preferring to hide images of genitalia from the eyes of his children who are often around when he carves. This is very different in Venda artistic tradition where artists such as Albert Munyai, and Meshak Raphalalani carve sculptures with conspicuous male and female sexual organs.

In a very different vein, Nathaniel Stern (NYC/Johannesburg) is an internationally exhibited installation artist, net.artist and performance poet. His interactive installations have won awards in New York, South Africa and Australia, and his net.art, recently commissioned by turbulence.org, has been featured in festivals all over Europe, Asia and the US.

Nathaniel received his BS in Textiles and Apparel Design from Cornell University, and his Masters from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, in Interactive Telecommunications. In addition to his art production, he currently works both in and from Johannesburg, as an adjunct (distance teaching) faculty member of the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, external lecturer, supervisor and curriculum consultant/designer at the Wits School of Arts' Digital Arts MA, and freelance lecturer at Newtown's Anti-Retroviral Theatre program and The South African School Of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance. He freelance writes for various blogs, newspapers and online communities.

Nathaniel Stern’s enter: hector uses body-tracking software, which draws and projects a real-time abstraction of the viewer; simultaneously, hector's projected thoughts (shown as text) run away from this re-presentation, asking viewers to perform in order to speak. With this exterior self, they can literally grab and trigger hector's thoughts, dancing in front of them. Each word that a viewer triggers will stop, turn red, and recite a line of poetry. As viewers learn how to perform in this space, they move in new ways, hector forces them to go between the same exaggerated gestures and jerky expressions that he does. They are asked to create a language of memory, history and self in a space which begs the question, 'Who's directing whom?'

Enter: hector has been installed at The User Illusion show at New York University (May, 2000) and the 12 Artists show at the Johnson Museum of Art (Winter, 2000). It is permanently featured in the Rhizome.org artbase.




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