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he cu­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion of screams that plays out be­tween Nel­marie du Preez and her Gui (Graph­i­cal User In­ter­face) took home the R100 000 first prize of this year’s Sa­sol New Sig­na­tures award an­nounced this week. In the work, ti­tled To Shout, two per­form­ers – one Du Preez and the other her vir­tual, male al­ter ego – rein­ter­pret a work by per­for­mance artist Ma­rina Abramović (whose col­lab­o­ra­tions with Jay Z and Lady Gaga was all the talk last year). In Abramović’s work she screams “aaah” and her part­ner, Ulay, screams “aaah” back at her.

In Du Preez’s To Shout, how­ever, the artist cre­ates a part-hu­man, part-ma­chine ver­sion of the work as she screams at a dig­i­tal ver­sion of her­self that an­swers in re­sponse. By col­lab­o­rat­ing with her “dig­i­tal other”, as she puts it, she gen­er­ates new ways for us to look at our vir­tual re­al­ity and, in turn, the real-life ef­fects of vir­tu­al­ity it­self. “The ad­vent of so­cial-media plat­forms has en­abled peo­ple to cre­ate new iden­ti­ties for them­selves, which can at times have no re­la­tion to re­al­ity,” said Du Preez in her sub­mis­sion.

This was a bumper year for the pres­ti­gious South African vis­ual art award, now in its 26th year. The theme for 2015 – An Eye for Po­ten­tial – set the sub­mis­sions on a course to con­sider the fu­ture and the place of the arts in it. In The Fi­nal Mo­ments of Em­manuel Sithole, run­ner-up Mareli Janse van Rens­burg com­ments on the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks and specif­i­cally on the death of Sithole – the Mozam­bi­can na­tional whose vi­o­lent mur­der was caught on cam­era and pub­lished on the front page of the Sun­day Times.

In the work, Janse van Rens­burg weaves to­gether rib­bon-shaped slices of the un­for­get­table im­age into a textile, which she then shapes into a mask and pho­to­graphs her­self wear­ing.

She com­ments on how the media im­ages of his death in­flu­enced her as an in­di­vid­ual.

The merit awards for this year in­clude Rory Em­mett’s video work, Transcendi­ng, which uses a site-spe­cific in­ter­ven­tion to con­sider the no­tion of colour in the con­text of the ideas em­bod­ied by a “coloured per­son” and a “per­son of colour”. In the work, he dresses up as his avatar, Colour­man, to dis­man­tle a wall painted in dif­fer­ent colours that the artist erected in Dis­trict Six – the his­toric Cape Town sub­urb that was once a site of vi­o­lent forced re­movals in the 70s un­der apartheid rule.

Nazeerah Jacub takes apart her hy­brid her­itage to dis­cuss what she calls her “rather odd iden­tity”. The work she en­tered, ti­tled Iden­tity Ori­gins, is es­sen­tially an oil paint­ing of a Mus­lim prayer mat, known as a Musal­lah. The deep ruby pal­ette and faded lines im­ply some­thing used and well-worn.

“The medium in which the car­pet is rep­re­sented is through painterly pro­cesses as a means of in­tro­duc­ing the love for pray­ing within a con­fined space and that of some­thing which is frowned upon, so that the two may pro­vide a com­pro­mise.”

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