Dineo Seshee Bopape’s Slow-co-ruption is the first UK solo exhibition of the Joburg-based video artist. Her powerful work is showcased through a series of installations spread across different rooms each dispensing sensory overload.
As you enter the exhibition, video monitors display blades of grass vibrating at high speed. Speakers are mounted on the walls playing birdsong and recordings of wind. The work is disorientating and leaves me with the unsettling question of what it all means, as the humming starts to enter my soul.
In another room I watch her video: ‘why do you call me when you know i can’t answer the phone,’ named after Joan Armatrading’s song, The Weakness in Me. Here a series of images from keys and locks, to globes and eggs build up to entrance the viewer eventually reaching a fever pitch.
As the crescendo of sound and images climaxes, it culminates with a series of pictures of animals. Cats, rabbits, donkeys, horses set against a kaleidoscopic background that seems to reference the psychedelic art of the 1960s and 70s. I look around for something to hold onto, but cannot find anything.
“I guess I was thinking a lot about language and how nonsensical the relationships [are] that exist in language. And also about my father’s Alzheimer’s, how he relates to objects, things, time, and place.” She explains this to me over Skype from Scotland, where she is staying for a month-long artist’s residency.
Most of her works on show examine how we form linkages in our mind and create narratives between otherwise unrelated things. “It’s all nonsense really and so the images are also like a dictionary of things in the world, and the sound track is as well.” But, she says, that has “morphed, so some of the sounds are not as clearly identifiable as the images are.
why do you call me when you know i can’t answer the phone (2012)
And I guess there’s this disconnect between the images that are floating past or coming through and this intense building up of sound, that sounds like it’s a constant rupture of something. A continuous unsettling storm of sorts.”
She describes a type of “frenzy” in the work. “If one were to imagine oneself being an image or if the world were an image that one looks at, then it continuously disfigures as you look at it. I’m more interested in that, than the aesthetics.”
It is her interpretation of the physical effects of having Alzheimer’s and the emotional effect of losing your mind and the narrative thread. “When you can’t believe anymore, when you lose your faith in the things that surround you. Or even in one narrative, when the story continues changing and there’s no way to hold onto a truth,” she says.
In the gallery she has placed stickers of eyes, of an anonymous person, of political activists Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe. “They offer another dictionary – or other sets of references,” she emails me later, but I don’t quite see the connections. Perhaps one of the aspects of her work is the challenging logic of it all.
She speaks of the need for a rupture, “corruption of present logic, of language that holds one captive in a way.” In her video ‘is i am sky’, a bird is flying as the wild sea comes into view and then the grasslands. A face, her face, is deleted and breaks up into images of stars and fractal patterns.
She questions: “How does one mirror the outside … self reflection, and also erasure, when you try to erase yourself, but you are continuously present. And even the idea of erasure and arriving at nothing, containing nothing and reflecting nothing. The nothing that is sky or the outer cosmos.”
“In a way it’s also about a journey into madness, and if it’s said that madness is a failure to articulate things in their correct boxes, when one loses one’s frame, the face … that’s one aspect of it.”
On the day she started filming it, Julius Malema was in court on trial for singing liberation struggle songs. So, Malema, a politician, becomes not exactly the inspiration for the work, but the starting point as her mind follows a tangential route, like a kaleidoscope, a blue sky, or a starscape.
“Thinking about that. What that meant, the singing of those songs – at the time I think it was 2011 or 2012 – what it means to be without land … before the anniversary of the 1913 Land Act. What did it mean a century later to be dispossessed of land to have nothing? What does it mean to hold nothing?
And also of the idea of blackness in the world – a thing that exists as a zero and as a minus point. How do you then articulate that negative space, or the void, or nothingness?”
What does it all mean … does it mean everything – is it really nonsense as she claims, or in fact the very essence of being? Who knows … just strap yourself in and hold on to your frame of mind.
The show is on at Hayward Gallery Southbank Centre until September 27
*This article has been updated