Arlene Amaler-Raviv & Dale Yudelman
Arlene Amaler-Raviv and Dale Yudelman
Collaborations, as ArtThrob has had occasion to note in reviews of a number of previous exhibitions at the AVA, are not easy. Only too often, like a chop shop car, the new whole is less than the sum of the parts. It's a relief, then, to be able to hail the current show at the AVA as a seamless and integrated body of work which still manages to retain the individual aesthetics of the two artists involved. Dale Yudelman is a professional photographer with long experience of working as a journalist. Black and white photographs taken during his stint at The Star can be seen at Jo'burg, the upper Long Street bar. Arlene Amahler-Raviv is known for her painterly representations of modern city life, of head-down, hurrying people representative of the rushed busyness coupled with loneliness which so often marks urban existence, of brushy images of the stuff of life, like loaves of bread, and street signage. Perhaps the image one most associates with Raviv is a hatted and coated man caught in mid-stride as he crosses our vision on his way to some unknown destination.
In 'One', currently on at the AVA, the two have merged the photographic with the painterly to produce a whole series of works which range from the very small to the quite large. Yudelman's photographs of elements and people of the city have been digitally imposed on to small rectangles of canvas, Raviv has painted into and over these, and the canvas has been riveted on to an aluminium support. In turn, these rectangles of aluminium have a channel gouged out at the back allowing them to rest on a rod which runs all the way round the Long Gallery at the AVA. One imagines if the doors of the gallery were closed and one were allowed to play, these could be slid along the support rod at speed, images on an assembly line, the interchangeable yet unique people and fragments of the city, banging into each other like dodgem cars.
In the Main Gallery, the postcards morph into large poster sized images, still mounted on aluminium, in which one of the most dramatic shows a giant-sized man crossing a freeway. The shift in scale is intriguing, and one is put in mind of the outsized walking men of Jonathon Borofsky, with their everyman symbolism. And then there is a short animation film to be viewed down a peephole, entitled The din of daily life (U-store). This little opus alone warrants a visit to the AVA. To clunky music, a version of the recent history of the city is told through a series of newspaper billboards, shown attached to a pole, while in basic animation, other things 'happen' and even Madiba drops by.
On the mezzanine, there are more variations of the small images in the Long Gallery, and this, perhaps is a mistake. One suddenly becomes a tad bored. The statement had been made in the galleries below. But let this minor quibble not hold you back from viewing what is essentially a sharp and energetic performance by Yudelman and Amaler-Raviv. On until the March 4.
Dorothee Kreutzfeldt: "26 Acts of Balance"
by Tracy Murinik
There is an explorative text by Dorothee Kreutzfeldt that accompanies her exhibition of 63 paintings at the Castle, currently on show. In it she offers a range of insights and suggests a number of starting points through which to access and engage with the theoretical contexts of this latest series of works. She determines that "26 Acts of Balance" - like centrifugal thinking... is a series of cinematic paintings about land, 26 acts of balance, and falling". She continues that "[t]he paintings are miscellaneous vistas, not metaphors" to be read and confronted by her audience. And her aim, she insists, is not to "express", but to "extricate": "to lay bare and set up a drama". In addition, within the process of this excavation, Kreutzfeldt also proposes to "question land, space, relation and the relevance of painting".
This is a tall and ambitious order and an elaborate proposal of intent to map out. Kreutzfeldt's subtext to the title, "like centrifugal thinking", would imply a tendency away from centralisation, that is, a movement and mapping going beyond that which is obvious or explicit in each image. Yet, she insists that the deductions one might come up with should not be understood to be essentially metaphorical. Which leaves one in a bit of a quandary, it seems. Because the desire to assert clear codes of definition and fixed explanation onto these works would necessarily and inevitably be undermined in that process.
I would suggest that the strength of Kreutzfeldt's works in this project, lies in what these paintings infer and invoke as products and moments of a shifting narrative that ensues instead, or, within the series of narratives of protagonists - the images of whom she derives from newspaper cut-outs - whose details she reformulates indefinitely. Kreutzfeldt offers a slightly altered template in each case which marks a subtle shift in how one gets to experience the 'her' or 'she' or land mass that is narrated in the image. The sequences are neither progressive, nor necessarily consistent, but evolve sometimes incongruously and as contradictions in relation to one another.
