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Precarious video: historical events, trauma and memory in South African video art (Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Berni Searle, Minnette Vári)

Gresle, YM; (2015) Precarious video: historical events, trauma and memory in South African video art (Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Berni Searle, Minnette Vári). Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This dissertation explores four recent examples of video art by four South African women artists. It focuses on Jo Ractliffe’s Vlakplaas: 2 June 1999 (drive-by shooting) [1999/2000], Berni Searle’s Mute (2008), Penny Siopis’ Obscure White Messenger (2010) and Minnette Vári’s Chimera (the white edition, 2001 and the black edition 2001-2002). I consider the visual, sonic, temporal, durational, spatial, sensory and affective capacities of these works, and their encounter with historical events/episodes and figures the significance and affective charge of which move across the eras differentiated as apartheid and post-apartheid. I seek to contribute to critiques of the post-apartheid democracy, and the impetus to move forward from the past, to forgive and reconcile its violence, while not actively and critically engaging historical trauma, and its relation to memory. Each of the videos engaged enter into a dialogue with historical narratives embedded within the experience and memory of violence and racial oppression in South Africa. The study is concerned with the critical significance and temporality of memory in relation to trauma as a historical and psychoanalytical concept applicable to ongoing conditions of historical and political violence and its continuous, apparently irresolvable repetition in political-historical life. This inquiry is underpinned by art historical approaches to the relationship between art and trauma, and, in particular, the work of Jill Bennett (2005) and Griselda Pollock (2013). It is concerned primarily with Bennett and Pollock’s privileging, from their particular theoretical perspectives, of the affects and internal logics/worlds of art objects, which prompt critical thought, and theoretical and historical inquiry. The particular temporality of video is engaged through historical and psychoanalytical concepts of trauma. The videos selected for this dissertation suggest ideas of temporal and spatial disorientation, displacement, collapse, and irresolvable repetitive return. The opacity that characterises the works is a major point of emphasis, and is related to the dissertation’s concern with trauma, racial oppression and historical/epistemic violence. A major concern is how artists and scholars enter into dialogues with history, from the perspectives of their own subjectivities, without reinscribing historical and epistemic violence, and the objectification of marginalised subjects. Situated within the parameters of feminist ethics the study foregrounds women artists. I argue for an ethics that takes into account self-reflexivity, and the artist’s, and the scholar’s, situated relationship to history, in the aftermath of sustained historical racial oppression and authoritarianism. It considers the possibilities of art objects as sites that facilitate empathetic, critical and intellectually engaged encounters with historical trauma and violence in South Africa. The videos explored counter spectacle and didactic, and authoritarian, modes of representation. In the absence of a sustained and visible art historical narrative of the history of video art in South Africa, the study focuses on work representative of the earliest, documented examples of video art by women artists, which emerge out of the transition from apartheid. The tension between history’s relationship to objectivity, detachment and empirical knowledge, and its participation in subjective, imaginary, and performative processes underpins the study.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Precarious video: historical events, trauma and memory in South African video art (Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Berni Searle, Minnette Vári)
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: 2 volumes. Volume two is only available in print as there are third party copyright restrictions on the ethesis.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History of Art
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1470845
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