5 Questions for CUSS Group

CUSS Group
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Ravi Govender of artist group CUSS talks about BROWZA, an anagram for "a BRighter tomorrOW ZA” and the featured artist in their interactive exhibition “Video Party”.

“Video party” shows layered videos, compiled of video clips that you found online while researching the representation of South African identities in the last two decades. Can you elaborate on this concept?

With this specific installment, Video Party comprised of not only video work but of large format collage, L.E.D displays and interactive video animation. The main work titled "Live Distillation" was a video collage referencing constructs existing in the South African media. These opinions and constructs were mostly sourced online and so that’s was a theme that we found important to the development of the installation as a whole. The installation became a mix between a branding exercise and contemporary art production.

“Video party” features BROWZA. What is BROWZA and which ideas does it stand for?

BROWZA is a G.R.A.P-plication. A G.R.A.P-plication is a Genderless Raceless Android Plug-in Application. BROWZA is an optimistic interpretation of South Africa as its name is an anagram for "a BRighter tomorrOW ZA". The capital letters that I’ve illustrated spell out BR.OW.ZA. The way we chose to abbreviate the noun Internet Browser, which formed an integral part of the creative process, is typical to that of South African name abbreviations, for instance "Lebogang" will often become "Lebza." BROWZA works with video sharing networks such as YouTube as a plug-in which, instead of refining your search like most search engines, broadens it and goes one step further by pastiching this scope into a video collage of layered references which in-turn "re-condition" the viewer to things they have been desensitized to. These things are socio-political issues pertaining to the country.

The narrative of the main video in “Video party” deals, among other topics, with created communities such as online forums. Which observations about such virtual communities do you find most intriguing?

It’s interesting as communities is a very strong theme in the work as it is not only focused on the virtual, that being "Forums", but also communities as constructs created by groups of people that hold certain ideas, tastes, cultural and racial preferences…etc., thus shaping the ethos/regulations of the communities they build. With regard to the virtual communities you ask about, the issue of "Bots" and "Trolls" largely influenced our aesthetic and theoretical ideas behind the work. The existence of a Bot is some sort of grey area at the moment online that does not seem "malicious" in any way at the present time. We often find ourselves having basic interactions with these virtual personas/constructs of people as they might often favorite a tweet you might post. These profiles then disappear after a month, which is interesting from a conceptual perspective as real people often live forever on social media like "ghosts in the machine". These Bots on the other hand are some sort of disposable income that is closely linked to "hit counters" and "bounce rate" for websites with regard to internet traffic and more importantly the creation of internet traffic. This was a slightly malicious reference with regard to BROWZA.

Trolls influenced how we used the LED displays in the installation as they acted as a constant internet stream of user comments which added a more forum-like aesthetic to the work. The LEDs were perfect for this as they also worked two-dimensionally in an exhibition where everything was flattened spatially. They linked directly to the "Live Distillation" that was taking place and also to the collaged wallpapers as the content on their screens where directed at those pieces as art works/opinions/further constructs. Trolls also exist in anonymity as they can often turn internet forums into sewers with their prejudiced racist opinions. Something we wanted to highlight as "the lines of separation" (a common thread in the work) that exist within South Africa.

How does the audience react to the interactive parts of the video party exhibition?

The interactivity was a simple interpretation of a public address which BROWZA was delivering. It is BROWZA's work on show, it was responsible for the portrayal of the South African situation and how it hopes to help us as South Africans move forward. It was affected by how many people it had to address (standing in front of the webcam) and that influenced how loud it spoke about Video Party and itself and certain aesthetic glitches it experienced on screen. The audience seemed to take well to this element.

The four CUSS members come from different artistic backgrounds. How do the different art genres blend together, and what is your artistic process as a group when developing new work?

We're all responsible for various parts of the exhibition. As a group, it’s been mostly digital media that we've expressed ourselves in thus far. It’s a well-rounded group of individuals aesthetically and we focus on pushing aesthetics further; so in that sense we work well as we have a great understanding of what we'd like to achieve. Creative direction is something that plays an important part in developing work as understanding the possibilities of what we can achieve can influence the concept development and vice versa.