Life Less Ordinary: Performance and Display
in South African Art

Between September 5 and November 15 2009 the Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, hosted a startling exhibition of South African artists’ work. In July a chance conversation with Anna Douglas, the curator, resulted in our expressing interest in working with her on the exhibition catalogue. In the event, the project turned out to be much more extensive than that initial conversation suggested.

Anna had been curious to know what was happening with South African art, post-apartheid. Following a number of exploratory visits to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, Life Less Ordinary is the result.​​​​​​​
While the book’s agenda is race, or rather difference, the values we assign to it, and how we avoid the pitfalls of the recent past (critical in the current climate of fear of the other), the artists didn't want to concentrate on race and colour: they weren't on the agenda. Rather, a lot of the work is focused on the body, display and performance. This theme (performance and display) is prefaced by historic photographs of southern African tribes people taken by amateur photographer Alfred Duggan-Cronin in the 1930s. These are followed by diverse imagery and video by 12 artists, which makes for a striking series of theoretical and visual contrasts and connections.

Anna wanted the printed record to stand alone, not to simply catalogue the exhibition, but rather to function polemically, even provocatively, in its own right. The book features a manifesto-style text, and a further lengthy polemic on the nature of race and difference, by British academic Ash Amin. Both these texts required extensive typographic interpretation to articulate the key concepts and salient points.

This was an opportunity to give the book a dynamic visual appearance, keeping the reader engaged and even slightly off balance. The core ideas in the typography were repeated throughout the book in a more subtle way, exploiting axes of opposition, precarious thresholds ... light and dark.

Once our concept proposals and core ideas had been accepted by Anna and Neil Walker (the gallery’s Visual Arts Officer), we were given a very free hand, adopting a full consultancy role. We were involved in discussions and decisions about developing the text content, content sequencing and structuring, and picture editing. As we worked on the book the brief began to develop and open out, developing into a fantastic opportunity embracing all aspects of the exhibition, including signage, private view and study day invitations, video presentations, and the captions for the artists’ works.

We prepared all of the designs, the high resolution digital artwork and the Dompass video loop. Finally we managed print production for the book: cost estimating, quality control and production. This allowed Anna and Neil, with their heavy workloads, to concentrate on their respective rôles, trusting us to expedite everything else.

This was an exciting and challenging project for us, and represents another highlight of our professional practice.

We were particularly impressed by the creative input to the design concept of the publication and Paul’s unfailing eye for detail throughout. The catalogue had to be produced to a very tight deadline and a very specific budget, and both requirements were fulfilled to our complete satisfaction.

Neil Walker
Visual Arts Officer, Djanogly Art Gallery

Format: 210mm x 210mm
CMYK throughout
Life Less Ordinary

Life Less Ordinary