Featuring “Simplicity” as an “Irrational Fear”

Featuring “Simplicity” as an “Irrational Fear” is an exploration of the concept of simplicity and its impact on the direction of contemporary art discourse. Simplicity, which one could argue is akin to accessibility, is so rarely available in this current climate of contemporary art and one finds that there's a tendency to intellectualise away anything that may be overly-accessible or easily understood in art.

Concepts are often times over-complicated in the circumlocutory pseudo-intellectual babble that creeps into discussions, perhaps out of some irrational fear that once it is all decoded, then nothing is left. As Raymond Havens stated in “Simplicity, a changing concept” (1953:3):

Simplicity, it would seem, is a simple matter... In the eighteenth century, critics, essayists, and poets were constantly referring to it as the supreme excellence in almost every field, the "open sesame" to every door, whether of conduct, thought, taste, or artistic production. "The best and truest ornament of most things in life," Swift called it, and Shaftesbury, "this beauty above all beauties." Lord Kames declared, "The best artists ... have in all ages been governed by a taste for simplicity," and Horace Walpole said, "Taste...cannot exist without Simplicity." Joseph Warton went even further, maintaining “SIMPLICITY is with justice esteemed a supreme excellence in all the performances of art."

Ironically, simplicity is not quite as one-dimensional as one may expect. It is engulfed in concentric skins that seemingly lead right back to complexity. Simplicity itself becomes a slippery subject with multiple personalities but nonetheless one that is tackled head on. Through this performance-based installation a multitude of characters discovered in the excavation of simplicity are addressed and re-interpreted to create a triangle of responses from three performance artists, Nathalie Bikoro, Donna Kukama and Nástio Mosquito. The physical absence of the three performance artists in the performance space creates a rift between time and space, thereby necessitating a creative clarity in a media as interaction-reliant as performance.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


the missing links:

1. Ian
2. Victor
3. ?
4. ?

thank you all participants, all your dna portraits are in your mail boxes x x

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Opening night - 09 September 2010

The Opening night performances - Click to see more

Nathalie Bikoro - Autopsy, Performance via Skype.

Nástio Mosquito - Untitled (The Fisherman and The Soldier). Performance via Skype.

Donna Kukama - 1000 ways of being (Opening Speech). Performance via Skype.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Conceptual Simplicity

Conceptual Simplicity; the rule of simplicity as choosing your form/being

Einstein defined the invention of motion, gravity and energy as non-instantial ( in instantialisation the creation of an object or abstraction, in non-instantiation the object does not belong to a class to share the same structure or behaviour, it is not inherited but unique). The mass-energy equation* E=Mc2, derived from the rule of simplicity of space in Riemannian manifold (or Riemannian space (M,g) ). It is a real differentiable manifold in which each tangent space is equipped with an inner product g (a Riemannian metric), in a manner which varies smoothly from point to point. The metric g is a positive definite symmetric tensor: a metric tensor. In other words, a Riemannian manifold is a differentiable manifold in which the tangent space at each point is a finite-dimensional Euclidean space.

A Riemannian manifold carries the structure of a metric space whose function is of minimizing distance or paths in between the 'inners' within spaces. therefore a Riemannian manifold M is geodesically complete - a short complete path.

If simplicity conceptually could be elegantly understood as a way of shortening time, space and relativity, then could simplicity be an exposé for a moment of inner intensity and intimacy between people and spaces? What is the hidden element of the process of simplicity? It is non-instantial, a space that doesn't belong to a structure and behaves differently, I would like to understand how this affects the link between the audience and the performer and how this 'blur' succumb to energy and motionalise the element of the after-trace to procure the surprise. Autopsy....

*E = Mc2 originally derived from the Egyptian Hieroglyphics which Einstein co- studied with Anthropologists at the time. Einstein merely made a link and re-translated and transmitted it to the 20th century industrial world. A formula beyond mathematics that transcends into poetry, philosophy and musicology.

