Art with a black heart
The new Cape Town exhibition from a cult artists' collective delves into Africa's war-torn history.
The current Blackheart Gang exhibition, Postcards from Morotia, is a tale of a war between The Bears and The Moles that happens in a corner of The Household fantasy world called The Bog. Gorgeous wooden sculptures, elaborate prints and a meticulously detailed installation fill the space at A Word of Art in Cape Town’s Woodstock Exchange.
Who can explain cult followings? Why should any mention of “the Blackheart Gang” generate spellbound awe from otherwise disaffected hipsters? It can’t be all the awards that their debut animated film, The Tale of How, has won since 2007 — other South African shorts have won just as many or more international awards.
Having a super-cool DJ as part of the team — Markus Wormstorm of the Real Estate Agents and Sweat.X fame — cannot hurt. Nor can Ree Treweek’s gobsmackingly intricate crafting that goes into the drawings, prints and sculptures, which are conceptualised by her but outsourced to artisans around the world for execution. Yet many others who have placed so much emphasis on execution have been dismissed as old-fashioned.
Truth is, the Blackheart Gang are cool just because they’re cool. They’re not overtly political or uniquely South African and the notion of being politically correct, controversial or socially engaged just doesn’t exist in The Household. “They’re so good and you can’t even tell that they’re South African” is the type of response they typically elicit. Are they our fantasy of what South African art could be if not everything had to be political?
Trying to extract any opinions on questions such as this from Treweek or Wormstorm is impossible, because they merely respond with very well-rehearsed answers based on the reality manifest in their exhibition. “We stumble on sensations and tidbits of histories and then set off after them, tracking them for years through the jungles and deserts of our minds. Over time, pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fit together as we start to find pictures of characters, depictions of events, diagrams of plants and descriptions of wars,” they spin.
On a deeper level, though, when scrutinising the tale behind the exhibition, one detects obtuse references to African history. The Moles are tribal and cannibalistic, the original residents of The Bog. The Bears are imperialist and “bearocratic” and invaded The Bog in search of gas. Initially they coexist, but then The Bears discover The Moles’ honey, resulting in “one of the bloodiest and [most] drawn-out wars in the history of The Bog”. “The Household mirrors our world very closely. Perhaps our adventures into its interiors initially began as an escape from the reality of the surface world,” say Treweek and Wormstorm.
For regular Blackheart Gang followers, the exhibition might be slightly disappointing, because much of the work has been recycled from previous exhibitions. That this is their first commercial exhibition, however, is sure to perk up the collectors.
See, the other cult factor associated with the Blackheart Gang is their general indifferent tardiness and lack of self-promotion, which has fans clutching at every crumb. The latest news on the two sequels to The Tale of How, which have been promised since 2007, is that they might be hidden in an interactive book or in the forthcoming Tale of How iPad app. “We thought the other two episodes would be great hidden among its pages … Something that the viewer could take time to find and explore,” they say.
The Postcards from Morotia exhibition runs at A Word of Art, 66 Albert Road, Woodstock Exchange, Cape Town until January 17