Ouma Lunches: a research experiment by Clare Butcher
Ouma lunches - Lunch 6, September 20th 2011
OUMA LUNCH NUMBER SIX [SUPPER]:
September 20th 2011, Frankfurt
Beetroot and onion salad
Lentil Soup (J.H.)
German biscuits (Mrs. G. Poole)
PG British Tea
Guests: Members of the Frankfurter Kunstverein
As part of my residency with the Frankfurter Kunstverein I was asked to give a presentation of my current areas of interest as a curator. I opted to make a dinner using Ouma’s recipes once again – but in this setting, had to aim for a broader scope if we were to address the subjects around my exhibition research. Fortunately a number of South African art practitioners were in town and able to contribute their "insider/outsider" perspectives. Not surprisingly, the conversation around the exhibition exchange of Contemporary British and South African art from ’47-’49 focused more on the difficulty of cultural translation. After having briefly described my project with the CCA, I showed the video work by Penny Siopis, Obscure White Messenger (2010). Even in a contemporary setting, the issues brought about by "transnational" artistic circuits.
Film still from Penny Siopis, 'Obscure White Messenger', 2010
During my time of research in Frankfurt I had been visiting the city’s Museum of World Culture and their library – which had an excellent section of literature on "new internationalism" and "multiculturalism" in global art being written about mostly from the 1990s onwards (ref. that early comment by Geoffrey Long in one of the previous Ouma Lunch posts regarding the various foreign "isms" which had touched South Africa's art from the start!). The multicultural history of art came as a response, says Jean Fisher, 'to pressure from the postcolonial world to acknowledge in some way the diverse histories and effects of modernity’s vast global migration to and from centres of power and their peripheries and the consequent multiple communities of the 20th century metropolis.' Sarat Maharaj speaks of "new internationalism" as a re-indexing of the 'scene of translations' – which would, if successful, lead to a more complex reading of the socio-political economic context, critical aesthetic practice, and the ‘material expression of both individual vision and a collective experience.'
I had chosen to make the 1940s South African recipe for "German Biscuits" for that very reason – attempting to illustrate the physical translation of cultural elements into everyday structures. With the established discussions around internationalism and transnationalism in mind, it became apparent at my presentation in Frankfurt that neither of these areas can be addressed without looking first at 'nationalism' itself – as Elizabeth Sussman writes: ‘the “national” itself has to be re-thought as an "international" site.' In the book, Transnational Connections: cultures, people, places, editor Ulf Hannerz reminds us that the very idea of transnationalism relies on the involvement of the State at some level – thus 'drawing attention to what it negates – that is, the continued significance of the national.' The interest of the non-uni-directional effects of various "modernities" is one that I foresee arising from this exhibition histories project of mine. In the question of artistic process, influences and exhibitionary practice, this looking back will in fact facilitate a looking forward into a very relevant and contemporary set of issues.
Jean Fisher, "Introduction," Global visions towards a new internationalism in the visual arts, ed. Jean Fisher (London: Iniva, 1994), x.