Simplicity as Mistake - Karl Popper's equation on Simplicity

The Popper-Dimension:


Simplicity as dissecting truths - Autopsy.

Autopsy focuses on the idea of simplicity as theory seeking to explain
the magnet of events to human minds and its relation to truth. It
incorporates a game of Chinese Whispers in which a set of descriptions are
transmitted and changed by the next recipient and travels through a process
that morphs its whole meaning from its beginning.
Corresponding to a drop in Kolmogorov complexity mathematics, an observer
thinks the shortest description of the situation as shorter than anticipated.
The basic concept of simplicity theory is unexpectedness, defined as the
difference between expected complexity (the smallest/imaginable description)
and observed complexity (improbable description). Complexity and thus
unexpectedness, are observer-dependent.

U = Cexp − Cobs = DNA portrait
Connection with probability
Unexpectedness U is linked to subjective probability P through formula:
P = 2 − U

Subjective probability can be assessed without necessarily knowing the
alternatives. Classical approaches to probability would consider all situations
in the world as having virtually zero probability to have occurred, as each
situation is complex and unique. Simplicity theory avoids this trap by
considering that subjective improbability is only due to complexity drop.

Autopsy returns to simplicity theory to make several predictions concerning
the way distance, recency, prominence (places, individuals), or atypicality
influence stimulus & engagement. A dissecting method of appropriating
transmission from audio to the visual in a series of games from an adaptation
of Chinese Whispers to create a DNA portrait of the space in the gallery.
According to Occam's razor, all other things being equal, the simplest
description is the most likely to be true. In Autopsy, the games like child’s
play are invoked as metaphors for cumulative error for the unreliability of
human recollection.

“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth” P. Picasso
My approach to simplicity is in relation to the CHOICE point of view. You can choose life or death, but ultimately whatever choice you make you have to decide HOW; and once you choose how you reveal CREATIVITY.


The idea is to deconstruct any possible attempt of exploring the INTERESTING and making sure to express that regardless of its legitimacy, human COMPLEXITY comes from its “excessive” validation of human existence within its moral conduct, in whatever time and space.


Want to hear the stories? Sit on my lap now… surprise... surprise... The character on this side of the skype loves meat...

Nástio Mosquito
After briefly discussing what Nathalie's performance is about, a friend of mine just showed me this site (maybe you've seen it) that has a seemingly live performance from a guy dressed in a chicken suit. You type in commands and he does what you ask. Too crazy cos I reckon its pre-recorded so freaky how predictable we are. Check it out on http://www.bk.com/en/us/campaigns/subservient-chicken.html

yea i saw this a couple of years ago! glatd it still exists. unfortunately its all pre-recorded. and the computer responds to words that have already been registered and scripted. any commands it doesnt recognised will make the chicken say no no. i like it :-)
I assure you that my "shit" will be simple lol...

Nástio Mosquito
Nathalie, I really like what you said about simplicity in relation to something really obvious that you hardly notice e.g. the video basketball link you sent (in case Donna and Nástio might wanna see http://www.charlescarver.com/jcs5.htm). I think that in that sense simplicity becomes like a disregarded obstruction of sorts. The ape comes in and interrupts the order of things in a sense, like a fly on the screen and you find yourself subconsciously avoiding it. So in relation to the idea of a game or set of instructions, I think it’s a great idea. Here’s an interesting quote I found about simplicity, reality and instinct:

“There are, however, two preconceptions which beset our speculations about instinct, despite the fact that they are notorious in the history of thought. A true prejudice is rather one which we refuse to abandon. There is, first, the hoary conviction that the real is the enduring and unchanging. The second preconception regarding the nature of the real is the belief that reality must be simple. The instincts, then, being neither simple nor enduring, cannot, perforce, exist…” (pg 141 from “Simplicity Versus Adequacy in the Definition of Instinct” Author(s): C. O. Weber Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 6 (Mar. 17, 1927), pp. 141-148 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc)

Later ;-)

