Cape Mongo – the best thing I’ve seen at Fest

2015-07-09 18:26

[Or] Nostalgia, and horror
Cape Mongo
Artist: Francois Knoetze
Five stars

The Commemoration Church Hall, a dark and musky room and perhaps one of the worst venues at the 2015 National Arts Festival, hides what I would consider one of its strongest works.

It is called Cape Mongo and masterfully uses performance art, sculpture and film to make gut-punching commentary on everything from the destruction of nature to the Afrikaans middle class, apartheid and capitalism.

Up-and-coming artist Francois Knoetze created five wearable sculptures shaped out of glass, metal, plastic, paper and VHS tape.

Each sculpture is a work of art, both gruesome and comic in appearance – living rubbish that dwells in the dregs of the city. The paper sculpture has the head of a kudu skull, and the metal sculpture looks like an armoured robot.

He donned these creatures and wandered through city streets, waste dumps, plastic factories, vineyards and forests, documenting his journeys in five separate short films titled Glass, Metal, Paper, Plastic and VHS.

Spliced with this footage is a mixture of archival video, including scenes from Disney movies, grainy video out of the apartheid days, shots of cows having their throats slit and even home video footage of Knoetze as a kid.

It all flickers across in rapid succession, barraging your senses. Using a shot of beloved Afrikaans children’s character Liewe Heksie in one snippet, and following this with a shot of a white Afrikaner beating a black man brutally on the head leaves the viewer left with a nauseating feeling of nostalgia and horror.

Knoetze was born in 1989, and must have experienced what all white people growing up that time did – an idyllic childhood against the backdrop of perhaps the darkest period in South African history.

This is the Fokofpolisiekar generation: Afrikaners, like Knoetze, who grew up during the dawn of democracy and must now reconcile an idyllic childhood with the horror of what they didn’t even know was going on at that time.

Knoetze is angry, or at least revolted. It is fitting that the production takes places in Cape Town – a city where the poverty of Gugulethu township is just a stone’s throw away from the wealthiest suburbs in South Africa.

Perhaps the strongest short film is Glass. Here Knoetze wears a cat sculpture made of broken bottles and melted glass. He goes to bottle stores and vineyards. He pours cheap wine down his creature’s throat and buries himself in beach sand.

Like the provocative Cape Town band Dookoom used their single Larney Jou Poes as commentary of indigent vineyard workers in the Western Cape, Glass is an indictment of a city built on the dop system – where workers were paid in cheap alcohol in exchange for their labour.

No wonder Glass has imagery of flowing wine spliced with shots of blood bags in a hospital. Makes you think, is the wine – the coveted, carefully crafted, exclusive varietals that Cape Town holds so dear – blood wine?

Like any good art work, there is so much to get out of Cape Mongo that each viewer will go away having experienced something different.

Not since Steven Cohen have we seen anything this powerful or compelling, and Cape Mongo deserves every ounce of praise it is getting.

» You can view Cape Mongo till July 11, from 9am to 5pm every day. Entrance is completely free.

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