The narrated 'her' or 'she' is inscribed into the paint and as part of a landscape in a range of ways: she shifts within scale of visibility, as negative imprint and shadow towards more tangible presence. The "cinematic" sequences develop a repertoire of her shifting agency. Her interactions and interventions gain and lose conviction, become increasingly or diminishedly plausible. But the "she" or "her", not unlike her dislocation as a newspaper image, is chronically caught within an ambivalent reportage/ reflection/ narration of herself, and made anonymous and arbitrarily generic under the label of various detached pronouns. Occasionally, however, one perceives signs of her own potential to desire and act. Therein, it seems, lie the subtle and often precarious acts of balance.
Horizons feature as the measure of things in these works, as markers of containment and evaluation. The "she" is framed by the landscape and, in turn, by its subliminal inscriptions and histories, and by the interventions that 'she' manages to assert or designate within the boundaries of the painted horizon lines that Kreutzfeldt has her ensnared by.
Falling, then, would appear to suggest the moment of risk and vulnerability posed by a lack of containment. Or, by extension, the confrontation of her desire.
The exhibition closes on February 6.
The Good Hope Gallery, The Castle, Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
A watercolour image by Karin Dando
An image from Karin Dando's Transitions series
Karin Dando at the AVA
by Paul Edmunds
In the Main Gallery of the AVA is "Transitions", an exhibition of oils and watercolours by Karin Dando, an artist once more living in this country after a stint abroad. In an artist's statement about the show, Dando describes her project in a way that seems akin to playing a game whose rules are continually changing. She lays claim to images from a plethora of sources and fools around with various modes of depictions, producing works rife with art historical references which toy with our notions of abstract and representational.
A number of small watercolours and several large canvases all describe similar visual subject matter. Conventionally one imagines an artist working from the smaller study-like works through to the larger paintings, but from Dando's statement, one learns that the watercolours were in fact made after the larger works. Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy to throw fixed ideas about scale and representation out the window. It seems to me, though, that the respective groups of works each succeed where the other doesn't. Where the watercolours don't ask questions, the canvasses let the side down formally.
A simple comparison between two apparently similar works illustrates the point. (All works are from the Transitions series). Work number 5 is a near square canvas divided up in a grid-like fashion. Most panels depict eyes, from photographs, magazines and other artworks perhaps. There are other panels with flat planes of tertiary colour, some with simple linear designs. Dando does well to question the conventions of representation, and one is led to extrapolate the origins of the images- a model, a sculpture, a photograph or a paintbrush. You can see the glint of a photographer's flash in the pupils and then have all this illusion dashed by a non-objective plane of colour. Depiction and reality are presented and shuffled like a pack of cards. The ocular and intellectual ping pong can continue ad infinitum. Unfortunately the whole is rendered in a rather lukewarm coat of paint with a very undescriptive paintbrush. Not that it should be rendered in bright expressionist impasto, but rather that the painting's surface is dull and Dando seems to deny herself the potential vocabulary of her brush. In opposition to this, and directly across the gallery, is a group of four watercolours each with a collection of mouths and eyes. As in the larger work, it is clear that these images come from a variety of sources and media. The brushwork is fresh and lively, the texture of the paper leaving unsaturated textures and tactile, expressive shapes. Ultimately though, these works have great visual personality but not much to discuss. They are comfortable in scale and all the depicted features are close to life- or magazine size. They don't confront the viewer or provoke much questioning.
The exhibition, I would suggest, does succeed, but only by virtue of its complementary parts. The work divides itself clearly into two camps and were it not for their co-operation the experiment might have failed. The painting numbered 7 depicts an interior which purports to be an architecturally rendered Mondriaan painting. It is a veritable de Stijl hell with black columns, a grid-like floor and cushions in primary colors. Perspective tussles with pattern, saturated colour demands its position on the picture plane and the viewer wants to see the whole as an illusionistic representation. Ultimately, although nothing will sit where it should, the work lets itself down in its execution. The eye demands more to keep its attention and fortunately it is available in the humble, skilful watercolours a few steps to the right.
Show ends February 12
Although widely touted as her first show in a private gallery in South Africa since the lifting of cultural sanctions, the works featured in 'Newspaper Pictures' are what was left over from sales when the show debuted at Galerie Asbaek in Denmark last year. Large, frenetic and really quite messy canvases adorn the walls of Pretoria's Millennium Gallery. This space never ceases to amaze me with its ostentatious sculpture garden, badly damp-affected ceilings and little gems that hide all over the small but quite labyrinthine building - four original Wayne Barker paintings hang in a second space, eagerly awaiting a buyer.
