There are weekends when it’s all about the chores, or the shopping, or meeting up with friends; and there are weekends when it’s all about the dive into what the city has to offer culturally. This weekend it was all about the Toronto South Africa Film Festival (evidently the first ever) and the Alex Colville retrospective, both of which were held at the Art Gallery of Toronto.
We started yesterday at the AGO with a film about Paul Simon and the making of Graceland: all the old issues, still bubbling below the surface – the confrontation between art and artists and the cultural boycott, the question of whether art should be subjugated to political dictates, the difficult moral issues of playing in 1980s South Africa, and the huge question of ‘who decides, anyway?’ As Hugh Masekela allegedly says to one of the international protesters campaigning against Graceland, ‘what the fuck did you ever do for South Africa?!’
Boy, did it ever take me back – to those days, to those issues. More than I can say – I was in tears at times, moved profoundly: it will take me some time, I think, before I can talk about it.
Today’s documentary, about some of the photographers whose images told the violent story of the last days of apartheid – Peter Magubane, Paul Weinberg and many others – was compelling, also: as documentary, certainly; as a piece of history. Not art, but record. And the sense of disappointment they all felt, in how things had turned out, after the Struggle, was deeply disturbing.
And then there were Alex Colville’s paintings – for my South African friends, who may not know him, a great Canadian painter who died only recently, whose work has an eerily unsettling and yet familiar quality, a sense of both stillness and tension, which makes you look twice, and then again more deeply. What, exactly, am I seeing? I see what this is – but what is it, really? What does it mean?
There is a particular emotional temperature to most of his paintings: cool and detached, yet also tender (never violent or cruel, like a Francis Bacon). Detailed and precise – every piece and pixel of the image given its own steady existence, as if under the gaze of eternity – yet the image as a whole wrought with uncertainty, with a dreamlike solidity yet sense 0f mystery.
An emotional temperature; a very particular view and apprehension of the world; a philosophical position which I can only read as platonic: is this the world we see, or images projected on the wall of a cave?