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Archive: Issue No. 43, March 2001

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MONTHLY ISSUE NO. 43 MAR 2001



Cape
27.03.01 Alan Alborough's Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show at the SANG
27.03.01 'Extract' by Anton Karstel at João Ferreira
27.02.01 Stefan Blom at the Hänel
16.01.01 Hoerikwaggo - Images of Table Mountain
Gauteng
27.03.01 Marlene Dumas tapestries at the Market Theatre Galleries
27.03.01 Absa Atelier Johannesburg Regional Round
27.02.01 Shades of Grey: Karin Preller at the Absa Gallery
Kwazulu Natal
20.03.01 'Lives in the Balance' at the Durban Art Gallery
20.03.01 Trevor Makhoba's 'Rebound' and Linda Jones 'Inside: Looking In' at the NSA
06.03.01 'Open-Circuit Closed' at the NSA
International
06.03.01 'The Short Century' at the Villa Stuck, Munich


Alan Alborough

Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show
Mixed media
Installation view



Alan Alborough



Alan Alborough



Alan Alborough

Alan Alborough
SBYA show
Installation details




CAPE

Alan Alborough's Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show at the SANG
by Michelle Matthews

"I really like it," I stutter.

"Thanks Michelle," says Alan.

Alan, typically, didn't elaborate and I, thankfully, didn't have to explain.

I'm not quite clear on why I like Alan's exhibition, just as some people can't explain why they don't. Like the person who scrawled nervously in the visitor's book, "I'm lost. I think this is probably pretty bad. Sorry."

Before I launch into an attempt at elucidation I should point out that, yes, I visit openings, especially when I feel like an after-work glass of wine, and I got an A for art in matric. That's the extent of my art knowledge. It's probably more than most people who are visiting the current show have. The installation is in the National Gallery - it draws groups of schoolchildren, tourist couples, families on their monthly "cultural outing". I spent a Saturday morning in the gallery and it's Alborough's installation room where people spend the longest. Old age pensioners get down on their hands and knees to see where the lights in the boxes come from. Kids run their hands through the trays of dead batteries. The visitors know they've found something special.

"But what do you think it is?" asked an old man in a safari suit.

Glowing tortoises, parking lots, ballerinas on stage, Gotham City, concentration camps, African huts, futuristic aerial photographs � most people want the installation to refer directly to something recognisable.

"I don't know," I said. "I think he just likes making them."

The man nodded slowly.

People are either suspicious of or intrigued by things that don't reveal themselves to them almost immediately. When it comes to art, they, like the girl in the Diet Coke ad, expect to grapple briefly with an object before deducing its moral, as if all works were inherently didactic. For a long time South Africans were reasonable in expecting messages in their artworks, since much work was politicised. Perhaps this is the reason for the varied reactions to Alborough's work. Some people are exasperated with what they see as the indulgence of it, while most are just pleasantly surprised. Alborough's installation is unapologetically aesthetic without spoon-feeding a meaning, and we don't see that very often.

This is how I see Alan working. He's an engineer/mathematician-cum-sculptor. He sits and stares at a peg. He dismantles, rotates and juxtaposes it with other objects in his mind. At night he dreams of patterns and graphs. He doodles a lot, slotting geometric shapes together obsessively.

No wonder the Alborough reticence. "Well," I can see him saying, "the pegs fitted with the syringes and I, uh, liked the balance of that. It made sense." That's it really. The world is full of building blocks and Alborough likes to play with them.

Not that Alborough doesn't have a definite plan of where his work is coming from or going to. The installation has been growing and developing since it started in Grahamstown last July, where Alborough was honoured as the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Visual Art. The pegs, syringes, batteries, corrosive elements and lights had all been used before in different combinations. It wasn't long before Alborough saw the end point of the installation, and you can too. In the SANG he's got four blank sheets of absorbent paper hanging from the wall, an incomplete "tortoise" and an empty plastic container all set up. At the exhibition's next stop these blank squares will be filled - the paper with the stains from the corrosive coils, the arched object with the used coils and the container with the spent batteries. Alborough's got it plotted out and it all fits perfectly. I smile when I see the URL to the exhibition's accompanying website: www.alanalborough.co.za. The "anal" just jumps out at you, doesn't it?

At this point the only element that is not totally under the artist's control are the orangey blurs made by the corrosive coils. Still, he has set up the coils so that the patterns are fairly predictable. It's not as control-freakish as his 1996 works at Goldsmith's College in London, where he actually plotted corrosion marks on hand-made graph paper. But the light-boxes are still machines, despite the fact that their output is variable.

I think that's why I like Alborough's installation. It has function as well as form. He has made something that makes something else. So, as well as looking good, the objects are "useful". Like the i-Mac he has set up in the corner. Like the chair from furniture contractors Innovation that he has put in front of it. The installation leans more towards design than "pure art" and in today's society that has more currency.

