eRhini, next door to Grahamstown: a unique exhibition

By Khuthala Nandipha

A few weeks ago, I called a young man who is studying at Rhodes University to ascertain his exact location. I made the honest mistake of leading him with a question, “useRhini? (Are you in Rhini) to which he replied in the negative. He then added that he is not eRhini, but in fact, he is at the Rhodes campus in Grahamstown.

This glaring, often amusing differentiation is the basis of the much talked about exhibition by Grahamstown born Rhodes Fine Art student, Thabiso Mafana and renowned fine artist, Francois Knoetze titled “Virtual Frontiers”.

This is an exhibition on the psycho-geography (precise effects of the geographical environment consciously organized on the emotions and behaviour of individuals) of Grahamstown made up of a series of six short virtual reality films showing the past, present and imagined future of Grahamstown, shot using a 360° camera. In a first at the National Arts Festival, the footage is personalised and interactive as it is viewed through an oculus and headphones. Members of the audience have a chance to watch the footage in solitude, although in a room full of people, each with their own device.

“Francois and I are friends, we went to school together, but we grew up apart because he lives in a space I could not access, and I grew in a space he could not access, albeit in the same town. Some people live in Grahamstown surburbia and they die without ever setting foot in the township. The segregation within this small town is quite strong,” said Mafana.

‘Visual Frontiers’ was created over two months on location in Grahamstown. The work takes the idea of the frontier as its starting point, probing its connotations both as a historical and technological concept. The scenes in the series when viewed together in conversation bring to light some of the idiosyncrasies of Grahamstown and make apparent the contrasts of multiple experiences of one small town. The films look at the town as a collision point.

“The frontier is an imaginative colonial project that has the capability to mould these places into separated entities that have different politics, politics and qualities of life. This speaks about power and space,” added Mafana.

A scene that is hard to forget from the series is a group of young men who relocated from the far end of Vukani Township and are now living in the city centre’s dumping site in order to access products dumped by factories. They call this dumping site the biggest mall in Grahamstown.

The exhibition is on daily at the Arts Festival from 9am to 5pm at the Albany Museum, Somerset Road. Entrance is free.

Source:  Communications

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