Ed Young 2006
The art world constantly attacks itself for friends writing about friends and so on… It is time that we acknowledge this kind of incest as something that our little art world is cheerfully based upon. And even the big boy international art circuit operates like this. It’s pretty pointless to sit in your studio and wait for a good write-up. It’s time to get your ass out there and shag some critics and curators. And this piece does exactly that.
I have been a good friend of Mr. Daniel Halter for a good eight years now. Although we have not yet shagged, one can only ponder what the future may hold…
Dan Halter and I have shared many a girlfriend, dodgy apartments, studios, cans of John West tuna, hospital beds, bad DJ sets, three-day hangovers, a bit of literature as well as numerous and regular memory lapses. It is for this reason that I feel comfortable, capable and honoured to describe his somewhat offbeat process of art making, one that I have had to put up with for far too long, as well as the overtly loud music he is playing in my studio as we speak.
The epitome of Halter’s practice can be found in a formal analysis of a work currently hanging in Jo’burg bar in Cape Town. It is a large-scale self-portrait made from bar trash, cigarette butts and packets, beer cans and expired pharmaceuticals (the majority of which was generated from the same bar where it has now found its temporary home). While I feel strongly that an analysis of this portrait is essential, I couldn’t be bothered.
Daniel’s process is far more interesting.
I first met Halter on the steps outside a lecture theatre at UCT. I was in a predicament as my perfect domesticated life came to a sudden halt when my then current girlfriend picked up my still vodka-addled head by the hair that morning. She told me she was leaving me for good. I thanked her and was dropped back into my comfy pillow, resulting in a peaceful morning’s rest. I arrived for class to find Halter in an overly crouched spastic standing position (one I have now grown accustomed to). He was talking very fast about needing a place to live: “Now!” (A term I have also grown accustomed to). I said he could move in immediately. Cameron Platter advised me that I was mad and that Dan would turn my place into a squat.
He did. I vaguely recall memories of more Carling quart bottles than floor space. The little space that was left was for the most of our time covered in a thin veneer of beach sand. As I was using my matchbox-sized room as a darkroom at the time, combined with Halter’s adamant refusal to share a bed with me, I crashed in the lounge. This put a serious damper on any prospective and definitely missed copulatory or cunnillingual opportunities I might have encountered at the time.
Dan and I had a few bad paintings and a lot of bad evenings. The most memorable being the night that Dan got burnt, badly. It was one of those easy evenings after we had performed a relatively mediocre DJ set at the bar, resulting in a aerial launch of lemons to our fragile heads by a disgruntled audience. As we had very little money at the time, we needed the cash from the DJ set for any valuable recreational drinking and unwinding before our final year art school assessments. The cash made us very happy. We did not want to leave the bar. We were physically removed around 4am and Daniel was reprimanded for trying to leave with the disgusting nicotine stained cushions from the back of this fine establishment (we owned very little furniture at the time).
‘Gay night, it’s all right, don’t get uptight. Uh!’¹
We stumbled toward the gay strip in Green Point where we knew the clubs were still in a happy state of bump and grind. We had a great time. Dan was spotted dancing on one of those pole thingies. At one point in the evening he came up to me laughing, showing me evidence that his polyester sweater had been melted onto his shoulder. It was very funny at the time. We left the club in the early hours of the morning, accompanied by a hot dyke and a fat chick, as they apparently had nowhere else to go. I crashed on the couch with the fatty and was awoken about an hour later. Apparently I had agreed to drop her off in the morning, which it now was. It turned out that her house was an hour away by car. Upon my return to the city I decided to pop into the art school to get some video editing done. After a huge argument with lecturer Johan van der Schijff, I realised that I was in no state to work and made my way to the corner shop for a big bottle of OJ. I received a text message form Halter stating: “Help, I am burnt, badly.”
I rushed back over only to find that the polyester had indeed been fused with his delicate skin. After some discussion I rushed him off to hospital. Being Zimbabwean and all, he was unable to produce any formal evidence of medical aid. The nurse made me watch how to scrape of the skin. I was overcome by a feeling of terrible nausea.
For the next week or so I was allowed the opportunity of scraping Dan’s wounds while taking a shower with him. I also had to learn how to dress the wounds. After about a week of this homoerotic experience I realised that the wound had become a beautiful shade of syphilis green. I rushed him back to hospital. It turned out that the first degree burn had now developed into a third degree, which meant that they had to take some skin from his ass (explanatory of his now hairy shoulder) and hospitalise him for a few weeks. This gave us some grace from Andrew Lamprecht in order to get our theory project in on time. Months later, Stacy Hardy wrote and performed a play in which it turned out that I had set him alight. Because we can’t remember a thing from that night he, to this day, threatens to undergo hypnosis therapy in an attempt to find out if I had indeed done it. This remains a possibility.
Dan spent a few weeks in hospital.
I moved back into his disgusting flat and tried to clean the dirtiest carpeting in the world with spray-on carpet cleaner. Apparently it was art critic Zachary York who dirtied it (something about Tracey Rose or something). It took about three cans. The smell was so intense that Dan accused me of smoking crack cocaine, a substance that I have never encountered. My then current girlfriend and I were evicted.
But, it is Dan’s obsessive nature, combined with his necessity for utmost perfection in his work that is derived from this somewhat crazy individual. I have never had a doubt that he would rise as one of South Africa’s most influential artists. And that he might somehow find his niche. As this book firmly marks the first of his solo exhibitions, and a definite launch pad for his career, I strongly believe that we have not seen the end of Dan. And I acknowledge his potential of becoming one of South Africa’s top exports.
Dan’s work used to fucking funny, although still predominantly political. As a student he produced some Robert Mugabe portraits with gay flags as a backdrops. He also played with stretching some canvasses with car guard florescent fabric and interesting word play. Dan seems to have an affinity for refugees and the like (his current assistant, Bienco, is a car guard and refugee from the DRC). Dan himself does not have South African citizenship. He is currently seeking refuge within the South African art world.
Not too long ago, Dan’s family suffered a brutal attack in Harare by intruders in search of Forex. Here I will not go into specific details. His parents were tied up and beaten with golf clubs for many hours. Most readers will have little or no comprehension of this kind of torture and abuse. As we read about these attacks in the papers almost on a daily basis, these stories become not only familiar, but to some extent fictional. His family immigrated to Germany. If this show does nothing else, it combines this fiction with the reality that many individuals face on a day-to-day basis.
I have no doubt that this has had immense impact on Halter’s production. Although the seriousness of his project might now be amplified, one must not overlook his playful subtleties. And it is this, combined with Halter’s sense of Swiss-Zimbabwean legacy, which is augmented in the work. I urge the reader to take this seriously.
I will not describe any specific works at this stage as I am sure that the other authors in this publication may have already covered most of it, and quite frankly, I don’t feel like it. But as many might argue that Dan’s work is about the over-clichéd theme of identity in this country, I see this pinpointing of easy themes far too easy. Although one cannot deny this as a part of Halter’s production, I would rather here specify that Dan is primarily preoccupied with freedom. It is not purely a political freedom. It is a personal freedom.
‘Every body’s free… to feel good.’²
See the exhibition mentioned in this article.
¹ From the song Bump by The Fun lovin’ Criminals.
² Semi-famous Zimbabwean pop star Rozalla