Thank You: Networked Art in South Africa and New York

Thank you is an HIV awareness project which took place in Khayelitsha, South Africa, New York City and on the web. In early December 2004 the works were displayed on 2 computer monitors in 2 remote project spaces.

Still from TwoMinutesTwentyFourSeconds by Berni Searl

Minnette Vari introduces her work "Spell" saying "Illness is often about life out of balance, and brings with it thoughts centred around purification, surrender and fate".

This is a project about human response to illness. Specifically to AIDS related illness in South Africa. These movies and web-works take the forms of memoriam, a video of a wandering preacher, a spell, a game of cooperation and a document of artists' collaboration. They convey an uneasy array of coping mechanisms and strategies from 2 clearly very different cultures. The first projects are tactile temporal up-close explorations of subjectivity and self in a "terminal positioning between life and death..." (Goniwe) by artists living with the African pandemic.

In TwoMinutesTwentyFourSeconds by Berni Searl, 5 red, AIDS remembrance ribbons are dropped into a basin of gently swirling water and in the time it takes for us to watch them give up their eddies of dye, we are reminded that someone else has died of an AIDS-related illness in South Africa.

"Positive I" by Thembinkosi Goniwe takes the form of a split-screen quick-time movie in which the artist roams 3 wastelands reciting a mantra to the camera. "Be positive", "I am who I am", "positive life-style” with the self-proclaimed purpose of "mobilizing agency [and] individual subjectivities". Minnette Varis "Spell" is a simple interactive audio and text work in which the viewer stirs up a percussive abracadabra as a protective charm.

The other works by artists living in the west explore the ways in which communities and individuals cooperate.

[six.circles] by New York artist Mary Flanagan is an internet based network game "which explores the consequence of cooperation, independence and community" in which counter-intuitively one needs to be infected in order to play the game, to get close and to cooperate.

"How are you finding being lost?" by the Trinity Session is a document of the artists' questions and brainstorms about the nature of the collective and "finds them questioning the relevance" of their practice"

During December 2004 website viewers released donations by interacting with the artwork, each visit releasing 1 South African Rand (equal to US$ 0.15) to the value of 100,000 South African Rand towards the cost of setting up an HIV Education Center in the township of Khayelitsha. In return, viewers at Artists Space in New York were given 1 glass of wine, presumably by the South African wine sponsors of the project.

This exchange of wine for health controlled by the clicks on a web-page by the Internet audience provides a complex and uncomfortable context for the presentation of the artworks. This collection of works draws on the cultural cannons of two distant peoples, aware of each other, making contact through many different interactive and visual languages and challenging me to find a way to talk about cross cultural socially engaged practice.

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