Act Accordingly

I really enjoy this quote:

“Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio,” Teresita Fernández said about being an artist, “the way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote … will also become the raw material for the art you make.”

This is what it means to be artist and people in an artist’s life should proceed accordingly. As the great Jack Nicholson, in his role as Irish gangster, Frank Costello, in The Departed says:

Frank Costello: How’s your mother?

Man in Bar: She’s on her way out.

Frank Costello: We all are, act accordingly.

I am at the moment preparing for my next exhibition…well, it is actually a performance piece and is a one-night deal, so perhaps exhibition is the wrong word, a performance then. It is in response to my work on my Master’s dissertation. Although I love the process of researching, reading, analyzing and writing, for me it is just the beginning of my practical work, it merely informs my making. First and foremost I am an artist and therefore I am taking all the cerebral and translating it into action, making it visual.

This is my artist statement for my performance:

40RTY by swany

What is the significance of the number 40?

In Western ideology forty is closely linked to Christianity and its beliefs. In Christian scriptures Christ is driven into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he is tempted three times by the Devil while he fasts for the period of 40 days and 40 nights. The number appears numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments and has come to symbolize a period of testing, trial or probation. In addition, forty years is considered to be a generation. For the men of my generation forty days was the ritually celebrated day of the commencement of our final 40 days as conscripts in the South African Defence Force.

These various readings of the number 40 inform this performance piece. I am at present busy with my Masters in Visual Arts for which I am researching white South African masculinities, specifically those of my generation. This performance is a practical realization of some of that research. In 40RTY I will interrogate masculinity and our perceptions of it utilising a performance within an installation and within a gallery space. To prepare myself I will fast for 40 days and 40 nights prior to the performance. The work will be documented by both photographer and videographer and viewers are welcome to do the same.

40RTY – masculinity as a performance.

Law Firm RU - Ad

40RTY invite

Performance Art 101

Dallas Dahms Photography

swany – untitled performance January 2016

Today I feel all of my days, each and every one: each and every second, minute, day, week, month, year…hell, every milli-second of my existence. My meat aches, my bones creak, my muscles are stiff and sore, I move like something very brittle and fragile, like ice with cats’ paws. I have lesions on my swollen hands and a large bruise on the inside of my right arm. My feet are tender and blistered and my head feels as though it has a pillow stuffed into it. Eyes all skritchy-skratchy, I am tired, sooo tired: physically, emotionally and psychologically. I have just completed a performance and I am here to tell you that performance art is not for sissys! I am not just saying this to butch myself up. It really does take its toll on you. I am such a train-wreck today. Let me tell you about it so that you, dear reader, may grasp the sheer unbearable being of the performance experience.

Traditionally in performance art the human body is the site for creation, the Materia prima. It is the empty canvas, the instrument, and an open book; it is the centrepiece of the altar. The body is the matrix of the performance piece regardless of the location, situation or the artefacts and participants/viewers involved. This is quite logical if one considers that our body is also the very centre of our symbolic universe—a tiny model for humankind, and at the same time, a metaphor for the larger socio-political body. If we are capable of establishing all these connections in front of an audience, hopefully others will recognize them in their own bodies.

Just for interest’s sake, the other basic elements of performance are time, space and also the audience, the one element that the artist has little or no control over. Marina Abramovic, the so-called mother of performance art, said that “the audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind – and they just leave…”


swany – untitled performance January 2016




So just to re-iterate, for performance artists our main artwork is our own body, ridden with all the accompanying semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications that the body implies and carries with it. This is magnified/amplified by use of ritual, artefacts, symbols, a sacred space and a significant gesture. OK, but what is the difference between Performance Art and the Performing Arts? Performance Art is “making, not faking”! The intention of performance art is not to simply entertain: it is to provoke, to raise questions and most importantly, to implicate the audience/viewer. Performance art is rooted in conceptual thinking while performing arts has its roots in the theatre. In performance art you, the artist, are always you, it is only your context that changes. In performing arts the actor/dancer plays a role, they act. So in performance art one enacts (carries out) while in performing arts one acts out.

OK, back to my performance in particular, the “why”, the “what”, the “when” and the “where”.

