Doctoral Researcher Joanne Bloch’s exhibition, Slantways, opened at the Centre for African Studies Gallery last week and will be up until 25 September. The exhibition features works across a variety of media that are Bloch’s response to chosen artefacts that form part of a ‘somewhat quirky, taxonomy-less colonial-era object collection’ of around 130 objects that is housed in the in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Cape Town Library. ‘I had the choice of using the objects themselves, but instead I have chosen to respond to them creatively,’ says Bloch.
The objects were set aside around the late 1970s and 80s by René Immelman, at the time the UCT Chief Librarian, as the basis for a museum project that never came to fruition.

Bloch’s exhibition is the culmination of the practice-based aspect of her PhD project. ‘My challenge to myself [has been] to to revivify these artefacts via a broad range of open-ended creative and curatorial responses, so that they are enabled to speak to contemporary audiences in fresh, unexpected ways, both individually and as a collection,’ she writes.

The exhibition’s central installation, Hoard, formed part of the exhibition, Imaginary Fact: Contemporary South African Art and the Archive, which was curated by Brenton Maart and staged in the South African Pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia in 2013.

‘Hoard explores the slippery issue of value in relation to archival object collections,’ reads the accompanying wall text. ‘In the process it throws into question the categories “real” and “fake”, “valuable” and “worthless”, and takes a stab at disturbing established or expected systems of classification.

‘To a selection of the objects making up the Manuscripts and Archives collection, I have added new versions of a few items from the Mapungubwe collection, housed at the University of Pretoria. Both in terms of the historical evidence of pre-colonial society they provide, as well as in purely monetary terms, these (real gold) artefacts have the undisputed status of priceless national assets. A third selection of objects is drawn from my personal archives. In terms of value, these objects hold meaning and value for nobody but me.

‘Hoard explores the ironies, anomalies and contradictions of these three collections… Many questions arise. Might there be some value in revivifying the Manuscripts and Archives object collection, and the many other South African collections like it, despite their colonial taint? What value do personal archives hold? Might institutional collections be equally open to interpretations based strongly on feelings? And might there be a grain of truth to my imposter Mapungubwe rhino’s cheeky assertion that it is every bit as valuable as the original?’

When Bloch was faced with sudden sight loss, her project took an unexpected new turn. ‘It now incorporates my re-orientation towards the archive as a person with compromised sight, and the ways in which visual impairment shapes my access to the material I am engaging with, as well as my creative responses to it,’ she says.

The original objects themselves are concurrently on display in the Special Collections reading room, Jagger Library, should curious parties wish to see the artefacts, which gave rise to Bloch’s creations.

Joanne Bloch is registered at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, her project is part of the Archive and Curatorship collaboration between the Centre for Curating the Archive at Michaelis and the Archive and Public Culture Initiative at UCT.

The CAS Gallery is open weekdays between 11am and 3pm. Enquiries: joanne@lando.co.za or 082 348 2863