Alien is a short video animation, made in 1998, four years after the first democratic elections in South Africa. The piece is based on about ten short sections of television news footage of events in or concerning South Africa spanning a time from 1993 until the beginning of 1998. This was a time of great adjustments for this country, and South Africa was in the news often. Whether at home or abroad, I was always very interested in how the stories of this country and its people was presented to the world, and to itself. The big television news networks ran regular items featuring histories and circumstances I felt to be very close to me, but at the same time there was a very strange shift that I guessed to have been caused by these events having been translated into the narratives of newscasting. I felt I couldn't any more 'see' myself within these histories, with all the repetition (items repeating every half hour at least) the histories represented aquired a surreal feeling for me, drawing the contours of a 'home' I felt I was becoming more and more unfamiliar with, an alienation setting in. I saw bodies that moved, gestures being made, words uttered, I heard voices ring in town halls carried forth by deep and troublesome emotions, and I wondered, where, in all this, am I?
In the medium of television, I find whom-ever is portrayed becomes a spokesperson of some sort, at once witness and emissary: called forth to speak on behalf of a third body, be this body ideological or biological. In this sense, every body that is featured or is held up by the media as some representative voice from South Africa is in a way speaking on my behalf as well. In Alien, I have appropriated the moment, taken my turn to represent the representatives, knowing full well that I will find myself in fragments of a history that will not offer me a comfortable fit.
Attempting to locate my own implicit presence in the narrative of these critical times, my project in Alien was about reclaiming these moments, re-inscribing them with the movements of my own body, the sound of my own heartbeat - a missing memory recounted in flesh and bones. Although my body is neither a-political nor neutral and my performance, likewise, not unmediated, I wanted to bring the extremes of disquiet and euphoria, hope and fear, rage and desire into a language beyond democratic rhetoric.
Eating history. Devoured by time. A statement on Oracle
Recent South African history has shown that a cohesive notion of the past can only be forged from within the intricate maze of individual recollection. In my work memory appears as a document under revision, an uneven patchwork of information that is never complete. Recollection renders the perceived facts of a history into a narrative, the re-telling of which inevitably interferes with the plot: this is the way of language. Hence remembering is an act that requires the human faculty for representation - this suggests moments of appropriation and of editing which could amount to an over-writing or, less kindly, an act of erasure. Therefore a narrative always speaks firstly of the position of its speaker, and only then of what is understood as the content. The rendering also rends: at times the pain of remembering shows us the grim weight of our desires and our losses.
Art renders. I am always redrawing the limits of my understanding of the world, making up alternative narratives along the way, translating the visual agendas of contemporary media and drawing conflicting histories of this place and time into discomfiting proximity of each other. Art also rends. Through my work I tear at the fabric of different realities, severing images from their origin and cleaving apart the logic of their familiar rhetoric. When practised as an impetus against the forgetfulness of history, the strategies of art become volatile and impatient. Considering the socio-political imprint that this place and time has left on me, I choose in my work to bring the peculiarities of a mutating subjectivity to bear on the specificities of its historical context. The matter has become increasingly personal as I come to know more and more about my country of birth.
To acknowledge the gaps in our memories and to reconstruct the missing parts of a history is almost as frightening as staring an apparition in the face, daring it to show itself while knowing that one couldn’t stand the sight. Often the things we can't bear to face are the most telling witnesses of our personal and ideological origins. My new work constitutes a kind of ghost-hunt, tilling over the soil of public and private recollection to find the phantoms that could help to form a composite portrait of an itinerant 'self'. My aim is to determine a sense of future by giving voice to the unmentionable and form to the unimaginable. Because I believe that what one presents as artist can be looked upon as a way of divining our individual and shared destinies.
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Essay: Mistaken Media
Minnette Vári biography