MoCA of the Month
In A Question of Power, Bessie Head’s autobiographical novel published in 1974, she describes the main characters’ discovery that she had accepted an unnatural situation and adapted it to the flow of her life by relating an anecdote of a school teacher who was fond of his brandy. The teacher takes a bottle of brandy into the toilet with the intention of having a few sips but he keeps on taking a few sips more all the time peeping around the door to spy out the whereabouts of the principal. Soon he becomes quite drunk and reverses the activity. He’d open the door, take a few sips outside the toilet, close the door and look for the principal inside. Head’s anecdote provided a position for CHR to reconsider their founding questions and to re-evaluate a space carved through its activities both locally and internationally. Perhaps the lesson in Head’s story is: it is not that difficult for one to settle back into a position one tries to escape.
CHR, “Na Ku Randza”, Doornfontein, Johannesburg, 2011. Photo: Sanele Manqele
Since its founding in 2010 CHR has responded to the demands of the current moment through an exploration into the historical legacies and their resonance and impact on contemporary art. By addressing current urgencies, which have grown over the debris of the issues of the past CHR has embarked on activities (events, seminars, exhibitions, residencies, interventions in the public, etc) whose intentions are to engage local (South African) and international practitioners whilst raising questions about the political potentials of artistic interpretations of histories.
CHR projects investigate how, within a particular historical hegemony, certain values have been created, promoted and subsequently sublated into a broader universal discourse. CHR recognizes that historical constructions play essential, almost central roles in the formation of the apparatus and what has been taken for granted as a given in grand historical narratives.
CHR explores how artistic production intervenes in deconstructing particular readings of history and how historical context informs artistic creation, both which become central questions. How art can help us reinterpret history and its contextual implications and how it can add and suggest different historical readings and help in the formation of new subjectivities.
PremisesCHR was conceptualized in April 2010 by Gabi Ngcobo and Sohrab Mohebbi after the duo co-curated a performance event titled Rope-a-dope: To Win a Losing War at Cabinet space in Brooklyn, New York. Rope-a-dope, a fighting strategy employed by Muhammad Ali to defeat George Foreman in the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match (Zaire, 1974), is based on the idea of enduring your adversary’s repeated blows until they exhaust themselves, before you finally rise up to triumph over them. Following this historical encounter and the events surrounding it, the term and strategy have been deployed in the public sphere to reference similar strategies in politics, business negotiations, artistic strategies and personal relationships. CHR was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa with the staging of the site-specific project PASS-AGES: references & footnotes in collaboration with the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC). PASS-AGES took place at the site of the former Pass Office at number 80 Albert Street, a site associated with the most basic work of the apartheid state… the control of black bodies across the South African landscape. CHR was co-founded with artist Kemang Wa-Lehulere in July 2010 and launched in a project space located in the east part of the Johannesburg with a performance by Wa-Lehulere and a talk by Eungie Joo, then Curator of Education and Public Programs at the New Museum in New York. In November 2010, CHR launched its lengthy research project “Xenoglossia, a research project” with artist Donna Kukama who became an active member of CHR. Ngcobo, Wa-Lehulere and Kukama formed the core of what CHR was to be and, in 2012 were joined by former CHR intern Sanele Manqele and Mbali Khoza.
CHR, “After-after Tears” (installation view) New Museum, Museum as Hub, 2013. Photo: Jesse Untracht-Oakner
“We are absolutely ending this” and future developmentsIn December 2012, CHR staged an end event titled We are absolutely ending this, an event which reconsidered what it means to outlive central questions foregrounded in the project’s formation. This event produced After-after Tears a project that took place at the New Museum, Museum as Hub. The title makes references to terminology relating to after-burial gatherings that are a popular youth culture in South African townships. This trend—also known as “Wie sien ons?” (Afrikaans for “Who is seeing us?”)—became a fitting frame for a project that explored commemoration, and more specifically, the cultural performances and rituals around death—whether that of a person, institution, or era.
CHR, “We are absolutely ending this”, Georges Pfruender performing “Open to Doubt”, 2012. Photo: Zanele Muholi
In 2011 CHR was invited to take part at the 11th Lyon Biennale titled A Terrible Beauty is Born curated by Victoria Noorthoorn where the project “Xenoglossia, a research project” was presented to an international audience for the first time. CHR is featured in the traveling exhibition (currently in Johannesburg) The Rise and Fall of Apartheid curated by Okwui Enwezor with Rory Bester, Other Possible Worlds: Proposals on this Side of Utopia at the NGBK, Berlin and Condition Report at Raw Material Company in Dakar, Senegal. In 2014 CHR will take part in the Berlin Biennale with a project titled Digging Our Own Graves 101 CHR continues to instigate new ways of inhabiting institutions, one perhaps akin to haunting. It’s staged “death” in December 2012 foregrounded the project’s intention to not simply conclude a single phase but rather to re-evaluate larger institutional functions and time frames that could enable a different existence. CHR is currently located at the Wits School of Art.
CHR, “Xenoglossia, the exhibition”, 2013. Photo: Masimba Sasa
Other CHR ProjectsNa Ku Randza – a public intervention in the east part of Johannesburg. Featuring Breeze Yoko, Keleketla! Library and Nothando Mkhize. September 2011;
Rechewed, CHR project space, Doornfontein. With works by Mbali Khoza, Sandra Gross and Andrés Carvajal and Zanele Muholi. March 2012;
Fr(agile) an intervention and residency at the Alf Kumalo Museum. Soweto, March 2012;
The Exuberance Project a conference and exhibition at the University of Cape Town hosted by “The Names We Give” and the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA). March 2012;
Institutions by Artists a project of the Pacific Association of Artists-Run Culture, Vancouver, October 201;
ICI Curatorial Intensive Johannesburg, March 2013;
Xenoglossia, the exhibition Goethe-on-Main, Johannesburg. July/August 2013;
The 2nd Coming Wits School of Arts, Johannesburg, December 2014.
CHR, “Speed Actions”, part of “Xenoglossia, the exhibition”, 2013. Photo: Masimba Sasa
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