The Ithuba Arts Fund in Braamfontein is hosting the Sober & Lonely Institute for Contemporary Art’s group show, An Experiment to Test the Destiny of the World. However, a more apt name for the show would perhaps have been ‘An Experiment to Test the Relevance of Conceptual Art in the Context of a Wider Community’. Either way, I think that the ‘experiment’ failed, and as a result, the future of ‘the world’, or ‘conceptual art’, as it stands, looks grim indeed.
The works on the show are each distinct, but have one common feature – they all call for, and indeed rely on participation and engagement of the audience to realise their conceptual objective and therefore artistic relevance. This in theory is a wonderful thing, seeking to transform the passive viewer into an active participant. But the word ‘theory’ is the literal crux here – the works comprising the show are too preoccupied in their theoretical explorations so they fail, ironically, precisely where they intend to succeed. The viewer cannot be transported and transformed into an active participant if they cannot gain access to the work. If the theory overrides the practice, it undermines it in the so doing. So works that are meant to engage, alienate in stead; people are wary of what they do not understand.
Ironically, the works’ inability to meaningfully engage viewers was mirrored in the street outside the gallery, where passers by briefly looked in on their way to or from somewhere, or stood and watched from the opposite side of the street – in no way lured in by the bright lights and free wine. Their amused and bemused expressions summed up the show perfectly: “What the fuck are these umlungus doing?”