EXHIBITION REVIEW: i fink u freaky @ STILLS Gallery
A raucous attitude seeps and oozes throughout the work of both South African-based rap-rave outfit Die Antwoord and US born photographer Roger Ballen. So when these two provocative minds come together, the outcome is unsurprisingly brash and confrontational. Originally collaborating in 2012, the resulting product is a series of archival prints and a video for the exhibition titled i fink u freaky; currently displayed at Stills Gallery in Paddington for a show that will run from September 4 to October 5.
Within the exhibition there are two distinct components presented. First, are the black and white archival prints of staged photographs featuring Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, of Die Antwoord, placed in installations of Baller’s making. While the second aspect of the show is the 2012 Ballen directed commercial music video, from the same setting, for the single ‘I Fink U Freaky’, taken off the bands sophomore LP Ten$ion.
Thematically grounded in the racial tension and confusion prominent in South Africa and the growth of the Zef counter-cultural movement (a slur which roughly equates to our understanding of a bogan or white-trash) Die Antwoord do have a strong political voice amongst the strobing, incessant dubstep beats.
In Ballen’s video, he works to play up these qualities and to further subvert hip-hop tropes and clichés. While in mainstream hip-hop music and videos the artists boast of excess and the material commodification, the ‘I Fink U Freaky’ video instead focuses its flaunting on the social and ethnic qualities of the Zef and the destruction of material commodities. Evidence of the cultural and ethnic qualities of Zef in the video is paraded throughout. The major instances of this are the moments of ‘hardstyle’ dance or ‘shuffling’ that takes place. These scenes depict different individuals dancing against a backdrop of expressive scribbles on a dilapidated wall. These shots repeat throughout the video and are pared with further presentations of the scantily clad, and seemingly unbathed individuals through portrait shots.
Both lyrically and visually the artists encourage a destruction of the commercialisation within rap culture. Notably the line ‘Get everything will be free like Dr. Dre Beats headphones’, is sanctimoniously chanted by Ninja and surrounded by satirically expressing that making money will make his mother proud of him, these lyrics are then contrasted by the visual showing the destruction of the Dr. Dre Beats headphones with a rock. This instance is one highlighting the emptiness of the current wave of pop-rap, and works to differentiate and undermine current hip-hop from the earlier politically conscious records of the likes of Grandmaster Flash and their 1982 track ‘The Message’.
Contrasting the rapid quick shots of the video are the series of 13 archival prints. With i fink u freaky Ballen continues producing harshly-lit predominantly grey toned black and white photographs with the texture of l’art brut and naïve drawings, that were equally prominent in previous series Boarding House and Outlaw. However, with the inclusion of Die Antwoord, and all that they represent, this series lives with a skewed atmosphere in comparison to what we have come to expect from Ballen’s work. While this can be, in part, attributed to the appearance of Die Antwoord, one must also recognise that with this series the photographer has moved beyond his conceptual and highly staged scenes and right into portraiture.
Die Antwoord are at the centre or every photograph. In every shot of mangy wall art, rat or stuffed toy, at least Ninja or Yo-Landi Vi$$er are there. These photographs do as much to build the ‘image’ of this band as they do to highlight the residual social and racial segregation of South Africans post-apartheid. And here underlines the major issue. With Die Antwoord existing as a band on a major U.S record label (Universal) one almost gets the impression that they are ‘piggy-backing’ the ideas of Ballen to increase their credibility. As a band they have always had a strong reliance on their ‘image’ to express some of the ideas their often-simplistic songs can’t fully. Thus, the distraction arises; however, it is not one so large that the irony, humor and biting social critique of the band, the photographer and the products don’t hold weight.
Overall, the highly textural images captured in the i fink u freaky exhibition create a great deal for viewers to investigate and uncover. Both the band and the photographer fit comfortably as collaborators and produce work that indulges each other’s visions enough while also allowing for audiences to be invited into some of the ideas behind the visually boisterous portraits.
For more information head to STILLS Gallery website.
Words by Luke Letourneau