Jo’burg art pick: April 8 2011

Animal subjectivity, though somewhat under-examined in the fields of philosophy and cultural theory, has often been adopted by artists as a metaphor for difference, or ‘otherness’.

In her new solo exhibition, Becoming-Animal, Johannesburg-based performance artist Donna Kukama does precisely this. Borrowing the title of her show from a chapter heading in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateus, the second-volume of their much-cited but little-read series Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Kukama positions her works as embodiements of intersubjective difference.

Kukama’s performances often appropriate everyday activities – like swinging on a rope-swing or chipping at a brick wall – but these activities are inserted into unfamiliar contexts. For instance, at the opening of the group exhibition Us in 2010, Kukama chipped away at a small brick wall erected just for this purpose at the entrance to the Johannesburg Art Gallery. This strange
intrusions are meant to encourage viewers to think about how things might happen, or be done, differently to the ways in which they conventionally are.

More broadly, Becoming-Animal, which comprises works by Kukama from 2004 to 2011, suggests the marginal position occupied by African philosophies and knowledge systems in relation to the dominant understandings and uses of philosophy in Western traditions. But this is very deeply embedded in the show, and only really discernible if you read the artist’s statement or press release. For the most part Becoming-Animal should be viewed and commended for the fact that it profiles one of South Africa’s
rising stars in performance art.

At the Goethe-Institut until May 11.

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