The Trauma of Conceptualism for South African Art

By Sey, James Alexander | Critical Arts, November 2010 | Go to article overview

The Trauma of Conceptualism for South African Art


Sey, James Alexander, Critical Arts


Abstract

In this article I argue that the history of South African art after apartheid depends on a conceptual armature that privileges a certain relationship, or intimacy, with the experience of othering, because of the long history of apartheid and colonialism to which the country was subjected. I discuss the ways in which these histories and epistemological terms resonate with and change the particular history of contemporary South African art. In particular, I present a case for a re-viewing of recent South African art history, in the context of the idea that much of the meaning and impact of conceptual art has been supplanted by the impact and function of terrorism in contemporary society, which affected South Africa directly in the last years of apartheid. I argue for a general case of terrorism replacing the normal function of conceptualism in art--that of aesthetic destabilisation or defamiliarisation. Further, I posit that in the case of South African art this is complicated by the country's position as a postcolony, and therefore it is in an agonistic relationship to perceived imperialist versions of art history. In particular, I question the idea of a contemporary South African postcolonial subjectivity, framed in terms of both an opposition to its position of otherness vis-a-vis the Western arthistorical paradigm, and in terms of its position as part of the mythology of a newly created nation-state.

My argument proceeds from a general definition of the function of the experience of trauma in modernity, if modernity is seen as a constant negotiation between the shock of the new (trauma), and the organisation and regulation endemic to industrial urban societies. Trauma is considered as a constituent condition of modernity, in that much contemporary experience is either literally traumatic, in the sense of being psychically shocking or physically violatory; or symbolically traumatic, through the senses being overloaded with largely representational input. This key element of trauma is analysed in the context of the changing response of art to its influence, especially after the institution of the so-called 'conceptual turn' of the early 20th century, in the predominantly European avant-garde art movements such as Surrealism, Futurism and Dada, before the argument turns to its main contention--that trauma itself, in the form of terror, has replaced the aesthetic function of conceptual art, and that such a function, of aesthetic defamiliarisation and cultural destabilisation, needs to be re-thought in terms of its function in the postcolonial art-historical discourse of post-apartheid South Africa.

Keywords: art, avant-garde, conceptualism, contingency, Otherness, post-apartheid, postcolonialism, psychoanalysis, terrorism, trauma

Introduction

In this article, I pose a primary argument that the history of South African art after apartheid depends on a conceptual armature which privileges a certain relationship, or intimacy, with the experience of othering, because of the long history of apartheid and colonialism to which the country was subject. I discuss ways in which these histories and epistemological terms resonate with and change the specific history of contemporary South African art. In particular, I propose a case for a re-viewing of recent South African art history in the context of the idea that much of the meaning and impact of conceptual art has been supplanted by the impact and function of terrorism in contemporary society, which of course affected South Africa directly in the last years of apartheid. I thus posit a general case for terrorism replacing the normal function of conceptualism in art--that of aesthetic destabilisation or defamiliarisation. In the case of South African art this is complicated by the country's position as a postcolony, which puts South African art in an agonistic relationship to perceived imperialist versions of art history. In particular, I question the idea of a contemporary South African postcolonial subjectivity, framed in terms of both an opposition to its position of otherness vis-a-vis the Western art-historical paradigm, and in terms of its position as part of the mythology of a newly created nation-state. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Trauma of Conceptualism for South African Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.