But back to Bloom. The show comprises 14 works in total: seven large and seven small. A 'runner' of plastic-covered newspaper clippings, source material, demarcates a central line down the space, not wide enough for a 'carpet' and not narrow or long enough to imply the proverbial "line which shall not be crossed".
Bloom's stated intention for 'Newspaper Pictures' deals with the transgression of certain visual codes. Fed up with what she sees as "subtle manipulation" on the part of print media, especially newspapers, in how they visually portray the world, Bloom seeks to impose and interpret her personal version of current events by reworking these images in a very organic way - using fingerpainting. What emerges from this is that the artist sees the public's broad obsession with the visual as too empowering to image-makers out there. Photojournalists, who claim to 'record' and 'capture' with an objective eye end up doing the opposite. Viewers are then victims of "stylistic preferences" and "personal aesthetics". This angle is not new, especially in South Africa where we have lived and breathed the "Grey Areas" debate ad nauseam.
So what is Bloom up to? Quite frankly, I don't know what to make of the show. On the face of it, the premise seems interesting, until you realise that Bloom is as complicit in this game of seduction and persuasion as those who produced her source material. Thus, she does not manage to invert the power-game, or even to skew it slightly. The show seems unresolved, as if Bloom has become the victim of her own criticism.
And how successful are the paintings in themselves? Unless one is aware of their source, they don't look like much. In her attempt to draw attention to the editorial policies of the media and their potential for bias, Bloom has selected her source images on the basis of spontaneous visual appeal. This has no apparent bearing on their content, which seems desperate to speak of bigger things. One work which approaches success in these terms is a nuclear-fallout rendition of a CNN newsroom in In the Eye of the News Hurricane. I also enjoyed Skid Burning Party with Johnny's Toyota (great title), and the topical EU in the Doldrums has a almost-pop feel which is welcome relief from Bloom's seriously painterly style.
'News paper Pictures' is confusing to say the least. Bloom's intention seems clear on paper, but falls flat in practice. And this is disappointing from an artist considered a major export in her adoptive country of Denmark.
'Newspaper Pictures' ends February 26, 2000.
The Millennium Gallery, 75 George Storrar Drive, Groenkloof,
Aerial view of viewing booth featuring politically-themed work, including
'Emergence' comes of age at the Standard Bank Gallery:
Kathryn Smith interviews the curators
Blockbuster exhibition 'Emergence', celebrating 25 years of South African visual production, has been criticised for being too crowded in previous venues. Now installed in the ample spaces of Johannesburg's Standard Bank Gallery, its complexities and nuances can be fully appreciated. Curators Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith, and consultant Marion Arnold commented on the problematics of curating mega-shows, in terms of conceptual integrity ('survey shows') and the practicalities of space. Says Marion Arnold: "I don't think 'survey' was ever an integral part of the brief. It said 'take 25 years and work with it'. I remember very early on Robert Greig making some flip comment about what's coming up at the festival and saying 'of course visual arts are attempting to do the impossible - how can one do 25 years of South African history?' Now he was sucking straws out of the wind because nobody had ever said we were going to do that. Instead, we tended to allow certain ideas to come through under the auspices of the concept 'Emergence'. And I liked that as an idea, because it was so broad and flexible, and it allowed for one to say 'something has always been present for those 25 years; something has not emerged until 1990 or 1994; something has not emerged until a chip got in a machine.' There were so many ways of saying 'now we can look back and see what we could not see before, or we can see in a different way what was there before. So I don't think it is a survey show, although it takes a chronology."
"I think one of the major differences is that we are not international curators. I think that is quite a critical difference", added Charlton. "And it's not only looking at the contemporary which a lot of these shows are doing", Rankin-Smith interjects.
Charlton states: "I think those points are important because although we acknowledge our subjectivity in terms of the choices we make and blah blah blah, we have both worked in South African museums for 15 years, and so have a real familiarity with the field, and what irritates me about the curators of those South African shows is their ignorance. So while we may well have not included an artist who you think would be a critical artist to include, it is probably not because we didn't think about it, or we were unconscious of making that decision. Which is I think, a big difference."
When asked to comment on the editorial process, sighs and rolling eyes indicated that this was an unenviable task, described by Rankin-Smith as " harrowing, devastating, in fact!" Edited down to less than half of what was originally considered for exhibition, it's no wonder that space was a major concern right from the show's conception.
