Some of our Honours students deferred their exhibition until February this year, due to the student protests at the end of 2016. This is a look at The Fictum Fabricabus Shop curated by Julia Kabat, Caring for Constitution Hill: a curatorial journey through the archives: The Power and Punishment exhibition curated by Amohelang Mohajane and The Records Room curated by Elize de Beer. The below text is written in each student’s own words.
The Fictum Fabricabus Shop curated by Julia Kabat
The Fictum Fabricabus Shop is a curatorial endeavor that takes shape in the form of a museum shop environment. In this setting, as the curator, I perform the role of both the ‘constructor’ and ‘conductor’ in seeking to represent and mimic the symbolic construction of souvenir objects. Essentially, my curatorial staging aims to show that this symbolic construction consists of a narrative which is ascribed to the souvenir object by the possessor, a meaning which is not inherent in the materiality of the object. This strategy implies that my role is positioned as an ‘artist-curator’, whereby ‘curation’ refers to the act of ‘framing’ by means of contextual considerations such as the museum shop environment, that is established in order to conduct how the audience engages with the exhibition and its conceptualisations pertaining to souvenir objects. Souvenirs as accessible translations of objects from museum displays, purchased from the museum’s gift shop, insinuates that my role as ‘artist- curator’ subsequently disturbs the conventions and meanings associated within the space of the museum.
In The Fictum Fabricabus Shop, the objects for sale are recognisable approximations of natural wonders and animal specimens typically found in Natural History Museums. These replicas for sale are constructed from everyday objects, which prominently feature in the domestic realm, for example, sponges, toilet brushes, clothing pegs, wooden coat hangers, hair clips and feather dusters, just to name a few. However, what the consumer might hypothetically purchase is the original material from which the replica was made, and not the constructed ‘natural specimen’ on display. This transition of the everyday object, into the form of a natural specimen subsequently marking a departure from its conventional use-value, creates a space of multi-vocal referentiality which allows the possessor to ascribe their own meaning and value to the object.
The title of my exhibition, The Fictum Fabricabus Shop translated means ‘The Unreal Fabricated Shop’. The title indicates a hyperbolic fictional state, which is appropriate considering that everything in the shop is fabricated: from the shops’ setting to the objects on display and even the title of the project itself, where I have positioned Latin words according to the rules of English grammar. This points towards the fabricated nature of the souvenir as a subjective and symbolic object due to the narrative ascribed to it by the possessor. For this reason, fiction, imagination and irrationality are vital components in The Fictum Fabricabus Shop. In this regard ‘fiction’ and ‘irrationality’ point towards ‘humour’ and ‘irony’ in the translation of everyday objects into natural specimen.
The Fictum Fabricabus Shop has been executed in a manner that reflects and mimics the idiosyncrasies of Natural History Museums in their performance of the ‘natural’. My own process of transforming and manipulating everyday objects exemplifies this ‘performance’ and hence fabrication of ‘nature’ in Natural History Museums. My reference to the Natural History Museum further involves a reflection on the notion of ‘distance’. ‘Distance’ indicates the function of souvenir objects, where the souvenir is metonymic to the experience of visiting the museum.
In The Fictum Fabricabus Shop, I have merged the convention of scientific labelling typically implemented by Natural History Museums, with the commercial language of the shop. For this reason, the date of discovery of the ‘specimen’ in the shop have been adapted from the price of the everyday object, after removing the decimal places. For example, an item that cost R16.75, translates to the year ’1675’ as the ‘date of discovery’. This method results in the generation of dates that appear in the future. These dates appearing in the future speak to the notion of ‘distance’ which is vital in assigning the function of ‘souvenir’ as an object which is ‘out of the ordinary’ and ‘different’, along with their function of recalling past memories for future remembrance. The fact these ‘conventions’ exist exposes the constructed nature of ‘knowledge’ itself, which in turn reflects the subjective and symbolic nature of souvenirs. In The Fictum Fabricabus Shop, the products for sale have been given Latin names, suggesting that they occupy a space in the scientific realm. However, translated into English they are merely the names of the everyday objects from which they were transformed . The use of Latin as a foreign language not colloquially spoken in the 21st century, speaks to the ‘exotic’ nature of the souvenir as an object symbolising ‘distance’ and hence ‘difference’.
