nathaniel stern: ArtThrob project of the month

Commenting on the vagaries of new media practice recently, the young New York born, Johannesburg based artist Nathaniel Stern told me: “Those artists currently working ‘on the edge’ are in a not-so-easy space of, in addition to trying to foster artistic provocations, needing to teach their viewers how to ‘look’ at them.”

Stern’s website,, evinces this duality perfectly, being both didactic (in a positive sense) and thought engendering. “I use digital and traditional media to create encounters between an ambiguous ‘I’ and potential ‘You’,” he says of his modus operandi. His narrative works refuse transcendence or masterful coherence, embracing the questionable, fragmented memory of a singular past through a set of multiple characters.

One of these online persona is hektor. “ is my navigable website of one character’s photography, spoken word and video poetry,” explains Stern. “By surfing the site, listeners construct his person. As hektor attempts to re-member, bringing the story back to his body and calling it his own, listeners attempt to piece together the story for themselves.”

Stern’s project stuttering[odys] was recently selected as an exhibiting finalist in the Brett Kebble Art Awards (BKAA), where it won a merit award in the New Media category. It was also exhibited at the launch of the new Wits School of the Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, in October. Commenting on the work in her BKAA overview, Carine Zaayman declared it to be “the only actual new media piece” on the show.

Work that doesn’t easily yield easily to interpretation, it is this quality that defines the provocative possibilities of Stern’s art – particularly in a country grappling with a multiplicity of competing narratives. Says Stern: “By using memory to open up the past and the self in the present, the non-aggressive narrative asks ‘Us’ (‘You’ and ‘I’) to take responsibility for the future.”

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