"We didn't want to make space deciding factor in terms of the rest of the venues for the show. We could argue really strongly for each inclusion that we made. We genuinely felt that we could not not have a particular piece, even if it made for a cleaner, more pristine kind of show. And - the kind of show that it is, given its strong textual base and its timeline and its activity and energy, has a different aesthetic than a single piece on a wall", says Charlton.
Arnold takes it further: " I think its nature actually asks it to be a 'messy' show. It's whole premise is to question the tidiness of classification. That visual energy needs to be here. It has aesthetic resonance, but that asks for keen contemplation, not for some kind of didactic history lesson."
'Emergence' ends March 25, 2000.
Standard Bank Gallery, corner Simmonds and Fredericks streets
Bob Cnoops (designed by Neels Coetzee)
No titles, 1999
1.2 x 3m each
'Informal Ritual Spaces' by Bob Cnoops at the Bensusan and 'Emotions and Relations', curated by Hentie van der Merwe at the Sandton Civic Gallery
By Robyn Sassen
Not yet 200 years old, the medium of photography has suffered from neglect in critical Fine Art. Taking photographs may be about capturing what seems to be unmediated, transposing it onto light sensitive paper and framing it within a sense of personal parameters. Two current shows corroborate this, but demonstrate that the possibilities are richer. Both exhibitions, 'Informal Ritual Spaces' and 'Emotions and Relations' are about the personal intimacies that make us human, questioning on different levels the medium's documentary reputation, technological limits and experimental potential.
'Informal Ritual Spaces' is mounted in the modernised organic space of the Bensusan in the quasi-industrial MuseuMAfricA. Counterpoised poetically along the wall in this gallery are images which Bob Cnoops photographed over a period of time in Johannesburg's surrounds. The spaces photographed - all uninhabited and some no longer in use - are used by communities of Johannesburg for replenishing the soul amid the humdrum material rush of daily existence. In spite of their apparent physical simplicity, spiritual resonance thunders from them.
Visually resplendent, the works have been archivally printed with selenium and copper toning. Technically, they speak of a purism which redefines the areas of documentary photography in which they may be flippantly or carelessly bracketed. The show itself is framed with large-scale banners, which are digitally rendered composite images, produced in collaboration with Neels Coetzee. Visually seductive not only because of their size, these banners give the exhibition voice and cohesion.
Begging questions that hark back to art historical fracases surrounding the representational politics, these images defy the polemic. Aesthetically overwhelming, they are about a sense of wonder in the ritual spaces; a concomitant level of ritual worship and respect rather than intrusion. This is not a political exhibition. In presenting informal ritual spaces, Cnoops is not speaking for others, but rather rediscovering and basking in the glory of these intrinsically beautiful spaces, which hold their beauty through the ways in which they have been used. On so many levels, but without reducing itself to trite platitudes, this is an exhibition about being an African in Africa. It is about apportioning dignity to another's ritual priorities.
Similarly, 'Emotions and Relations', curated by Hentie van der Merwe, grapples with the complexity of capturing intimacy - be it through the sometimes self-indulgent capturing of personal encounters by Jo Ractliffe; Marco Cianfanelli's examination of a nipple's transmutation; Clive Hardwick's personal explorations of physiognomy; Luan Nel's, Kathryn Smith's, Hentie Van Der Merwe's landscapes; Penny Siopis' or Clive Van Den Berg's relationships with their parents, Terry Kurgan's with her son or Van Der Merwe's with his lover.
It may be argued that photography is dangerous in that it may expose the artist to seduction by the medium and to producing 'easy' images. None of the work in either of these exhibitions may be justifiably seen as easy - because of the depth of emotion which they embody, they are not easy to behold.
Contrary to opinion expressed by the other, older fine art traditions, photography is not an easy field. As an artist, Cnoops represents an uncompromising fidelity to a field that is rich and complex enough to spend a life-time with, honing in on the nuances of the medium and perfecting them in representational power as well as the expression of intimate and personal symbolism. Van der Merwe's artists on the other hand, unabashedly embrace the medium's experimental possibilities. On this basis, the grouped artists are openly within fashionable parameters, while Cnoops' work has become fashionable because of the ways in which photography is currently being relooked.
'Informal Ritual Spaces' ends March 12, 2000
'Emotions and Relations' ends 19 February, 2000
- Robyn Sassen is a freelance writer and currently registered for BA(Hons) in History of Art at UNISA.
