Doin’ my part to lighten the load

Commissioned for the Jozi and the (M)other City exhibition in Cape Town, I proposed that arts critic Sean O’Toole, editor of Art South Africa, give up any use of electricity for 24 hours. In the dark hours of the evening, I offered paid South African “labourers” – car or security guards, house painters, and/or tile-layers that could be solicited on the street – to assist him as needed; they were armed with hand-crank generators and small light bulbs. An installation and online documentation consist of vestiges of the performance: edited letters, photos, hand-written notes, the generators and bulbs…

Doin’ my part to lighten the load began with my sending this proposal to Carine Zaayman, the exhibition curator. With her approval, it went on to O’Toole, and the art work continued as an expressed relationship between its performers. My interest was in highlighting, unpacking, playing with and antagonizing the layers of hierarchy between real people with varying degrees of symbolic capital, financial influence and sociopolitical authority, within a specifically South African context. What does it mean for an artist to ask so much of a critic? What kinds of relationships will emerge between us, between O’Toole and his hired hands, between each of them as they get tired or their generators break, between the group as a whole? What kind of dialogue – spoken or unspoken – does this work instigate in post-Apartheid South Africa; against the backdrop of contemporary art; in relation to the failing electrical grid and the politics of electricity at large; as a scenario put forward by an American-born South African artist currently living in Europe? In our ongoing correspondence, what is brought to the fore about South Africans’ real and perceived a priori relational structures?

Over the course of the project, I may have: temporarily disrupted power in the (art) world; offered a small space to tell stories (and I hope O’Toole will follow up with the “labourers”* regarding their work); explicitly exposed some assumptions around who and what each of the participants are and how we navigate with and relate to others; implicitly done the same with regards to more general art world persona categories, as well as South African ones; (indirectly) given O’Toole a migraine; and had some fun being daft and serious and engaged and open-ended all at once.

The artist-”labourers” were Lungi (Mlunghisi) Konghisa, printmaking assistant and labourer, 071 411 7788, and Steven Mabuela, designer, rapper and labourer, 079 272 4861; project management and photos by Brendan Copestake.


The full email correspondence for Doin’ my part to lighten the load, between myself, Sean O’Toole and the project manager, Brendan Copestake, was originally viewable online at the Jozi and the (M)other City exhibition web site, and is now available for PDF download below.

Full correspondence (21 pages, PDF)
Edited / highlighted correspondence (5 pages, PDF)

video of participants