Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dirty Minds and Empty Beds

I began my evening with a South African and for a change it wasn't a wine.

Photographer Zweletha Mthethwa was speaking at the Grace Street Theater in conjunction with the stellar Environment and Object exhibit at the Anderson Gallery.

To challenge his audience, Mthethwa began by showing a short-form video, but placated the audience by saying, "I promise you it's not a long video, maybe four minutes."

Have we really become a people who need to be promised short bites in order to hold our attention?

Don't answer that.

On the other hand, the artist said he often works on multiple projects simultaneously to stave off boredom, so perhaps he understands the short attention span from the inside out.

The first of three videos was comprised of still photographs and set to the South African national anthem.

Mthethwa made a point to mention that he objects to the new anthem because it utilizes three languages.

Duly noted.

The other two videos contained moving images, not stills, and the second, a soundless black and white piece, was notable for its unclear actions.

We saw skin contracting and contorted facial movements with no real explanation for what was going on.

After a minute or so, some people began squirming in their seats, presuming we were seeing the faces of people in the throes of passion.

Turns out they were weight-lifting, but as Mthethwa pointed out, "It's open-ended. I enjoy bringing audiences in and seeing what they bring to the work."

Dirty minds mostly, I'd say.

The last video provided a unique perspective because the camera had been placed in a ball, meaning we saw grass and sky and everything in between in a never-ending revolution.

It was an insular view that delivered a different reality than a person might otherwise know.

Video paved the way for his photography and we were shown works from various series, including "Interiors" (of people in their hardscrabble rooms), "Empty Beds" and "Sugar Cane Farmers."

His large-scale format photographs show South African natives usually from the bottom of the economic ladder and are as much about portraiture as about the marginal landscapes they inhabit.

During the question and answer period, we learned that Mthethwa knocked on doors to get many of his pictures and told the subjects to act naturally.

He preferred that they didn't smile since, in his opinion, most smiles are not natural.

After so much enlightenment, I went to Secco to meet a friend and kill some brain cells.

The evening was notable for the excellent bubbles we drank (Pierre Paillard Brut champagne) to celebrate both her birthday and upcoming one-year relationship anniversary.

Knowing that a cold front is about to usher in Fall (much to my sorrow and everyone else's delight), I chose to drink the last of the rose before they're gone (but never forgotten).

I did bow to the impending coolness with a dish of the house made gnocchi with lamb ragout and preserved Meyer lemon.

Its deep flavor and pillows of potato gnocchi made me happy Chef Tim was willing to do the work so all I had to do was chow down.

What with non-stop conversation, beautiful bubbles and long-braised lamb, I was feeling awfully pleased with my evening.

And let me assure you, Mr. Mthethwa, my smile was not only natural, but completely sincere.

Knock on my door and you can take my picture to prove it.

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