Burnt by the Sun 2000
jacaranda wood, enamel, paint
1.2m tall (lifesize)
(selected by Paddy Bouma)
'Unplugged V': Ritual, Religion and Six Degrees of Separation
By Samantha Dunlop
Proponents of the theory of six degrees of separation hold that every individual in the world is separated from any other individual by just six others. Frankly, the possibility that only six people stand between me and the likes of, say, Robert Mugabe, or the cast of Dawson's Creek is somewhat disconcerting.
Whether the theory is valid or not is beside the point. The fact that it exists at all is testament to the fascination which networks of this type hold for us as social beings. 'Unplugged V', like its predecessors at the Market Theatre Gallery, should be understood primarily in terms of how it makes manifest the latent but very real series of networks of which the South African contemporary art scene is comprised.
The term 'South African contemporary art scene' is one which should be used with caution. On one of the gallery walls, a large map of South Africa indicates, in coloured pieces of string, the routes which the selection processes of 'Unplugged' I - V took around the country. What strikes one is that only two major networks of contemporary artists exist nationally - one in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, the other centred around Cape Town. Only occasionally did any of these artists engage with others based outside those two areas. When they did, Durban emerged as the third centre, albeit a considerably smaller one. So are there contemporary artists operating within the areas which emerge as peripheral within the 'Unplugged' series ? The answer to this question must surely be yes - but their physical/geographical isolation begets an isolation from the all-important networks.
Viewing group shows is especially challenging when no obviously unifying factor exists which links the works on exhibition. Group shows lacking a common theme often present as a somewhat dissonant hodgepodge - my first impression of 'Unplugged V'.
If it is possible to divide art exhibitions into introverted and extroverted shows, then 'Unplugged' falls firmly into the former category. On a subsequent visit to the show, oblique themes began to emerge as concerns shared by several of its artworks. David Andrew's installation, Making Sense of Small Things(comprising of bundles of long slender pieces of wood placed next to piles of rolled up plastic sheeting arranged in a square) articulates its own process as well as its eventual outcome. One imagines the deliberate process of the preparing of the small things of the work's title as a slow ritual. Ritual is also the word that springs to mind on contemplating the finished product which, whilst not overtly resembling an actual altar, nevertheless conveys the sense of a space of worship and contemplation. Anton Karstel's quiet photograph, entitled Dusk, has religious overtones which are more overt than those in Andrew's work. Karstel photographs a built up landscape and captures, in his composition, the spire of a mosque residing opposite that of a church. Natasha Christopher's C - print photograph Making Sense of Things, depicting the interior of what appears to be a place of worship, complete with burning candle and congregant, touches also on formal spaces of religious ritual.
Elma Van Rooyen's performance, 'Evolve', which would have lost none of its essence had it been a little shorter, again can be interpreted in terms of ritual. During the performance the artist transforms herself with the aid of make-up, a wig, and a change of clothing, into something resembling a geisha. For many, the act of putting on make-up is a ritual strictly adhered to. It is, also, transformative, and it is often transformation that ritual seeks to negotiate.
Ends 4 March, 2000.
Market Theatre Galleries, First floor, Market Theatre complex, corner Bree and Wolhuter streets, Newtown
Samantha Dunlop has recently completed her Masters in History of Art at Wits University and works as a creative consultant.
calendar and colour photographs
'Democracy's Images' at JAG
By Kathryn Smith
'Democracy's Images: Photography and Visual Art after Apartheid' tells tales about life during the euphoric embrace of democracy, and traces the dwindling of that euphoria in the harsh light of reality. After a record five-venue run in Sweden during which some 36 000 visitors saw this show, it has come to the Johannesburg Art Gallery to grace disturbingly empty halls. The opening at the Bildmuseet in Ume�, Sweden saw 1000 people beating down the doors. The Johannesburg opening was lucky to draw 100, all of whom had a vested interest in the show one way or the other, either as curators, artists, critics, staff of JAG, members of the Sweden South Africa Partnership program, or token provincial government dignitaries.
The title of the show would suggest a body of work that is representative of the current state of the art - and not just 'art' with a capital A, but photography too. The show reads as a who's who of the contemporary South African art family with germane examples selected from dozens of possibilities. The selection of artists is textbook-perfect and some of the works, important as they are, are familiar to the point of being tiresome to the local eye. The inclusion of documentary photographers Jodi Bieber, Ruth Motau and Cedric Nunn (of the Market Theatre Photo Workshop) is refreshing.
