Advanced Practices’ Laboratory 2020-2021:
2nd Johannesburg Biennale of 1997

Advanced Practices’ Laboratory of 2020-2021 conducted research through a diffractive case study from the middle into the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale of 1997.

This extensive research of four groups – Curatorial/Agency, Narratives, Lacunae and Affect – was presented to the public during a two-day virtual conference ‘Absent Audience’, organised by the Laboratory on June 10-11th, 2021.

The ‘Absent Audience’ event was supported by the CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership and the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths.

By working from the middle, the Advanced Practices Laboratory has been reversing the traditional case study; we are not simply looking at the Biennal’s history, specific events within it, or its impact but ‘looking otherwise’; mixing investigative data with different affects, temporalities and imaginaries. In positing all of us as the contemporary audience for the historical event of 1997, we are asking whether its horizon of ambitions has been able to project forwards.

As absent audiences, looking at the Biennial from our current temporality provides opportunities for unframing the event from the singular arguments of exhibition history, accepting instead that we can never grasp anything fully and frontally. Rather, it is in the fragments of how it operated, in the traces and oblique testimonials it left behind that we can connote the event in the present.

Guest Speakers

Gabi Ngcobo is an artist and curator and is currently the Curatorial Director at the Javett Art Centre, at the University of Pretoria, SA. She is also a facilitator within collaborative platforms such as the Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR), which she co-founded in 2010. The CHR explores how historical traditions in contemporary art are developed and dispatched. As one of the original instigators of NGO - Nothing Gets Organised in Johannesburg, she has examined the processes of self-organisation that take place in zones that she considers external to these regimes of control. She was curator of the 10th Berlin Biennale (2018) called “We Don’t need Another Hero”.

Sarah Pierce is an artist based in Dublin. She is currently a lecturer in the School of Visual Culture at the National College of Art and Design Dublin. Since 2003, she has used the term 'The Metropolitan Complex' to describe her work. Despite its institutional resonance, this title does not signify an organisation. Instead, it demonstrates Pierce's broad understanding of cultural work, articulated through various working methods, involving performances, interviews, archives, exhibitions and self-publishing.


Day One: Thursday 10th June 2021

12:00-12:15 Introduction to Advanced Practices - Irit Rogoff

12:15-12:45 Introduction to the Johannesburg Biennial 97

- Francesca Lazzarini and Haruna Takeda

12:45-13:30 Guest Speaker: Sarah Pierce

13:30-14:00 Discussion

14:00-15:00 Lunch Break

15:00-15:35 Curatorial Group

15:35-16:10 Narratives Group

16:10-16:40 Breakout Rooms

16:40-17:00 Screen Break

17:00-17:30 Wrap-up Discussion

Day Two: Friday 11th June 2021

12:00-12:15 Introduction/Summary Day 2 - Irit Rogoff

12:15-13:00 Guest Speaker: Gabi Ngcobo

13:00-13:30 Discussion

13:30-14:30 Lunch Break

14:30-15:05 Lacunae Group

15:05-15:40 Affect Group

15:40-16:00 Screen Break

16:00-16:30 Breakout Rooms

16:30-17:15 Wrap-up Discussion & Conference Closing

Advanced Practices’ Laboratory

‘Advanced Practices’, the most recent of the Visual Cultures Department (Goldsmiths, London University) post graduate research programs, has emerged in response to the research turn in the arts - artistic activity propelled by exploring, inventing and restaging knowledge formats. Advanced Practices is the term we are using for understanding what constitutes the grounds for practice and asking how do practices move forward or ‘advance’ to offer forms of contemporary entanglement.

As part of the M.Res and Ph.D program we have launched a ‘Practice Laboratory’ that develops a research project that is collective and collaborative and driven by sharing and exchanging the many forms of knowledge and experience present among the program’s participants. For the period of 2020-2021 the Practice Lab has chosen to focus on the 1997 2nd Johannesburg Biennial. Here we followed a suggestion by our colleague Nora Sternfeld (HBK, Hamburg) whose students were simultaneously thinking about the logic of the ‘Case Study’- a single event that becomes a generalisable argument. The Practice Lab chose a diffractive approach to the case study – the wave like outward spreading of the event through minute agents that are barely registerable. Thus they developed a vocabulary of how to register these invisible movements out of a historic event and towards our current horizon and to ask whether we today might become its audience.

Unframing the event out of its historical perspective and insisting on its significance in the presents is an attitude shared with many contemporary practitioners engaging with moments of decolonisation, of systemic protest and of non-alignment. It's an attitude that asks whether these can be our histories today – not as direct experience but as diffractive magnitude. Along the way many colleagues joined us and contributed their considerable insights: Tamar Garb, Nora Sternfeld, Vali Mahlouiji, Sarah Pierce, Gabi Ngcobo among many others.

We have done our best to reflect the collaborative process and the worlds that opened up to us through a restless methodology that responded to our questions and conditions rather than dictate them. This site hopefully reflects the ability of ‘research’ to be both inventive and speculative and of how it can effect collective knowledge transformation.

Irit Rogoff