Athlone in Mind is a digital platform, book (edited by Heidi Grunebaum), and exhibition of commissioned contemporary art – a group show curated by Kurt Campbell.
The exhibition, book and digital platform take to the place of Athlone to explore new ways of imagining and thinking about marginalised sites of creativity and arts production. Athlone in Mind engages diverse artistic practices, cinematic experiments and scholarly essays that explore the challenge to artistic practice for imagining space in ways that exceed and undo apartheid’s spatial formations and temporal markers. The artworks, videos, digital and photographic installations and essays in the book constitute Athlone as a question through an expansive, fluid and composite conception of the relationship between images, thought and place.
The artists invited to make work for the exhibition were chosen for their diverse artistic practices creating a composite lens to think about Athlone: Berni Searle presents a three-channel video projection that invokes the cinematic procedure taking Athlone as the point of departure for her narrative. Husan and Husain Essop offer large-format, high-resolution photographs that fix and disrupt our view of those who traverse Athlone on a daily basis. Hasan and Husain Essop produce large format digital images and often include themselves in the compositions. They are committed to interrogating ideas of nationalism and indigeneity. These artists have previously produced work related to the suburb of Athlone and the attendant challenges those who live there face daily. Zyma Amien explores vacated parts of Athlone by using suspended sculptures that rethink the dynamics of space. She works with ordinary objects in extraordinary ways. Her sculptural practice includes installation art, cement casting and large-scale garment constructions. CHR Artist in Residence, Dathini Mzayiya reflects on the subject of schooling in contemporary education and internationally acclaimed installation artist, Kemang Wa Lehulere, constructs an installation made of found objects as meditations that question the distribution of the sensible in South African society.
Though utilising different conceptual approaches and practices of art making, the commissioned artists share an understanding of the art object as a particular projection and embodiment of desire to both delineate and to dream space. The artworks therefore explore the mobility of thought as image in apprehending place, not as destination but as a field of mobile images that are unsettled and fluid. The essays in the book (also available online) are:
“A Question of Place”, by Heidi Grunebaum
“Curatorial Notes on the Exhibition Athlone in Mind”, by Kurt Campbell
“Between History and Apocalypse: Stumbling”, by Premesh Lalu
“Another Athlone, Dreamscapes and the Aesthetic Imagination of Faith”, by Gabeba Baderoon
“In the Tracks of Jazz Refuge(es): Sounds Cross Athlone”, by Lindelwa Dalamba
“Athlone: Exploring the Meaning of Place Through a Journey of the Sensible”, by Michail Rassool
The technology systems of Athlone in Mind feature the most advanced complimentary technologies available. For example, the exhibition deploys a number of i-beacon transmitters, able to circulate the website and catalogue created for the exhibition to anyone in possession of a smart phone. I-beacons are small battery-powered sensor devices that wirelessly communicate and transmit data to apps on mobile devices using Bluetooth technology. They can be attached to almost anything. Once the connection is made, the app on the mobile device is triggered to display content like video, voice, images and music. The i-beacon transmitters are placed at public locations in Athlone, Langa and Gugulethu, ensuring that the exhibition, the catalogue, the archival content available through the technologies used, along with the conference proceedings may be accessed and followed in real time, off site.
The exhibition, installed at the Castle of Good Hope (from 10-13 August 2017), coincides with a major international humanities conference organised by the CHR on behalf of the CHCI (Consortium for Humanities Centers and Institutes). The 2017 conference, The Humanities Improvised, draws together international scholars, artists, filmmakers, and jazz musicians from across Africa and elsewhere.
On Campbell’s invitation, artist Jane Alexander is the designated ‘festival artist’ for the 2017 consortium event. Alexander’s selected works constitute an oeuvre that engages a longer iteration of engagement with Humanities study on questions of aesthetics, politics, and the social constitution of fields of the sensible.
For their work on the Athlone in Mind exhibition catalogue, Grunebaum and Campbell received the Best Exhibition Catalogue Award at the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Book, Creative Collection and Digital Contribution Awards ceremony.