James Webb (b. 1975, lives and works in Cape Town) has worked on both large-scale installations in galleries and museums and unannounced interventions in public spaces since 2001. Webb’s work questions the nature of beliefs held in the contemporary world, often using exoticism, displacement, and humor to achieve its aims. He has participated in exhibitions including CAPE 09 (Cape Town), This Is Now 2 at the Joburg Art Fair (Johannesburg) and L’appartement 22 (Rabat), and the 9th Biennale de Lyon.
James Webb’s on-going, world-wide intervention, "There’s no place called home," broadcasts foreign birdcalls from indigenous trees, expressing the notions of alienation and xenophobia inherent within national identity. In Marrakech, Webb places birdcalls in trees and presents the documentation of six other installations in different locations from the same intervention. The artist’s interest in displacement can also be seen in his film "Le Marché Oriental" (2008), which documents an intervention within an apartheid-era building in South Africa once used to control Indian trade.
HACKING AND HIDING
by Anne Szefer Karlsen
A call for prayer during an exhibition opening, a light blinking in Morse code in the elevator shaft of the world’s deepest gold mine, a group of 75 people blind folded in front of the Guernica in the Reina Sophia, a 15 minute DJ-set in a Japanese amusement park, an 8 second hack into the public address system of a library.*
James Webb’s works are for the most part un-announced, many happen outside of the gallery space and most often they can be experiences translated into rumours or anecdotes. His works are exceptions to the gallery space, in the sense that the gallery space is not really a necessity for him to continue to create. An exception in the everyday is usually associated to celebration and festivities, weekends and holidays, while Webb’s exceptions are firmly rooted in the places where people move through every day and are prone to both crisis as well as unexpected surprises. He creates stages and situations which are documented for further communication and discussion.
Webb is the opposite of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. He does not haste around the world without stopping to look around, but finds his sites and projects in a mix of tangled thoughts and observations. The thoughts and observations are untangled and placed so that they later can be detached from the site, and retold as short anecdotes or stories. Since so many cultures have lost the ability to retell long detailed stories, passing it on from one person to the next, the actions Webb conducts must be simple to have the right of life and survive as anecdotes. This way he caters to his audience in a very emphatic way, almost too emphatic, bordering on obliteration. Since the actions and his reality tweaks are miniscule, they can go by unnoticed, un-detected. If you do happen to experience them first hand, you most likely won’t even know.
During a period of rolling blackouts in 2005 in the Western Cape, the unannounced intervention titled The World Will Listen staged at an exhibition opening went by unnoticed. The subtle hint at this being part of the exhibition, or even a work of art, was the duration 4 minutes and 33 seconds, referencing of course the famous Cage-piece 4’33". Other than that it appeared as just another instance of load shedding. The result: a social wave of exhibition goers moving out of the gallery space to carry on with their conversations.