Form without footnotes (on curating a book)
by Kathryn Smith

Jacques Coetzer and I got to know each other during the 2002 Klein Karoo national arts festival. Our exhibitions - his Tydsgees, and mine a curatorial effort investigating processes of sublimation - were in adjoining spaces. On the surface, these projects could not have been more different. Coetzer's work is straight-up, smart and incisively observant. It communicates like an instant messaging service; circumlocution is avoided, shunned even, in favour of apposite visual aphorisms. My diligently researched endeavour, on the other hand, suggested a surplus of visual and conceptual footnoting that drove a professor of philosophy to write the show up for an academic journal. If it was even remotely sexy, it was just that - remote, with a coolly detached, intellectual allure that may have failed to find its own pulse in the dark. Faced with Coetzer's pared down and expertly crafted pop-conceptualism - and Valiant Swart playing the Power Tool one balmy Karoo evening - I capitulated to a small but pleasant stab of envy at the racy charm of it all. Coetzer's almost adolescent humour is a valiant but futile attempt to disguise the innate satirical intelligence that is Jacques. It's all a question of register. And I'm a total sucker for this stuff.

I can't help thinking that if novelist Will Self were born into a white, middle-class Afrikaans family in the late 1960s, and his creative output were visual rather than literary, he might have made work like Jacques Coetzer. Self's sense of humour is dark, perverse, outrageous. His neo-surrealist parables set in and around dystopic, contemporary metropoles are shot through with images of highways, asylums, anthropomorphism, psychogeographic meanderings, deep ambivalence and paranoia. Conversely, Coetzer could have authored Self's Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo or Scale .

Coetzer described Alt Pop to me as 'mid-life crisis retrospective blah blah', laconically epitomized by the polyurethane Mid-Life Surfer, but which I think is rather disingenuously dismissive of a rather remarkable project. Whatever the content of the exhibition, his choice to curate himself in a publication that tracks biography's influence on production (and vice versa) demonstrates a fairly seamless and convincing imbrication of the stuff-and-nonsense of life with the stuff-and-substance of art.

So this is an exhibition in a book, for which the artist's own commentary offers a ‘walkabout' in written form that you can't say you missed because you had something else on. In the process of conceptualising and curating a monograph - which is essentially how I think about publishing visual art on pages between covers - you're faced with the daunting task of editing. And if editing isn't tricky enough, it is made infinitely more difficult when the subject is yourself and your attendant ego. What to include? What to leave out? Can one really be an effective self-editor or is hagiography inevitable?

Alt Pop enters at the appropriate register. It is self-reflexive, absolutely self-aware, and perhaps mildly indulgent. It is vulnerable yet brash. This honest, no-nonsense sensibility is refreshing, engaging in the processes of conceptualising visual works while suggesting the parallel narratives of the broader social, political, cultural and economic conditions that inform the work. Market Segmentation's ‘unity in diversity' model where fracture and elision is part of the structure is a natural extension of his primary school Hotel and Hostel drawing; and Wave of Prosperity could be the ‘graphic equalizer' display of Rock Steady.

Coetzer's engagement with pseudo-social science with his groovy-rainbow pie charts and graphs is a détournement of empirical data that is reminiscent of Joachim Schönfeldt's recent Model Men (2005), a project which involved a collaboration with writers Andries Oliphant and Ivan Vladislavić. Vladislavić's The Exploded View, a novel that grew out of this collaboration, sits very neatly alongside Coetzer's love-hate relationship with cluster suburbs mushrooming on greater Johannesburg's periphery.

Several works co-opt the props and imagery of electric-guitar pop-rock machismo, suggesting the desire to harness the energy and collective psychology of crowds at stadium gigs - the kind of euphoric anarchy that makes people behave in ways they might only remember when they see the video playback from the crowd-cam. It is the energy of transformation, a potential offered by religion, drugs, sex or politics, and which art is desperate to convince us it also possesses. Understanding that these things exist fitfully in the white cube, Coetzer carries them into the public realm (Beg to Differ, OH NO, GOD IS NOT AMERICAN) where they have a better chance of thriving.

In 'Liam Gets a Serial Killer Annoyed@', artist Liam Gillick retells a joke:
Q: 'Why did the conceptual artist make a painting?'
A: 'Because it was a good idea.'

In a text written a year earlier, Gillick reflects on an exhibition that set out to critique the position of the institution and its role in an increasingly contingent art world. The exhibition took place in an institution under construction and as such, artists had no choice but to engage with contractors to negotiate the use of the space. As one of the participants in this process, Gillick makes a salient point about the ironic status of isolation - rather than integration - that can result when artists who engage with certain practices or processes that set out to be 'relational', reactive or interactive are faced with the banalities of the real world. ‘Working away on art that attempts to comment on a particular area of contemporary activity while being watched by a large plumber eating a sausage helps focus the mind,' he writes.

Whether in performance or object, Coetzer achieves a vulcanisation of concept and form into an absolute, stripped of any excess of detail or bathos. Industrial production processes and graphic illustration conventions minimise the autographic gesture of the artist, replacing heady expression for clean-cut communication. Things attain the status of the self-evident.

Postscript: God is Not American/America is Not the World

Recently I had an argument (one of many) about Morrissey's sense of humour. My combatant, like so many others, was suggesting he didn't have one, or at the very least, his cutting social observations were hidden beneath layers of abject moroseness and as such, did not count. This same friend is an expatriate New Yorker who detests the current political situation in the United States, and tried to convince me that satirist Jon Stewart possesses a (far more appropriate) brand of intellectual humour. A few days later I was enjoying an hour or two of free-associational Googling, and I happened to key in 'Morrissey' into Wikipedia. I found a photo of him wearing a 'Jon Stewart for President' T-shirt. I emailed it to my friend.