Featured Cape Mongo: the tragedy of now

Cape Mongo: the tragedy of now

Francois Knoetze’s ingenious Cape Mongo is a searing exploration of contemporary South Africa, offering a punch to the emotional solar plexus. I left it teary-eyed.  Inside a hall tucked off Church Square – an area which most festivalgoers would otherwise have probably ignored – there are five sculptures made of trash (paper, plastic, metal and VHS tape).

Next to them, playing on repeat, are five films containing footage (filmed over the course of two years) of the sculptures journeying through Cape Town, provoking a variety of responses (shock,

Cape Town artist Francois Knoetze has created four wearable artworks including this one made of tins. Photo: CuePix/Ruan Scheepers

Cape Town artist Francois Knoetze has created four wearable artworks including this one made of tins. Photo: CuePix/Ruan Scheepers

anger, amusement) from passersby. And, interrupting their journeys, there are artfully selected clips from a plethora of sources – video games, documentaries and adverts.

Sounds like it should be a mess, right? It is not. Video art can often seem baffling, or self-indulgent, or both. These films are neither. The combined sound and imagery contradict or reinforce each other in extraordinary ways, suggesting new layers of meaning – a devastating commentary on privilege, inequality and division.

This is uncomfortable but essential viewing. Knoetze yanks off middle-class blinkers, and forces us to confront harsh truths: that the jackboot of authority continues to crush the poor, while the wealthy remain ensconced in their barbed wire-coated bubbles, oblivious.

Alexander Matthews

Cape Mongo is a piece of work that sits at the intersection of two artistic modes that I am always sceptical of, namely environmental art and performance art. Yet the exhibition, which documents the journey of five characters constructed from Cape Town’s waste as they make their way through the city, has provided one of most emotional moments I’ve had at the festival this year.

This is a multimedia piece in the best sense of the term. Merging the sculptural with the performative in a cohesive, non-preachy way, Cape Mongo produces an experience that is moving and authentic.

The exhibition, however, deserves a bigger space. At the Commemoration Church Hall, well off the beaten path, the recycled figures are packed into a small dark room. Here you can’t really enjoy their scale, or interrogate the technical splendour of their sculpting.  The splices and references used in the videos created by Francois Knoetze, which document the journeys of the characters, are deliberate and these would have also benefitted from being projected on a larger screen for full effect. The videos are short and it’s interesting to see the range of reactions that Capetonians had to the work. It makes you thirst for a Mongo sighting of your own.

There are some uncomfortable moments, particularly in the VHS Man sequence, where the character storms into a video store and starts trashing it, before eating a can of baked beans and ending up begging on Cape Town’s streets. He holds a sign. It reads: “Obsolete?”

Sihle Mthembu

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