Thulile Gamedze

Randolph Hartzenberg, Untitled (Map of the Neighbourhood),

1996 - 2004. Courtesy of the artist

dust minus zero 

The work includes the beginning of an easy sum, “dust minus zero,” or [(d) – 0]. The answer, if they were asking, is of course just dust. 


Let’s expand. 


The bible, in a more grounded of its texts, indicates towards the very same equation, but worked into a human relation where, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. [1] This, [(d) = us = (d) = us] is a non-excess, mundane process explanation for life and death and life and death’s continuation. It guards against any elaborative deception attempts that may work to re-define natural human existence through organised differentiation and hierarchy, maybe gender, race, class. For we, all of us, collapse to dust inevitably, and that’s all, until the dust un-collapses back into flesh, etc. So “dust minus zero,” where dust is human, can be a familial sum, an anti-colonial sum, a Queer sum, a sum against patriarchy, a Black sum. Essentially, it offers an easy and higher logic for a reading of ‘equality’ that is not written. [2]


Randy Hartzenberg’s dust sum is just one moment of one of the images of Map of the Neighbourhood, a monotype print series made between 1996 and 2004, frequenting other substances that disperse and reformulate and disperse, like pumping blood, piled salt, the current moving through a circuit, medicine in the body, and the body itself (or dust) [3]… I think I return to the series in the same way that the series returns to itself, to its own body of recurring symbols, of symbols of recurrence. Repeating and negating, and overwriting and repeating, the images habitually re-organise and re-emerge in the logic of → human → dust → human →, their obsessive re-writing seemingly a frustrated attempt at pinpointing the exact location of the felt points of disruption to our simple dust sum.


The prominent reprisal in the series is the high contrast face in profile, appearing in every print, usually as here, in black ink, articulated in negative by white space (black removal). The mouths are always open. This particular style of open mouth could be saying something aloud and felt, as equally as it may be fallen fast asleep on a moving bus, head lolling and awkward, with unself-conscious drool. But whether preaching or sleeping, the profiles share the condition of being articulated via outer limits given by white space. Deela Khan, in a review, makes sure we feel the faces as collectively engaged, “bodiless heads dialoguing across contiguously linked frames,” plagued, as neighbours, by the very same problem. [4]


For we know that the faces constitute a neighbourhood. And that even as they attempt improvisation and differentiation, their limited set remains evident. All rotate through a single cosmological framework, and can push at genre but not quite escape it. The map, as a series, is thus a loop of same-same articulations of flesh and object, vials flowing forwards and backwards into one another, substance motion between human heart and mouth, and always an attempted dust ending.


Map of the Neighbourhood pushes on the same bruised area repeatedly, seemingly less interested in the appearance of the bruise than in the intonation of the screech accompanying each jab. It draws the familiarly chaotic (non-neighbourly) condition described variously as coloniality, apartheid, democracy. 


It’s the bad maths, the non-dust solution, the differentiation nightmare that is bound to recur in any articulations of the thing when we still call it ‘south africa.’

[1] From Genesis 3:19, King James version.

[2] This is not meant as a Christian text, but if you must find it here, then it is surely located as a reading in the tradition of Black Liberation Theology.

[3] The series was shown at the AVA Gallery in 2008, alongside another Hartzenberg print series called Abbreviations.

[4] Deela Khan, 2008, Salt on my Breath

This project is supported by a

from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg