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Exhibition 16 May–20 July 2024
Process: WORK, May 16–July 20, 2024. Image courtesy of A4 Arts Foundation.
Title WORK Dates 16 May–20 July 2024 Location Gallery

Do you like work? How do you like to work? Returning to our arts laboratory after the December break, our team of arts workers started to think about an exhibition that would be formed from our personal inquiries into the work that we do; the work that we would like to do; the way that artworks and art practices influence our work. The exhibition might provide a space to wonder about teamwork, work done, consolidation and reflection. We titled this project WORK.

As arts workers, we place our skills at the disposal of professional artists, interdisciplinary practitioners, and the public. Essentially, we’re service workers in the arts. While our jobs are to facilitate creativity, our work appears largely administrative and productive. We do this work because we believe that art does work and that this work is for the social good. Outside of our professional jobs, some of us practice as artists or writers or readers, among other pursuits. We remain uncertain to what extent creative ways of working – with the artist’s studio in mind as the exemplar of a place for serious play1 – influence our ways of working. This is one of the things we will be investigating during WORK.

WORK is organised by A4’s team. Our Gallery becomes a communal studio where we will intermittently station ourselves for work among artworks and prompts and invited practitioners. You’re welcome to come and work with us and think about what work means for you.

A dedicated audio booth features a changeable playlist of field recordings, experimental compositions, and durational sound pieces compiled by Hedley Twidle for Unheard Of, his research enquiry into sonic ecologies.
A large table with craft supplies invites visitors to make and think along with us. Bring a project or prototype something new.
A shifting selection of books and ephemera related to our curatorial research, archival processes, and current projects are available to browse in the Gallery. Find a quiet space in the lounge or join us at our desks.
Installation photograph from the ‘Picture Theory’ exhibition in A4’s Gallery. At the back, Daniel Zimbler’s film ‘Goldblatt: A Documentary’ is projected onto the wall in the darkened video room.
We are using this opportunity to review video works and suggest new works to watch as a team.
Library finds
Lucienne Bestall

During a recent audit of our Library, the team found all manner of printed and handwritten matter slipped between the pages of books. From advertisements to newspaper clippings, detailed summaries and train tickets, here are a few highlights from the ephemera collected; a biography of the Library as told by its incidental holdings. – June 4, 2024

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Library finds
Lucienne Bestall
During a recent audit of our Library, the team found all manner of printed and handwritten matter slipped between the pages of books. From advertisements to newspaper clippings, detailed summaries and train tickets, here are a few highlights from the ephemera collected; a biography of the Library as told by its incidental holdings. – June 4, 2024
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Books for A4’s Library are acquired in different ways; some are purchased new, others sourced second-hand, still more are gifted by visiting practitioners. There are also those rare books that arrive quietly – slipped onto the shelf, one imagines, by aspirant authors and artists.

A photograph of a section of the bookshelves in the A4 Library.

The second-hand books carry with them an occasional archive comprising improvised bookmarks and more deliberate inclusions – an article on an artist folded into their monograph, for instance, or a handwritten synopsis of a play in The Works of William Shakespeare.

Such ephemera become dispatches from the recent past, recalling something of the books' previous readers and of the setting in which they were first read. Together, they trace a history of individual lives – paths travelled, time taken, attention given – and, more obliquely, a history of South Africa.

A social history of the country is recounted in a miscellany of matter, from a late-1970s advert for home insurance (R15.00 a month) to a less-than-enthusiastic review of local pop music, including Kurt Darren’s 2007 album, Lekker Lekker, found in the Library's copy of David Goldblatt's Some Afrikaners Revisited (2007).

Others trace the country's political past. Oftentimes, however, the more curious story is told on the reverse of the newspaper clippings. In one such instance, dated February 20, 1988, a line anticipates the end of the white-minority rule and with it the administration of so-called homelands:

Nevertheless, there has been a retreat from Verwoerdian apartheid, which has left the TBVC states [Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei] exposed as anachronisms of a dying era.

Hendrik Verwoerd is again recalled in an order form for a book published on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the South African Republic in 1966. The form was found in the Library's Sixty-Six Transvaal Trees, a botanical survey with a nationalist bent, published the same year to coincide with the Republic Festival.

Another order form – filled out but never sent – for a then-forthcoming book on Gerard Sekoto lists the details of one OAA Bock. A brief online search suggests Bock published in several medical journals in the 1970s. His speciality was gastric ulceration. Perhaps, an A4 team member speculates, he wanted the book for his waiting room.

