Sello Mahlangu – the artist’s work
(This short comment has been collated from statements by Sello Mahlangu and responses from Gwen Miller; edited by Mandy Conidaris)
Sello Mahlangu is a multimedia artist who is drawn to interactive installations. His project Xenophobia Mars Legacy (2011) examines his own specific concerns relating to xenophobia, and to foreign versus local languages.
Here Sello took a critical view of combinations of certain social, cultural and political issues, attempting to deconstruct the concepts of the South African dream – such as the spirit of Ubuntu and the Rainbow Nation - as preached by iconic leaders from the earlier days of South African democracy.
Sello's research started by his photo-documenting various views of the townships in a range of evocative images. The visually chaotic nature of these sites is mimicked in the way he used seemingly random, collaged fragments to build the sense of an organic yet unstable community in his interactive work/video, a community which floats, shifts, disintegrates and regenerates, accompanied by an ongoing conversation whose tone is difficult to identify. In this way, he commented on the unpredictable nature of the places where xenophobia had arisen. Today in 2016 the issue of xenophobia is even more relevant, not only in South Africa, but also in the many conflict-torn regions of the world where intolerance causes movement of people.
His materials also address the coming together of old and new media: ink with collage and digital tools. And Sello’s workbook shows evidence of his exploration of the co-existence of different contexts: cyber reality and township reality; exclusion and intrusion; machine-animal hybridity and the fragility of nature; and finally the concept of outer space invasion. His research matter may be seen in this online workbook catalogue:
In the resulting interactive video installation, Xeno-World, his monochromatic use of black and white establishes a surreal, dream-like quality, suggesting notions of the deterioration of the above ideals, in particular the spirit of compassion for others, and formally acknowledging the different locations of xenophobic attacks.
This video work creates the illusion of access - of moving nearer – to the privacy of homes and private conversations. Yet the viewer remains excluded as the doors remain closed, the figures which appear and disappear are shadowy and anonymous, and the conversations can be understood only by those familiar with the language. At times the conversations seem quiet and intimate, while at other times they produce a cacophony. Sello maintains that the soundtrack monologue may provide a clues to the states of mind of the foreigners; and during the artist’s research and production, a significant question was raised: do any country’s indigenous population ever value the languages, accents or origins of migrant individuals?
The video shown on Sello’s outoftheCUBE exhibition, is a screen-capture of the projection of Sello’s interactive installation artwork Xeno-World, which was presented during the physical exhibition TRANSCODE: dialogues around intermedia practice (2011).
Below is the video link: