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Three channel video installation, colour
10 + 2 AP
Dada is key to understanding the aggressively present moment – mechanised, post-industrial, warring – in which art occupies a difficult and thankless place. For no matter how much one might fetishise art, perceive it as some grail, it remains a wounded creature answerable to the perversities of our time. Fracking is one – the brutal shapeshifting of the earth which humans have for centuries deemed a norm. Our narcissistic technological inventions – or rather fantasies – are no different: We have made a business out of hurting the earth and hurting ourselves.
Mohau Modisakeng’s video work dramatizes this ill-gotten vanity. The story operates as a metaphor for Man’s greed, obsession, and self-hatred – for no abuse of the earth comes out of self-love. In Modisakeng’s case, this self-hatred is compounded by colonialism – the White Man’s ability to further divide himself against himself, against a projected other within himself, the Black man, slave, worker.
Modisakeng’s films, however, are not treatises, protests, attitudes, but gnomic events. We, the viewers, adrift in an aimless and puerile world, who attend counter-cultural ‘progressive’ events, now find ourselves caught up in a history we thought we’ve forgotten. Or a history we thought we could manage. Colonialism or Industrialisation, however, cannot be so coolly managed. We are all somehow caught up in its perpetual nightmare – It is there in the media we fetishise, there in the exploitative and cruel history of Capital.
Modisakeng’s challenge – the challenge of a latter-day narcissist shaped by new media – is to find a more enigmatic means to tell a familiar story – the story of mining and its human, psychic, and spiritual cost. And so we find the artist caught between worlds, haunted.
What Modisakeng has shown us is not only the visible horror of indentured labour but its psychic undertow – the human and spiritual cost of such an ungodly abuse of life…
 This text is a reworking of Occupation, an essay first published by Watiftheworld in the book Mohau Modisakeng, celebrating the artist’s Standard Bank Artist of the Year Award for 2016.