Other art-related finds include a newspaper clipping about the refurbishment of the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1986, which cites oversights in the collection but is wholly impressed with its architecture:

The building ranks with major galleries and museums of the world, and that's a very nice thing for Transvaalers and all South Africans to feel pleased about.

An artwork label from an exhibition with a handwritten note ("Teruggestuur Warren Siebrits") indicates that the untitled work is to be returned to the collector. The label was found in a catalogue made to accompany Cyprian Mpho Shilakoe's posthumous retrospective, marking the page where the same work is featured.

And a photocopied document (the original written on a typewriter by Johanna de Villiers in 1997) offers a summary of Jean Welz's life and work. The document was slipped between the pages of Esmé Berman's seminal Art and Artists of South Africa (1970).

But perhaps the most prized Library finds are those from The Works of William Shakespeare, a treasure trove of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings. The now-worn book once belonged to an Eva Pargiter and is inscribed ‘Xmas 1948’.

Among the loose sheets of paper kept between the book’s pages are summaries copied from John Wain’s The Living World of Shakespeare, a playgoer’s guide (1964) and FC Halliday's texts on the playwright, as well as a meticulous list detailing the many times Eva read and reread each play.

An online search suggests the following: Eva Pargiter was born in 1901, retired at St James Hotel in Kalk Bay, and is likely buried alongside her husband in the Maitland Cemetery.

The collected ephemera found in The Works of William Shakespeare are available to view here.

By way of ending, a final offering: a photograph given without inscription – two lilies, cement detailing, green.

The blue corner invites an evolving selection of artworks (stored or on loan in A4’s Archive) to be drawn into conversation with one another. One team member at a time is invited to curate the corner. The exercise asks after unexpected resonances and compelling juxtapositions, and invites visitors to think alongside the team in reviewing these works not as discrete objects but as a community of ‘object friends’ (to borrow a phrase from Kathryn Smith, in turn adapted from Miguel Tamen).
Cut across
Lucienne Bestall

Arranged alongside one another, four artworks from A4's Archive offer reflections on dividing lines. – June 7, 2024

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Cut across
Lucienne Bestall
Arranged alongside one another, four artworks from A4’s Archive offer reflections on dividing lines. – June 7, 2024
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Begin with bare equivalences –

Four works: all monotone, all cleaved by a line.

First impulse –

A landscape by David Goldblatt divided, as the genre demands, by the horizon into complementary halves.

(Being unframed, the photograph cannot be included. It remains present as a note tacked to the wall, beyond the limits of the blue tape.)

First artwork –

Almost landscape, almost portrait. A photograph halved by eclipsing white. The chromatic composition of Sabelo Mlangeni’s image echoes Goldblatt’s, yet the line, rather than describing the topology of a given place, serves only to obscure it.

Sabelo Mlangeni's monochrome photographic print 'A morning after (UmlindeloUmlindelo wamaKholwa)' shows two individuals standing on the ground.

Similarly obscured –

The material nature of Kyle Morland’s work, first mistaken as a photograph by Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo, as an indexical image of a worn surface.

Another impulse –

To include such a photograph; to follow the error.

(Also unframed, this photograph joins Goldblatt’s on the far side of the blue tape.)

In truth –

Morland's work is a rubbing made of the unseen facets of a steel sculpture; a notation of what is otherwise invisible. The seam that runs across the darkness describes the intersections of different planes.

Then –

Another unseen space, twice divided by shadows. This, too, by Goldblatt. Like Hlatshwayo's photograph, emphasis is given to the texture of time as it is transcribed on surfaces. The chromatic composition inverts that of the landscape, further resisting easy simile with its two dividing lines.

Lastly –

A fabric assemblage by Gerda Scheepers recalls Mlangeni’s image in composition and concealment.

In the lower half of the work, which appears all incidental mark-making and abstraction, is an impression of a landscape arranged vertically.

The title of the work, Pondoland Pocket, ties the image to a place, inviting comparison with Goldblatt’s photograph of the Karoo.

1 “…[T]he way they create art, halfway between idleness and action” Christine Mace proposed of artists when introducing the Pavilion of Artists and Books at the Venice Biennale 2017. “The word otium, and its Greek predecessor scholé, originally understood as a privileged moment, is nowadays improperly translated as idleness of pejorative connotation, or leisure, which is not far removed from entertainment. The word otium, in contrast with the business world, or negotium…implies a space for free time, for inactivity and availability, a space of productive idleness and mind work, of quietness and action, a space where the work of art comes to be” (Christine Macel, Vive Arte Vive Biennale 2017 Short Guide, p. 39).