But I don't believe it was a curatorial intention to spice up the lives of avid art watchers here. This show was loosely conceptualised in 1986, when Bildmuseet curator Katarina Pierre was volunteering at the Vukani Association in KwaZulu Natal. Although clearly curated for an overseas audience, with Pierre's local experience and the involvement of South African scholar and curator Rory Bester, it is saved from becoming one of those dreaded 'survey' shows currently under the spotlight. But only just.
Certain works reveal subject positions stripped of all idealism, and in some cases, even optimism. Jodi Bieber's Kom Blom Met Ons (Come Hang Out with Us) (1996) enforces a confrontation with gang life in Westbury, while Senzeni Marasela's sandblasted mirrors reflect one's own image behind extracts from Herman Charles Bosman's Makapan's Cave. These are counterbalanced in the show by wry humour (Joachim Schonfeldt's Calendar, Tracey Rose's Sticks and Stones and Jean Brundrit's Does Your Lifestyle Depress Your Mother?) and a truly evocative installation (Kay Hassan's Egoli (the City of Gold)). All these works are self-possessed and uncompromising. For this, the show deserves praise.
In her opening address, Pierre raised the issue of the predicted shift in the context of and impetus behind making images now that the apartheid 'struggle' is over, at least on paper anyway. What issues concern artists and social watchers now? This is one aspect of South Africa's fraught historical-present that this show attempts to elucidate. From the works presented here, it seems that while the fundamental issues inevitably carry over (and will continue to do so for a very long time), the manner in which they are presented is being treated with an increasingly cogent ambivalence. 'Democracy's Images' is the kind of show that should have wide general appeal: the curatorial team has managed to balance the so-called 'cutting edge' with more accessible works, without relinquishing a hold on quality. However, while one realises the importance of this show being seen in the context of a museum, the central city location of the venue is problematical. There is little hope of any average middle-class, sedan-driving white family venturing into the bowels of troubled Jozi to view the work. And this is a pity, because 'Democracy's Images' is an important and timeous exhibition.
Ends 15 March 2000
After its Johannesburg run. 'Democracy's Images' continues its European tour in venues in the U.K. and Finland.
Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10.00 - 17.00
Michael O'Donnell, (U.K. Norway) Professor of Art at the National Academy in Oslo, has opened three shows in as many weeks - one in the south of Sweden, one on the Swedish/Finnish border and one at the NSA Gallery, Durban - all the shows are predicated on the thesis that where you stand determines what you see. In Durban a 10 x 6m photo-installation of a famous picture taken at the commencement of World War I by Heinrich Hoffman of a crowd in Munich (in which Hoffman later located the young Adolf Hitler) dominates the largest wall in the gallery. In another 6m x 8m image entitled Witness, we see the head of a man who stands by the finishing tape at the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Jesse Owens, a black American, won the 100 yards sprint at which point, according to British reports, Hitler, the host, turned away.
Effectively utilising the NSA space with images made-to-measure for the gallery O'Donnell's framing� of the work extends beyond the gallery walls into the larger context of South Africa and its history. Specific parallels can be drawn between Hitler's xenophobia and this country's political past. The work highlights the way meaning may change according to its context. Interestingly, however, it is not Hitler who looms large here; he is merely a subtext. The paper monuments constructed are to the witnesses of notable events. The witness that is there, but does not see, the witness that does not know what s/he witnesses, the witness that only sees after the fact.
Reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow Up (1966), where a photographer keeps enlarging an apparently incidental photograph eventually to reveal a crime, these photographs, whilst containing hidden information (divulged only in the text on the gallery wall), disclose less and less the closer we come to them. The forms smudge and blur, become lost in diffuse clouds of tone; the images are elusive - inviting speculative engagement. The photographic medium, renowned for its ability to document, here creates a film between us and what has occurred. In such images the human face becomes spectral, ghostly - the few details, such a headgear and neckwear, which posit an historical context harken to a time past/lost, once present now absent, where even the significant becomes transient.
Despite some distracting similarities, in both media and subject matter, to Boltanski's work of the 80s O'Donnell really defines his own territory in one of the most curiously effective works on the exhibition; the video projection. In it he is revealed miming to an old Rogers and Hart song Where and When, popularised in the 50s. Standing, pinioned by the camera, in a marathon 3-hour session, he goes through the song again and again. The piece, in its nostalgia and discomfort, is both comic and, at the same time, filled with pathos; as witnesses to it we are forced to reflect on our own engagement with memory and the very act of looking.
Until February 24.
N S A Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa, 4001
- Sam Alex is the nom de plume of a Durban based artist,