Thuistezien 250 — 29.04.2021

Simon Gush

In collaboration with the writer and performer James Cairns, the artist and filmmaker Simon Gush (1981) created a trilogy of short movies under the name ‘Analogues’. All of the movies are situated in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2011. Johannesburg is a workday city which, both historically and today, is highly defined by labour. In Gush’s videos and art, the concept of work plays a key role in relation to how work ethic is defined in this city and the longstanding representation of labour as well as to Gush’s own experience with work. The trilogy was made on the basis of an investigation into the concept of belief, each of the movies representing an aspect of how belief functions.

‘Vacancy’ (2011) mediates the relationship between belief and act. It is the first of the three movies and centers around two men, Clifford and Moses, who go in for a driver job interview at a newly founded driver company from the recommendations of a guy named Buggy. Inside an industrial and slightly neglected building, Clifford and Moses are greeted by Marlon who invites them into his office for an interview, one by one. As Moses is called in first, Clifford gets to wait outside his office. During this time, he gets the opportunity to inspect the surroundings until it is his turn. Moses is guided towards the garage where he is introduced to the driving by another character named Des. During Moses’ driving introduction, Clifford’s interview runs somewhat effortlessly and the conversation is seemingly smooth but as he receives instructions to proceed and go to Des, Clifford quietly makes the decision to disobey Marlon’s instructions and he leaves the place without moving on with the driver job trial.

There is no explicit reason for Clifford’s decision, which is in line with the movie’s absence of any physical strong verbal expressiveness. While the observer mostly functions as a fly on the wall, it is indicated that the observer is more likely to follow Clifford’s point of view who, perhaps, could be regarded as the least expressive character of them all. His eyes, however, tell that there are a lot of thoughts streaming through his head, both when waiting for his interview but also as he is about to proceed to his driving instruction. This clip, possibly conveying most explicit tension, deviates from the other clips. The observer is following Clifford’s movement but at some point, he leaves the camera’s range, leading the spectator blind, only to rely on the sounds. While being blind spotted by the camera, a part of the ‘Violin Sonata, no 1’ from Sergei Prokofiev begins to play. As the observer is no longer able to dwell on Clifford's thoughtful gaze, this piece is the only indicator of what is going through his mind the moment he decides to dismiss the job opportunity.

In ‘Vacancy’, the efficiency of Johannesburg’s work ethics is quietly but strongly invalidated. Like many of his other video works, ‘Vacancy’ is filmed in black and white. This is a simple but effective tool to give the video a layer of authentication and ‘Vacancy’ successfully dismisses the classic representation of labour, where humans are defined by their work and where the notion of vacancy, thus, equals failure.

The trilogy of which 'Vacancy' was part of was shown during the exhibition 'This is not Africa, this is us', during Art Rotterdam in February 2014.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg