Aage Langhelle

"(con)temporary" South Africa

(con)temporary as a combination of temporary and contemporary. In this project the central issues are social spaces and constructions that are created more or less by coincidence or improvisation (informal structures). During my three months long stay in South Africa I focused on Hawkers and Spaza shops. (A. Langhelle)


The red shirts function as a signal. On the one hand they attract attention, on the other they are a sort of warning sign. In the traffic these shirts ensure survival in two ways: they make their wearers conspicuous firstly as hawkers who live from the sale of products and secondly as human beings threatened by the traffic.
Students at the nearby art college are customers, which made it possible to take the pictures from closer proximity. Nevertheless there’s an economic distance: the vendors are dependent on these customers. Without them they would become impoverished, with no other means of support. By offering cheap food they are able to survive just above the subsistence level.


From a post-colonial point of view

Perception is a complex process, not only in a physiological, but also in a political sense. In the age of post-colonialism the conditions of perception become even more complex. Here and now it becomes clear that such a thing as an innocent view does not exist any more. However, the search for the view of the guilty cannot result in a simple answer either, for the post-colonial view includes the colonized as much as the colonizer. In sum, one could say there are four different perspectives: the colonizer’s view of the colonized and vice versa, as well as each one’s perception of him/herself. But anyone describing these perspectives will face a further problem, since the perception itself is also perceived.

Aage Langhelle’s work for the exhibition "Rest in Space" is a presentation of these conditions. The artist spent three months taking photographs in South Africa. As a white tourist he was immediately recognized as a foreigner whose camera was also regarded as a threat. Aage Langhelle compensates this "photographic assault" by presenting the photos in the frame of an installation. This installation is a reconstruction of an improvised market stall of a kind to be found in many parts of Johannesburg. These serve to provide a living for the South Africans who, since the end of apartheid, still live in poverty. The reconstruction of these shacks is not presented as an imitation, but as a kind of image which again includes further images – the mentioned photographs. The pieces of timber that are used still show their price tags and look fresh and new. This is not a faithful reconstruction, as the very title of the work, "(con)temporary", shows, since contemporary becomes temporary, and thus opposes any claim for conservation.

The temporary aspect of photography is identical with the temporary aspect of the installation, which furthermore refers to the temporary spazashops in South Africa. At the same time the construction of the space, of the installation, refers to the photographs’ conceptual construction. For the view is not innocent, but Aage Langhelle adds notes to the pictures which explain and clarify the situation.
Perception in the pictures meets with perception in the texts and is furthermore in dialogue with the perception of a reconstruction. Thus the view is refracted in itself and becomes reflected in a double meaning.

From a post-colonial point of view we may also learn that things are not as straightforward as they are presented as being in the media. George Monbiot writes about Robert Mugabe in Süddeutsche Zeitung: "The governments of the rich world do not like land reforms, since they require state intervention, which offends the god of the free market and bothers the big farmers as well as the companies they supply. It is only because Britain refused to allow or finance an appropriate programme of reform in Zimbabwe that the political circumstances developed which Mugabe is now so unscrupulously taking advantage of. The ‘Lancaster House Agreement’ transferred the state of Zimbabwe to the blacks, the nation, however, to the whites."

Thomas Wulffen

Thomas Wulffen (born 1954) is an art critic and curator living in Berlin. He writes for, among others, Kunstforum International, several special issues of which he has edited.

Translation from German by Andreas Brunstermann