Jan Svenungsson

du Plessis, Nicky. "Film and Photography",

in: Shuttle 99, Nordic Council of Ministers, 1999

4.1.1. X-scape The major Shuttle 99 photographic project was entitled X-scape, and consisted of educational workshops aimed towards producing quality work for an exhibition of the same name.

Believing that an exploration of the South African photographic scene needs to be as broad as possible, photographers were urged to consider any possible meaning of "X", which could be replaced with various words, such as [land)scape, (mind)scape or (city)scape. This concerns not just the physical landscape, but also the historical, cultural, ideological and spiritual "mark-making" that constitutes the human world people inhabit and construct.

This title aimed to provide maximum flexibility to accommodate photographers of varying experience and abilities. A series of workshops was designed to stimulate new work, and provide new skills for potential exhibitors. A team consisting of Nordic and South African workshop leaders and photographic staff curated the final exhibition, which was shown in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town before being sent to Copenhagen and Helsinki for exhibition.

Third "X-scape" Workshop
23 June - 9 July 1999
Jan Svenungsson (Sweden)

Jan Svenungsson was born in Sweden in 1961. Between 1984 and 1989 he studied painting at the Royal University College of Fine Art in Stockholm. Since 1996 he has been Visiting Professor at the School of Photography and Film, Gothenburg University, Sweden, where his major responsibility is the Masters Photography programme. His work has heen exhibited in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Spain, France, South Korea, USA, Australia and in Germany.

Svenungsson gave four extensive slide lectures, one of them about his own work, to workshop participants. He asked participants to prepare certain material before the assignments, and concentrated on getting photographers to view their art and craft from different perspectives; challenging preconceived ideas about their strengths and weaknesses Assignments took place in various locations in the city as well as in the studios, and extensive peer critique sessions formed a large part of the education.

Such a large part of contemporary visual culture as well as art culture is shared, via our information-society, so that all artists now have much of a common language. But because of our backgrounds and personalities we develop distinct characteristics that do not necessarily vary because we are born at different ends of the world. Our work will be different more because of individual history and the direction in which our curiosity takes us.

"One of the great things about the workshop was that we kept surprising each other and ourselves. It was not necessarily the most documentary photographer who would do the most documentary work, and vice versa. I found that I had a number of shared frames of references with everyone in the workshop, but interestingly, not the same set with two people. I think it is a great idea to get together like this, photographers and artists with different backgrounds and aspirations from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, plus one outsider and then engage in work together. In the discussions that ensued, we would sometimes switch allegiances and we kept comparing our views on this shared interest of ours, photography, realising that no one view is fixed for ever." (from Jan Svenungsson's opening speach in Johannesburg)

"My workshop was to concern itself with 'conceptual issues in photography'. Now, what does that mean? I guess there could be a number of interpretations. I decided to give assignments that would be closely linked with my own practice. I often do work in relation to an existing source image, an original, in the belief that even if you try to make a perfect copy it will not be possible to avoid coming up with new content in the process. At the same time it can be very useful to look closely at an existing image in order to understand your own image-making process. By understanding the other you get to know yourself." (from Jan Svenungsson's workshop report)

The workshop was also held at the DCP and Technikon Natal facilities, for 10 participants from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban:
Elena Barbisio, Fine art photographer and graduate, Cape Town
Natasha Christopher, Fine art photographer and lecturer, Johannesburg
Mluleki Dlamini, Photography student, Durban
Tracy Gander, Fine art photographer and graduate, Cape Town
Makgotso Gulube, News photographer, Johannesburg
Clive Hardwick, Shuttle 99 DCP Co-ordinator, Fine art photographer, graduate and teacher, Durban
Svea Josephy, Fine art photographer and lecturer, Western Cape
Gabisile Nkosi, Fine art photography student, Durban
Jeeva Rajgopaul, News photographer, Durban
Hentie van der Merwe, Fine art photographer, lecturer and graduate, Johannesburg

X-scape Exhibitions

Clermont Library
Clermont Township, near Durban
8 - 26 August 1999

This was a very special exhibition of copies of the X-scape prints in the library of Clermont township. Simpihwe Myeza, (the Co-ordinator employed by the DCP to arrange this), worked closely with the local authorities eager to establish relationships with arts organisations in Durban.

The Metro Council Mayor, Mr Obed Mlaba, was invited to open the exhibition, and a procession through the streets of Clermont to the library venue was lead by the drum majorettes of a local school. The Reverend Nxele was present, and he and Jeremy Wafer, President of the NSA Gallery participated in a candle-lighting ceremony with the Mayor. The opening was attended by Stefan Bremer, members of the NSA Council, DCP staff, over 70 local residents and plenty of children who were fascinated by the pictures, and provided a lively component to the occasion.

NSA Gallery
8 - 24 August 1999

"Photography is so much more than documenting " said Stefan Bremer as he opened the exhibition at the gallery two hours after the excitement of the Clermont exhibition opening.

"As we can see in this exhibition, photography has taken the step towards a more personal comment, a subtle way of commenting not only on what is happening in society but also in commenting on your own personla life, strives, happiness, sorrow and rage."
(from opening speech by Stefan Bremer)

Packs of postcards of six images drawn from the exhibition were distributed to those attending, and the exhibition had been advertised on an electronic billboard near the main freeway leading out of the city. Selected images from the exhibition were lit up on the board with information about the dates and venue of the exhibition. This was the first time that this type of electronic media had been used as a display technique by the NSA Gallery or the DCP.

Bensusan Museum of Photography Johannesburg
5 - 24 September 1999

The exhibition was moved by Clive Hardwick and Peter Ford of the NSA to Johannesburg. The opening was attended by Mr Tapani Brotherus, the Finnish Arnbassdor to South Africa, Asko Mäkelä from the Finnish Museum of Photography and officially opened by Jan Svenungsson.

"When Asko... asked me whether I would be interested in going to South Africa to conduct a workshop in photography I didn’t really take him seriously at first, but said "yes of course". I had never been anywhere in Africa before, and South Africa seemed a very long way from home. What, I wondered, could I bring to people living in such a faraway place? What would I be expected to bring? The workshop in Durban turned out to be an amazing experience, and this is first and foremost because of the amazing people who took part and were involved. There was an energy, a will to work, as well as a will to debate and question the form of our work, that made for a very engaging experience for us all. And it was fun: everyone involved had a great sense of humour." (from opening speach by Jan Svenungsson)

Cape Town

The Granary
5 -16 October 1999

In Cape Town the exhibition was linked to the Month of Photography, a project initiated by The South African Centre for Photography. The Director of this centre, Geoff Grundlingh, had participated in the workshop in Helsinki in May 1999 and so had previous Shuttle links. The exhibition was opened by Mr Jorgen Dahl, the Consul of Denmark.

"In another room is "X-scape", the travelling photographic component of Shuttle 99, an important cultural exchange between South Africa and the Nordic countries. This very important show deserves a review on its own, as it has produced a huge variety of interesting new work and new beginnings for South African photography. A must-see, even in its condensed Cape Town form." (Adam Welz, Sunday Independent, South Africa)

The exhibition will be shown in the Nordic countries in 2000, in selected venues.

Nicky du Plessis