Michaelis Exhibition 2001
by Tracy Murinik
It is that generally exciting time on the local arts calendar when the up-and-comings get to show their student work to the public. And although intriguing to see what's new in the creative lurk, this can simultaneously prove potentially confounding to viewers who get to experience a broad and
varied range of the art experience; from the "my-god-the-being's-a-genius"-type encounters, to those visions that feel somewhat treacherous and ill-fated to one's viewing.
This year's Michaelis exhibition lives up to all that. There are profound and playful sightings worth returning to multiple times; and many that are not.
Of the ones I'd gladly spend any portion of a holiday hanging out at, Ed Young's spectacular room of primary colours, eclectic soundtracks, moving images, cheesy icon(oclasm)s and unfortunate teddy bears assertively gets my vote. It's a jam-packed variety show of the banal with a loopy twist. Or, as Young describes it in his artist's statement about the work, "It's a circus."
Young has plotted an extensive and elaborate circuit of tricks and acts that roll themselves out in a chortle-inspiring maze around and through the space. Each video monitor, vase, mooing cow and bandannaed plastic pig has been deliberately placed and arranged: OTT perhaps, but nothing's random -
and irony pervades.
One gets to move along a gratifying trail from story to story (to a blaring Superman soundtrack): a hypnotic primary coloured pelvis-swinging trio sequence in Crotch; the bare-breasted, red/yellow/blue coloured bikini-donned babe athletes in Breast (who wisely wear helmets whilst in motion). A spectacular cautionary demonstration of the hazards of trying to speak with your mouth full, featuring a splice of young Travolta in Dialogue. The ambivalent adulation and concurrent ridicule of iconic figures is fabulously approached in Untitled (Superman), followed by a whopper grin in a Schumacher poster, but taken to its heights in the abuse and abandonment of a childhood teddy bear in Killing Teddy.
"If I can give you only one tip for the future," writes Young in his artist's statement, "monotony would be it." And he ends the statement: "As Chris Wool pointed out: 'If you can't take a joke get the fuck out of my house.'" It seems a reasonable premise.
In the adjoining room to Young's installation, grazing, not inappropriately, is a flock of perfectly pleasing and consumable wax sheep (among other ruminant encounters, revealing an apparent sheep fetish) by Megan Shipman. Light, pretty and playful.
Staying with the animal theme are Samuel Allerton's bold and wonderful wooden Orang-utans out on the lawns in front of Michaelis, apparently produced in his third year. His fourth year work (also on show) is far more formalized, though, and lacks the same engaging energy.
Sean Slemon's skillfully crafted sculptures of heads and busts, exploring the complexity of being, are sleek, meditative and beautiful.
Zen Marie, who walked away with this year's Michaelis Prize, offers an installation featuring brown paper-wrapped, numbered bottles in a precarious skittle-like landscape. These are pristinely framed by two canvases by Cameron Platter: one of pinned green silk bladed leaves and another of pinned red strips on white canvas. It's an aesthetic, serene and conceptual haven.
Bronwyn Carr's self-portraits in red and in white bring an exciting and incredibly competent new edge to the painting generally on offer. Interfaced by tiled panels of abject found objects (from specifically identified street locations in Durbanville - and with the exception of one gift), these works are introspective and self-scrutinising and highly evocative.
And then there's Masters student Mgcineni Pro Sobopha, whose works on the subject of circumcision and in particular, of botched circumcisions, profoundly chill the space that they inhabit. Experiencing these works specifically at this time of the year, when reports of ritual circumcisions during the annual initiation ceremonies that have gone seriously wrong abound, has them take on a particular urgent significance. Sobopha's work is engaged and insightful, exploring the beauty of the masculine form as well as issues surrounding ideals of masculinity and, occasionally, its dire contradictions.
There's a lot of work to get through at this year's student show, but there are undoubtedly intermittent treasures worth the sifting and enough of them to want to bother.