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.
Although many of his works require a quite numerous audience for the re-telling of the piece and subsequent discussion to happen and spread, some of his works are more modest in terms of audience numbers. Some of the works are even made for no public audience at all, like the eight second hack into the public address system of a Japanese amusement park titled Saturday Night Can Be the Loneliest Place on Earth from 2005. The audience counted eight of Webb’s closest friends from his year in Japan, a short term stay with a long term effect on his works. The piece was, as so many of Webb’s other projects, unannounced and lives on in the documentation made available by the artist. Another one of these projects are also presented in A Proposal for Articulating Works and Places: The video documentation of Le Marché Oriental from 2008. The building which housed the oriental plaza in Cape Town, a relic from the Apartheid era in South Africa built to house the Indian, coloured, cape malay merchants catering for the population ironically forced away from that same area, was due to be demolished. The gutted building was transformed into a performative space just by being broken into by the artist. The muezzin from the next door mosque was invited to sing the call of prayer, the adhan, in the open space.
Communication is a lead motif in Webb’s works, be it bird calls or calls for prayer, text works or Morse code. Much of his communication is sonic, thus he explores and plays with the actual space of communication, just as much as with communication itself. The sounds that come out of his experiments are not as much ornamental as narrative, and through his sounds the spaces of his works become scenes and stages to be documented and retold.
* A construct made from the description of many of Webb’s projects:
Le Marché Oriental, 2008: A call for prayer in an Apartheid-era shopping mall a few weeks prior to its demolition, to make way for luxury apartments.
Scream, 2008: Members of museum staff at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía were invited to scream at Picasso’s Guernica.
September 1st, 2007: A group of 75 people blind folded taken from their homes through the city to an undisclosed location and led through a series of lifts and passageways until they were seated in a room and a sound concert was performed by Francisco López.
Untitled, 2006: an unadvertised intervention with light blinking an undisclosed message in Morse code.
The Black Passage, 2006: a recording of the empty elevator cage descending and ascending the deepest twin-shaft goldmine in the world, broadcast from a wall of speakers installed at the end of a 20m deep, black tunnel.
The World Will Listen, 2005: 4-minute 33-second power failure instigated at a gallery opening.
Saturday Night Can Be the Loneliest Place on Earth, 2005: 8-second hack into the theme park Space World parking lot’s public address system.
Homme Alone, 2005: Books about Morrissey smuggled into the Centre for Contemporary Art Kitakyushu’s library.
WA, 2003: An imaginary Japanese DJ named Wa was booked to perform at a large Cape Town party where a performance of ear-splitting noise lasted 15 minutes in front of a crowd of over 1500 people.
Anne Szefer Karlsen (b. 1976, lives and works in Bergen)
Anne Szefer Karlsen is the director of Hordaland Art Centre in Bergen, Norway. For a number of years she was an independent curator as well as producer of different events and festivals. She was co-founder of Flaggfabrikken - Centre for Photography and Visual Art, is the co-founder/editor of Ctrl+Z Publishing, and co-founder of curator collective curate.no.