James Webb, “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out”
James Webb1www.theotherjameswebb.com is a key figure on the South African cultural scene, for the way in which he commands order from both the tangible and the ineffable, through sound, light or words. While his research has already proved highly influential in a number of different ways, his studies on dramaturgy, communication, and comparative religion, as well as his appetite for contemporary music, have led to collaborations with icons of the experimental scene, like Brandon LaBelle and Francisco Lopez.
An animator of knowledge and concepts, for his last solo exhibition, in the autumn, he displayed his work by installing it within a thorough re-organization of 35 pieces of JAG’s collection (the Johannesburg Art Gallery)2XII, Johannesburg Art Gallery, http://bureaumancy.tumblr.com/image/ 33588214003 and designing a particular relationship between what the visitor hears and what the visitor sees, creating a path through the gallery that itself became the showcase of his entire œuvre. James Webb seeks to mesmerize the viewer, to transport their entire consciousness in the same way that a literary or musical work might do.
If the use of neon, loudspeaker broadcasts and Morse code are known signifiers in public spaces, whether in front of the JAG or in a park in Japan3In a work entitled “There’s No Place Called Home” , James Webb gets to the very bottom of each one of these mediums. For many years, since a childhood marked by the peak and subsequent end of Apartheid, he has been compiling a sound archive4http://soundcloud.com/theotherjameswebb of religious chants, collected from all over the world across many different languages and many different faiths. He was one year old during the 1976 riots in Soweto, which led to the government declaring a new state of emergency in 1985. These tensions, along with an intensification of raids in neighbouring countries, finally led to the legalization of Black nationalist movements, after 46 years of equality and injustice. Even if there are no longer any official colonial spaces, the on-going balkanization of the world has devolved into many different tensions and conflicts that are testament to historical accounts that have never been properly settled. And for this reason, James Webb, conscious of his heritage, proposes neither messages of unification or alternate spaces of union that exist on the backs of false social and political alibis.
It is in this spirit that he conceived of his work There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. It was first created for the exhibition Sentences On The Banks and other activities5Organized by Abdellah Karroum in 2010 in Amman, for the Darat al Funun foundation and Khalid Shoman6http://www.daratalfunun.org/main/activit/curentl/khalid_shoman/darkhalid.html and later shown as part of the Shuffling Cards7http://www.chooseone.org/spip.php?article180 exhibition at Art-Cade, Marseille, 2012.
The phrase There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is permanently installed outside the Foundation’s eponymous building in Amman, where the artist first arrived on the heels of the Egyptian revolution, and its light can be seen from far away in the city of seven hills. The second version of the work was conceived for an exterior patio in Marseille when the artist was invited to comment on the use of contemporary archives related to the African continent in particular.
This metaphorical work makes visible what was previously not, inviting the viewer to project herself outwards to the unknown, out to the horizon over the sea, to be made visible through reverberation. The phrase lends itself to infinite interpretation, and James Webb wished to see it in neon, translated into all the nonLatin alphabets – into Arabic, Korean, Chinese or Russian – a bright reminder of the Smiths lyric from the 1980s, when they were renowned for their staunch criticism of Margaret Thatcher and their stand against all forms of budgetary, cultural or racial restrictions.
by Cécile Bourne-Farrell
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|↑ 2||XII, Johannesburg Art Gallery, http://bureaumancy.tumblr.com/image/ 33588214003|
|↑ 3||In a work entitled “There’s No Place Called Home”|
|↑ 5||Organized by Abdellah Karroum in 2010|