Skype chat between Nathalie and Lerato

Nathalie: Simplicity has turned out to become its own antonym and is sublated into its complete contrary the more you think, analyse and search for it.
Nathalie: simplicity requires the search into something.... but I guess very blindly. And I like that. Its a bit like the self-motion in performance as well.
Lerato Bereng: yeah, the delving into something because of a frustration with complexity, only to find that when the layers are peeled away, there's tons more to simplicity.
Nathalie: I think simplicity requires this complexity
Lerato Bereng: yep, simplicity actually has very little to do with being easy.
Nathalie: a bit like digging in archaeology.
Lerato Bereng: so in terms of a performance, which already technically is quite complex, how would you envision communicating the many layers we're starting to think about?
Nathalie: open conversation, or by having a set of rules to start some kind of a game where people can peel off the layers as it were.
Nathalie: using the virtual space as an archaeological site. digging for history.
Lerato Bereng: Interesting connection between technology vs archeology.
Lerato Bereng: that reminds me of this exhibition called "Scratching the surface vol.1" by Gabi Ncgobo and Mwenya Kabwe. There was a performance where Kemang wa Lehulere started digging in a hole in the yard with an afro comb (also one of projects for Center for Historical Re-enactments)The hole got huge and he uncannily stumbled upon a skeleton inside. Became and excavation site of sorts.
Nathalie: yes i saw this one!!!

Lerato Bereng: Ok to back track a little.Well I like the idea of the interactive game, the idea of play as something child-like or simple, that actually often times isn't all that simple.
Nathalie: exactly. and to what purpose exactly? to reach something better? should there be an end/conclusion to the game? anyway so yes maybe a kind of set of rules, very simple
Lerato Bereng: yeah, the continuity of it is quite interesting. the no beginning, no end thing. Just a rules that somehow allude to greater sets of rules e.g. taxonomy that dominate our understanding and methods of engagement
Lerato Bereng: Lol. Just started humming "this is a song that doesn't end, it goes on and on my friend..."
Nathalie: or maybe a set of slow-moving actions that can be interfered or changed by the interventions of the viewer. again letting the viewer choose its set of rules giving this liberty only to realise the constraints and deceptions of it all. as nothing can be equalised, A=A is false (Leibniz is poisoning my mind, sorry)
Nathalie: hehe
Lerato Bereng: what did you say you were reading by Leibniz?
Nathalie: the principles of identity/continuity. its nuts. he's wrong on a number of things also....
Nathalie: also was thinking of simplicity as vaccuum, truth and reality and the discovery of the obvious. Of what's just in front of our eyes but are too blind to notice. I guess these could be words or images. Do you know this video of the basketball game:

The video clip you are seeking is a well-known test of perception.
Here are a few brief descriptions of this test:

"...In one study, perceivers are asked to watch a video tape of a
basketball game and they are asked to count the number of times one
team takes possession of the ball [Simons & Chabris, in press]. During
the film clip, which lasts a few minutes, a person in a gorilla suit
strolls onto the center of the court, turns and faces the audience and
does a little jig. The gorilla then slowly walks off the court. The
remarkable fact is that perceivers (including this author) do not
notice the gorilla. This is an example of what has been called
inattentional blindness..."

Perception, action,and nonconceptual content
"A demonstration of inattentional blindness goes something like this.
Viewers are asked to monitor three basketball players in white
T-shirts and count the number of times they pass the ball during a
video clip. Thirty-four seconds into this experiment, a person wearing
a gorilla suit walks through the game and even pauses to pound his
chest before moving on. Despite their vigilance, approximately half
the viewers never see the gorilla. Even after they are told about the
gorilla and shown the video, they refuse to believe it."

