Virtual Frontiers: They’re Real

Francois Knoetze’s Virtual Frontiers is pretty incredible. A visual arts exhibition without art on the walls. The art lies in your own perception of the VR (virtual reality) you are experiencing.

Six machines, six different videos, 13 minutes long, made from digitally edited 360-degree camera footage – of people and places all around Grahamstown and with interviews with people.

All about Grahamstown east and west, an imaginary line is also the most severely felt division. Easy to see when you come in from the outside. But intangible. No fence or wall, but it’s there.

As soon as you cross over from Beaufort Street to Jacob Zuma drive, you know where you are. The boundary is physical. “Intangible but visible”, says exhibition manager Thabiso Mafana.

The frontier is in the mind too. Watch the projected video that’s not part of the VR machine… it explains all. And questions more.

Thabiso tells us on our “walkabout” about an instinctive knowledge between him and artist Francois Knoetze that in town Francois was the voice, and in Grahamstown east Thabiso naturally took over – language and ‘the other’ come into play.

It’s all about power and place, “there were spaces I could enter and [Francois] couldn’t, and vice versa”.

They call it psycho-geography.

The VR is physically unsettling, it’s a weird sensation. And it’s an unsettling series of visuals and you are immersed in it, you are there. How you interpret it, what you take from it, what you find funny, what makes you uncomfortable… all depends on which side of the frontier you come from. And questions how you respond when you’re in the real, real scene.

Thabiso says it was horrible to find a community had migrated to living on the municipal dump in Grahamstown west because it was “safer” than living in Vukani in Grahamstown East. “It’s the biggest mall in Grahamstown,” they say. Devastating.

One part of the exhibition is an aerial photo of Grahamstown. We peer into a metre-high walled triangle at the photo on the ground, surrounded by little lights. But the inside walls are mirrors, endlessly reflecting the photo and lights. This image of the town’s streetlights stretches out in all directions and forever. The frontiers exist in all SA towns.

The virtual frontier is real.

Virtual Frontiers is open daily from 9am to 5pm for the full duration of the Festival. Entrance is free. You do not need a ticket.

 * This is a kitchen table review, which means it was dictated to another critter, like Mike Loewe, while essential domestic chores, like being cooked for, were being attended to.

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