Friday, September 25, 2009
Art's Ambassador to Africa: Barthélémy Toguo
Who does Barthelemy Toguo try to engage? What consequences does his work deliver this Art World? What about those who actually work occupations which require manual labour? Perhaps for Toguo, these are questions that seemingly are up to interpretation by the viewer of the Art as it is nowhere clearly discernable. Then more questions: Who is the viewer in this scenario? The tour guide who is reciting big words like phenomenology and references Carl Andre with a group of 20 post-middle age women that follow her? The students who traveled 33.18 miles from New Jersey for an Art class? Or two French men out on a stroll who look to inform themselves of the latest products of the "high culture"? Certainly the man watering the street 100 yards from the gallery will not appear: he is too busy working.
Without reading the meager press release, which I doubt was written by Robert Miller (Could this be him?), one is left with little other than a 59 second video projection and the peanut m&ms I dropped onto the floor of the pristine vacant 20x30ft room doused in the smell of ammonia cleaner. The air hardly suggests that Toguo is a French educated Cameroon native who sells Art throughout high-cultural institutions in developed world in order to fund his Western contribution to the people of Bandjoun, Cameroon: the Bandjoun Station. The Bandjoun Station is an artist residency space which aims to bring in international Artists to the program to "stimulate creativity and the desire for culture." Toguo also makes a point to mention that these international Artists are brought in "in order to avoid the pitfall of the ‘African art ghetto.'" Taking those promises into consideration, it seems that Toguo strives to bring the West and the need for its Culture to Bandjoun instead of leaving the chiefdom to develop in the ways it as a community feels necessary. Here is discovered the contradiction in the overall form of Toguo's project when he makes a point to say: "It is essential that we find OUR OWN solutions in all areas, whether agriculture, healthcare, economy, culture, politics, education or sport." It is impossible that the people of Bandjoun find their own solutions for their problems if they are relying on foreign solutions rooted in foreign capital imported from the Western world.
Meanwhile, the press release explains how Toguo takes advantage of his traditions and values to submit to the hand of the Art World:
"His precise contribution to the cultural dialog on post-colonialism, particularly on France's legacy, uniquely conforms to the rules of the contemporary art world's internal vernacular idioms but derives its sources and strengths from entirely outside the western [sic] canon."
Of the video itself: Is it really worth $7,500 USD? What denotes its value in currency? Rather silly it is that video documentation of a performance which must have lasted more than a minute and could in comparable time be uploaded to a video proliferation service such as YouTube or Vimeo at no charge, would be equal to significant portions of many peoples' annual income, not to speak of his pieces Art going for $25k. It seems to me that Toguo is that of a philanthropist: harvesting the riches while distributing processed goods to those who have lost the conditions to support themselves to Modernism. At first it seems that he is performing a good deed, but if one looks closer they will find that it is only the commencement of the spread of the ever-morphing "post-"Modern disease in bed with Captialism which has kept classes divided for the last several centuries, if not more, disguised as a world of Art and Culture.
The link for the Bandjoun Station: [ http://www.bandjounstation.com ]