Lerato Bereng: ok well I tried. Watched half but buffers for too long.I saw the gorilla and counted 7 passes so far. But I like the element of trickery.It ties in with play really well and also alludes to that complexity that keeps rearing its head in simplicity. I also think that stuff that interrupts e.g the buffering or like you mentioned earlier the time delay in video Skyping add a further layer of trickery. I suppose like a magician, if you were watching a Skype performance by a magician and it kept stalling for a second or two
then you'd have reason to doubt the authenticity of it.
Nathalie: yeah thats true. And you would invent different scenarios in your mind to make u believe something else and then miss the obvious.
Lerato Bereng: This takes me back to one of the first thoughts about simplicity, the idea of the artist as magician... or the invention of a certain mysterious persona in order to maintain the illusion of complexity/genius. ok, starting to ramble and get lost in my own thoughts, but what you say about invention of scenarios is interesting. I like filling in the blanks.
More play.

Monday, September 6, 2010

One thing I know about simplicity is that its f***ing hard! I've read some texts that lead right back to complexity. Here are some interesting thoughts.

"...the principle element in it seems to have been that the simple is what is spontaneous, free from artifice and sophistication...it is chiefly this view that Aaron Hill presents in his letter (1753)...'Simplicity,' he explains, is that natural and delightfully instructive elegance of unaffected passion...It is a weaker word for propriety, since everything is simple, that has nothing added contrary to its own quality, and everything unsimple, that has foreign and unnatural annexions." (Pg 6)

So anyway I started listing the possible connotations of simplicity because as I've discovered Simplicity is one slippery subject and as implied in the title "Featuring simplicity as an irrational fear", simplicity cannot be tied down to one particular definition.

I started thinking about Simplicity as an actor in the sense that the connotations of it are only as good as its best role, in Simplicity's case I'd have to say the first thing that comes to mind is the role of "Easy", and perhaps you'll agree that we all remember easy as that hot-pants-havin, potty-mouthed, attention loving floozy who seldom fits in with any crowd with which we are familiar.

Anyway, back to the list of Simplicity's various aliases which include:
Simplicity as that which is spontaneous/free of artifice; simplicity as fear; simplicity as a rejection of elitism; simplicity as instinctive; simplicity as an antonym to complexity; simplification as generalisation; simplicity as non-existent... Just a few ideas to think about. Lemme know if you can think of any more aliases.


Lerato Bereng
So in response to what Donna said regarding the banalities of simplicity and complexity, I say: The whole reason for my interest in simplicity was in fact derived from my frustration with complexity. My understanding being that there is almost always a simpler way to discuss and engage with art that is often shied away from as a result of a fear of transparency (for lack of a better word). One often attempts to fog and mystify in order to create the illusion that their concept or creation transcends the simple or arguably the normal. This is not necessarily untrue, but at times it seems as though conceptualization gets tangled in its own web of complexity. So in a way, you could say that simplicity is what is natural/ normal/ instinctive, and complexity is only derived from repressing instinct.

Simply put in my opinion, the whole reason concepts and theories exist is to entice people to engage, discuss and experience the world in a new and less bland way. Why then would we use language as a tool to exclude and confuse? I think it is perhaps out of fear of mass consumption. The moment an object, a thought or a concept is made to be easily understood or related to, then it is seen as “watered down” and this very watering down means potential interest from larger, more general audiences, and not exclusively the close-knit network of art practitioners. It runs the risk of popularity, which puts in danger the very mystery that holds firmly the pillars of artistic practice. So, in a sense, simplicity ruptures the exclusionary realm of the art world.

It is true that it is a little challenging to begin a conversation on simplicity, perhaps owing to the fact that simplicity is not actually as simple as the term implies. Through our understandings of art and discussion, we are somewhat baffled when having to talk about something in an “easy” way. I find myself looking struggling to resist the temptation to search for complex theories to better understand simplicity. I’m reading a few things you might find interesting. See:

Simplicity, a Changing Concept
Author(s): Raymond D. Havens
Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1953), pp. 3-32
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Lerato Bereng
Some simple thoughts about simplicity is that it exists in relation to complexity, and so in a way there would not be "simple" if "complex" did not exist and vice versa.
Which leads me to the next point, which is this performance piece. Even though the final execution aims to present itself as a "simple" piece, one has to acknowledge and bring to light the complexity of the process... of even us three finding it slightly difficult to do a thing as simple as starting a conversation.

