Review: Wezile Harmans’ We Regret to Inform You at NAF 2022– transcending pain and loss, through art
|We Regret to Inform You- exhibition/performance- by Wezile Harmans |
Dates: June 26 and 27
Where: Studio Gallery,Rhodes School of Fine Art (on Somerset)
Direct booking link: https://nationalartsfestival.co.za/show/we-regret-to-inform-you/
National Arts Festival, Makhanda #NAF2022
When: June 23 to July 3, 2022 Visit www.nationalartsfestival.co.za for the full programme and bookings
I saw, Wezile Harmans’, We Regret to Inform You, exhibition/performance yesterday, Sunday, June 26, 2022, at National Arts Festival [NAF]. There is another exhibition/performance, today, June 27, 3.30pm. We Regret to Inform You is part of the Curated Programme of exhibitions at NAF. In this beautifully executed piece- comprised of installation (old style school desks with pages transcribed with lines, “we regret to inform you”], soundscape, projected images and voice, Wezile Harmans charts the bleak landscape of being a creative in South Africa, during lockdown in the pandemic and receiving countless communiques, proclaiming: “We Regret to Inform You”- that your job/gig/exhibition/residency has been postponed, cancelled.
With lockdown, most creatives saw their work come to a halt, with little opportunity for financial, never mind emotional support. Against the backdrop of the bleak unemployment rate, which is said to hover around 40 and 60%, in We Regret to Inform You, Harmans relates his journey and how he processed his vulnerability and frustration – on the treadmill of searching for work and inevitably receiving a rejoinder – We Regret to Inform You.
How does one deal with constant rejection and the greater context of limited work opportunities in the global pandemic? Harmans’ response was to take ownership and agency- by performing and thereby working through his anxieties and despair. He wrote the words We Regret to Inform You on large sheets paper in a public space and we see video footage bystanders, walking past him, not stopping to engage. The lack of response is conveyed in the performance at the exhibition, when he moves a desk and sits down, facing one of the attendees. He doesn’t say a word. This is emblematic of when one gets “we regret to inform you letter” and it is clearly stated that no correspondence will be entered into. It is form letter and it is blank in terms of engagement.
Lockdown has not only been financially shattering for creatives, it has also been lonely and emotionally devastating. There is a rejection and no one will talk to you and explain or perhaps no one is available because ‘The Team’ [my words] is working remotely and inevitably, bundled with the “We regret to inform you…” e-mail, an out-of-office reply pops up. It is blank, without the possibility of dialoguing about being knocked back – yet again. Visually and aurally, Wezile Harmans’, We Regret to Inform You, exhibition/performance, is a powerful mediation on dealing with disappointment and actively working through and transcending the pain and loss, through art.
❇ Image credits: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, June 26, 2022, National Arts Festival, Makhanda