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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BLACK BOXES (article first published : 2002-06-10)

Black Boxes is the title of a mixed media exhibition by Fritha Langerman to run at the NSA Galleries from June 11 at 18h00 until June 30.

The exhibition deals with issues around modes of cultural representation, specifically those of ethnographic display and the material manifestations of the tourist industry in South Africa. The work is premised on the viewpoint that culture is mutable, whereas cultural classification is an inorganic and divisive process.

Cultural commodification and curio production reinforce this freezing of culture through the creation of artificial boundaries. The work makes visual reference to this both in the display of the exhibit and in the production of the individual units.

The project attempts to subvert the accepted relationship within systems of display, where objects are seen to represent cultural groupings. In this case the objects in each set are identical although each box is labelled using one of the 11 official languages for each series. This alludes to the arbitrary and imprecise relationship between language, object and meaning.

Language and geography are core to cultural ordering. The work references this in its division into nine series (provinces) of 11 units each (languages). It uses government departments as a "democratising" system for the classification of objects: objects for housing, agriculture, labour, communication, water, education, health, transport and defence. Paper weapons are constructed from recent government department speeches. The medium of waxed and stained paper is in contradiction to the weapon forms and carries meaning in its permeability and lack of inherent strength.

Misclassification, inaccurate translation and misunderstanding are inevitable consequences of cultural ordering and are inherent within the project. The definition of “Black Boxes”, a technical term, provides the most apposite synopsis for the apparatus of cultural representation - a generic device with known characteristics but unspecified means of operation, with internal mechanisms mysterious to the user.

Fritha Langerman lives and works in Cape Town. Having graduated from Michaelis (University of Cape Town) in 1991, she now lectures there in the Print Media/New Media Department. She has taken part in many group and curated shows including several ABSA Atelier shows (she won a merit award in 1999), and Bloedlyn at the KKNK in 1998. Her work is in several public collections.




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