To this extent, the shop functions as a type of laboratory where pseudo- natural specimen are visually dissected by the viewer in order to reveal the conceptual layers of souvenirs. In turn, this exploration results in the creation of new insights and knowledge surrounding the souvenir, which is conventionally understood as a nondescript and inferior object.
Caring for Constitution Hill: a curatorial journey through the archives: The Power and Punishment exhibition curated by Amohelang Mohajane
Museums are reserved as spaces that publicly display the power of nation-states. Usually, with penal history museums in particular, constructing how power should be remembered.
Like other types of commemoration, penal memorialisation entails memory politics, but here the form and content of the narratives are foregrounded and depend on those who are empowered to collect, select and interpret those narratives. The Power and Punishment exhibition, displays original torture instruments and blankets. Through my essay and exhibition, the curator’s role is multi-fold, and emphasises the significance of seeing the curator as caretaker – especially when addressing the bureaucratic side of exhibition-making.
In terms of The Power and Punishment exhibition, the display and design of the exhibition does not identify the objects nor does it provide a context for where these objects were sourced from and their provenance. The absence of these documents impedes on the effective contribution this collection can make in addressing the past, and hinders the potential of these objects to form part of a public discourse on human rights. The strategies employed in The Power and Punishment exhibition, that I use, are tangible objects in a makeshift solitary confinement cell. This use potentially evokes the absence of the actual victims that have passed and have been subjected to trauma and torture in the Number Four prison.
Placed in a mock cell that represents the space and amenities that characterise the life of prisoners, I covered the absent artefacts with blankets through wrapping and stitching, evoking the notion of care and healing. Through this re-staging, I want to draw attention to certain aspects of Constitution Hill and its exhibitions – alluding to the continuing absence of many of the inmates’ narratives, as well as the absent exhibition policy, accession numbers, provenance and condition reports.
It is also an important element that speaks to the site – since these blankets were predominantly used inside the prison, as well as during the prisoner workshops which preceded the installation of the exhibitions.
Exhibited in a rectangular shape the space presupposes a system of entering and closing, that both isolates and penetrates. Creating a space like a theatre, offers a sense of entering the projection of these objects, recreating a space like a prison which for the inhabitants of the Old Fort prison was compulsory.
The project also includes and refers to the narrative power of objects. Through re-staging an exhibition in a different contexts and utilising the juxtaposition of objects of trauma with materials that connote healing, I seek to address and mend the previous process which, I view, as one characterised by ‘carelessness’.
I want to imply violence and fragility and an emphasis on absence through the choice of material used, the expression of the non-visual elements through covering the objects and making the invisible visible. By wrapping the individual pieces with the grey blanket it also suggests caring for a wound, this can be compared to the neglect of the care of the exhibition and a healing process initiated through the creation of condition reports. By looking through the slit windows, viewers are challenged to “view” the world as prisoners themselves.
The Old Medical school building on the Hiddingh campus was a suitable location for this politically and historically charged installation. The Old Medical School building is a legacy of white supremacy as is Constitution Hill, the buildings both reflect historical change and re-purposing which strives to conceal the trauma and violence’s of history. By covering and wrapping the walls of a University office space in prison blankets and inserting the wrapped objects of torture and restraint, the exhibition speaks to the history and bureaucracy evident in both sites – Constitution Hill and the University.
The Records Room curated by Elize de Beer
The viewer becomes the reader when a work of art is represented through text. Creating an active viewer within an all too passive museum. Through archival text, imagery and the absence of the original painting the reader becomes the author; recreating the artworks in his/her imagination in limitless variations. It is through
this recreation that the book becomes the new painting and where the book becomes the exhibition.