Why?:  for the practical component of my master’s degree

What?:  a performance which explores/comments on/questions white masculinity

When?:  from 6 pm on Saturday 16 January  until 7 am Sunday 17 January (13 hours)

Where?:  at artSPACE Gallery (6 to 6) and then at the Natal Command Precinct (6-7)

Dallas Dahms Photography

swany – untitled performance January 2016

OK, so you have the particulars, now the details. Gender theory states that our gender is socially constructed, by our families and various organizations such as schools, universities, sports teams and the military. They shape our various masculinities and femininities. I spent 3 years in the armed forces so I my masculinity was definitely affected by that time there. In my Masters study I am asking one central question, do artists (white and South African in this case) represent the status of masculinity in their work or do they, as the avant-garde, lead the way in changing what masculinity is and should be? Is it evident in their creations?


swany – untitled performance January 2016

To investigate this moulding of masculinity in the army I undertook a nightwatch in a local gallery, artSPACE durban. The owner, Claus, locked me in the gallery for 12 hours, from 6 pm until 6 am. In the gallery I performed certain rituals such as hitting a punching bag I had installed until my hands were bloody and bruised, and so swollen and tender that I could not hit it anymore. I also performed marching drills and martial arts katas throughout the night. This is where I stood guard, within the so-called “white cube”, surrounded by artists’ visions and creations, dreams and nightmares. Being January the air was moist and heavy, swampy, and I was soon drenched with sweat. Outside Durban’s city life clamoured at the doors and windows: music from a nearby club and passing vehicles, an adrenalized heartbeat; drunken bellows and laughs like street hyenas; the smashing of glass, the wailing of sirens; gunshots. And then at about 5.30 a brief moment of silence, the city pausing to catch its breath and then once more onward.

At 6 am, dressed in my old army uniform, I ran the equivalent of a 2.4 kilometre to what used to be the Natal Command military base in Durban. The 2.4 was the standard fitness test that we would run once a week while in the training phase in the army. Once at the old base, I performed 3 blood rituals using my own blood drawn by a nurse.

Dallas Dahms Photography

swany – untitled performance January 2016


I have to say I was really worried that I, at the very least, would be arrested  once I entered the public space and that was the least of my worries. There was also the very real possibility that I could be attacked on the streets. I was after all wearing my old apartheid-era military uniform. However, the reality is, the local police with their fat bellies wedged behind steering wheels looked the other way, white people avoided me like the plague, detouring around me frantically, while black people were quite inquisitive and interested to know what I was doing.

So 13 hours of physical exercise, no sleep, no food, lots of stress and really testing my physical and mental limits, pushing my body. Performance art asks a lot of not only the viewer but also of the artist. One hell of an experience!  And where to now? Well, I need to build on this beginning, this experiment I carried out. As I tell my students: the answers all lie in the making, in the doing.

Dallas Dahms Photography

swany – untitled performance January 2016



Just recently one of my posts revolved around the Smith’s and their music, so it is sadly ironic that I find one of their songs stuck in my head, playing on an endless loop. It has been there since Monday (19th October) when I went to visit my mother in icu. It won’t surprise you then to hear that she is in a coma hence that song lodging itself in my traumatized psyche.

“I know – it’s really serious,” the song goes. “There were times when I could have ‘murdered’ her but, you know, I would hate anything to happen to her. NO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE HER. Do you really think she’ll pull through? … WOULD YOU PLEASE LET ME SEE HER! Do you really think she’ll pull through? Let me whisper my last goodbyes. I know – IT’S SERIOUS”.

It is a terrible thing to see her connected to all these machines and containers, all driving her frail little body. I dont quite know what to do. It is hard to imagine my life without her in it because she has been the one constant in it. As a child I shared an incredibly close bond with her, this as a result of my father dying when I was 5 or 6. Told by the adults that I was the “man of the house” now, I took on that role of looking after my mother and providing her companionship as best I could. We had our problems when I completed my military service and the damage that returned with me. There were also issues with the two men she married late in life of whom I disapproved but I always prayed for her happiness and always, always loved her…love her. My mother had a tough life and way more than her fair share of bad things happened to her: being dumped in a children’s home by her mother, having the love of her life die at a young age leaving her alone with 2 small children, a further 2 bad marriages and then the kicker, contracting a chronic illness, emphysema. My heart breaks when I think about it because she deserved better. She truly is one of the most amazing, caring, loving people you could wish to meet.

She rarely stepped foot in a church as an adult but was an extremely spiritual person. She taught me that you do not have to have a building to worship and pray, and you do not need a person to be your intermediary with your Creator. She had a very personal relationship with God and when she leaves this world I can just imagine her giving Him/Her a real earful. He/She will have a lot of explaining to do to my mother about how He/She could let such terrible things happen to her. My mom is a perfect example of bad things happening to good people. Why does that happen when there are so many people who really, really deserve the worst?

I love you, Mom. Please don’t leave us just yet. Come back. I know it is selfish and you are tired and deserve some rest but I need you. Even if it is just for a little while longer.

Below: My mother is on the left with the glasses seated next her brother, Frank, and his wife, Thelma.