So here I am wandering off to point out the obvious, and creating complex ways to speak of what we already know, or is it the other way round? Speaking simple ideas in a complicated way (by complicated I refer to the amount of sentences it has taken for me to put across such a simple point). Would like to play with this idea.

Donna Kukama
I’m thinking more about the simplicity not only of the concept, but of the actual technicalities around the exhibition. In our discussion yesterday, it seemed that having 3 video pieces, as well as the skype interactions, might create a little complexity. I’m a bit torn. On the one hand I think there is an absorbing element about having the video performances as pieces created in another space in another time exhibited alongside the real-time interactions happening in cyber space. It begins to speak of video and cyber technology as facilitators of time. Simplifiers of boundaries.

On the other hand though, there is also something enticing about the momentary nature of the performances. The fact that performance speaks of a certain moment of interaction and engagement, I think perhaps the video pieces in addition to the skype interactions may seem like an over-complication of the notion of simplicity. In a way, the immediateness of the performances makes one incline towards one-night performance pieces. The conversations we are having now (I promise they’ll become more fluid on my part), and perhaps the documentation from interaction with the audience on the performance night(s) could form the residue for exhibition. As a “so and so was here” kind of marker. Don’t know if I’making sense, lemme know if I’m getting lost in my very own web of complex simplicity.
I’d love to hear what you guys think about this.

Lerato Bereng

P.s. Almost forgot to mention that I’ve momentarily called the show “Featuring Simplicity as an Irrational Fear”



Nástio Mosquito
I also like the complexity of working together, even though we are producing separate works, and doing this long-distance mixed-up relationship that should result in works being produced in a blunt and simple manner. Do i make sense?
Ah, woilla, you mention something very similar in your Humpty Dumpty Theory... maybe not, but I like the production process, especially if it is allowed to fail.


Donna Kukama
Your project for the exhibition sounds really interesting, challenging and intriguing and yes i would love to participate in it. Yes i think you are right in your ideas, I think people forget to just feel the artwork. actually thats why I tend to remain anonymous or i don't want to give an overload of meanings and concepts to people because i believe once they feel it, it is their own personal experience that belongs to them and they create what it is. i am glad you have brought this up because that's going to make me think for the whole day and i can see in my portfolio of work how i can harmonise with your ideas.

I think it's good if the artists had a conversation between each other somehow and even if our presences cannot be made there, you can maybe look at cheap easy live video streaming as a way of performance interaction between the people in the gallery and the artist.I had a OPERA online project a couple of years ago where i asked people to write me commands as they saw me live and i would respond to these commands and generate a live Opera with sound, video and objects all through website interactivity. The project was looking into the lenght of intensity and regarding the sciences of the panopticon gaze.

I think it is an exciting and strong project that asks for attention, challenge and experimentation, i really love to experimentation.

catch you soon,

Nathalie Bikoro

The beginning - a sketch

I have this current fixation with simplicity, since it is so rarely available in this current climate of contemporary art (at least in Cape Town). There's a tendency to intellectualise away anything that may be overly-accessible or easily understood in art. I find that at times, people over-complicate in order to exclude a certain public, perhaps out of some irrational fear that once it is all decoded, then nothing is left. Hope that makes sense. So, concept for the show is "Simplicity as an irrational fear", which I intend to expand into a larger show at a later stage.

I think as a start, the commonalities between the selected artists are that you all work in performance and video and also that you'll all be out of the country which makes it that much more difficult, but in a sense ties in to the concept. I like this because it relates to the idea of simplicity and sending a clear message. Something that even without your physical presence can stand on it's own.

I also have this silly thought: "The Humpty Dumpty theory". My interpretation being all the kings horses and all the kings men failed to put humpty together again... the idea of getting lost in your own theory and not being able to simply reconnect that which was once a simple united mass. Random I know.

Lerato Bereng