Opening: Wednesday March 07, 5.30pm
Closing: April 08

South African National Gallery, Government Avenue, Company Gardens, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 465-1628
Fax: (021) 461-0045
Email: sang@gem.co.za

- Michelle Matthews is a free lance journalist based in Cape Town


Anton Karstel

Anton Karstel
Main Street, Port Elizabeth, (detail) 2000
Oil on canvas
110 x 139 cm



Anton Karstel

Anton Karstel
Adderley Street, Cape Town, 2000
Oil on canvas
143 x 192 cm



Anton Karstel

Anton Karstel
Street Unknown, Cape Town, 2000
Oil on canvas
153.5 x 117 cm



'Extract' by Anton Karstel at João Ferreira
by Paul Edmunds

'Extract' consists of a collection of apparently conventional, representational oils on canvas. These are rendered, very competently and attractively, by someone whose approach has not always seemed so traditional. It is for this reason one doubts one is merely looking at a faithfully executed copy of a photograph. Or, perhaps this is the reason that you trust the work, believing there is more to this than meets the eye.

Karstel has taken, as reference, photographs of early 1900s urban street scenes of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. These he "revives" by rendering them faithfully, and gesturally, in a generous palette of oils on fairly large canvases with the intention, of "punctuat(ing) memory and induc(ing) sympathy for a reality that has been filed into oblivion". The images, he claims, are typical of those found in colonised and Western countries. The paintings seem at first to be sombre in tone, coloured mostly by umbers and sepia-like hues. On closer inspection, their active, tactile surfaces, particularly in the earlier works, consists of a rich and broad range of saturated colours underscored by earth tones. Karstel's style of painting appears to reference painting techniques popular in Europe at the time during which many of the photographs were taken. Impressionist-like marks stand alongside expressive gestures, both of which lend a dense atmosphere to the scenes depicted. Perhaps these stylistic traits are also a device to recreate the street scenes as if captured first hand by a plein air artist of the time.

An earlier work in the series, Main Street, Port Elizabeth, is rendered in thick impasto marks. Close-up they bear no resemblance to the architecture and activity the painting ultimately depicts. Small dashes of bright primary and secondary colour taint the heavier earth tones, but recede into the moody hues of the whole at a distance. As one moves back, the marks compose themselves into an ever more recognizable street scene. The delicate tracery of the Edwardian buildings is revealed in this apparently random arrangement of texture and tone, and the smooth horizontals of the street stand in contrast to this fine detail. The way in which the image assembles itself increasingly at greater distances is well accomplished even if it isn't exactly an original pictorial device. The elegant architecture and town-planning evident in the painting and its photographic source is long gone from "The Windy City" as it is known. Most of the paintings seem bathed in a thick atmosphere, which not only in the method of its creation, but also in the ambience created, lends the scenes a European air. Along with the unfamiliar architecture, a viewer could believe that these were in fact paintings of European cities. This is perhaps what lends the show a slightly uneasy edge. One is not sure if Karstel is mourning the city's fading from living memory so much as singing the praises of the old colonial city.

Karstel's purported attempted to rescue these images from their apparent destiny plays off against the means of their portrayal. The pointillist-like painting technique he appears to have mastered may not be highly original. Somehow though, knowing Karstel's work previous to this, one suspects that there is more at play than simple visual trickery. I was reminded of Bridget Baker's So It Goes, where an image of the artist and her father recedes as it is covered by increasing amounts of Vicks VapoRub. Karstel's source materials, fading into obscurity in the archives, paradoxically reveal themselves more clearly as a viewer moves further away. In the earliest work on show, St. George's Street, Cape Town, this device is at its most emphatic. The whole picture surface is covered in thick, agitated paint in a surprising range of colours. As with the others, this arranges itself into a street scene as a viewer moves back. This image is perhaps the most detailed and least evocative of those on show. Perhaps the uniformity of the marks and the obvious conclusion to which a viewer is led detract from the work. The largest piece on the show, Adderley Street, Cape Town, is provided with a greater variety of texture and surface. From the bare canvas of some areas of sky to the saturated, reflective oily surface of the dark buildings in the centre right of the composition and the architectural detail on the left. The tonal contrasts, the layering which reveals the process of the painting and the varying languages of description give strength to the work. The marks and gestures make sense of the image at different times, distances and angles leaving more room for interpretation and a more varied experience for the viewer.

The most recent work is entitled Street Unknown, Cape Town. This large work, on a vertical format, consists of much thinner areas of paint and much less detail than any of the others. It appears to depict a horse-drawn wagon, glimpsed through the shadows in an illuminated area of the street. There is a far more mysterious atmosphere to this work. Not only is the format out of kilter with the rest of the works, but the relationships between figure and ground, and even vertical and horizontal is less clear. The disappearing cart and driver and the less finished, less bold painting technique provoke questions and suggest a range of possibilities for both the work and Karstel.

The paintings have sold well and one can't help but wonder if this is in spite of Karstel's intentions. Despite his stated attempt to save archival images of South African cities from a fade into oblivion, Karstel has created a body of work which is attractive, accessible and pretty viewer friendly. He has adopted, with commendable skill, a painting technique which was similarly popular in its earliest incarnations in the work of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists almost 100 years ago. I find it hard to divorce my suspicion that there is something more than a viewer's aesthetic pleasure to Karstel's project, from my desire to enjoy his paintings for their technical and aesthetic achievements. I think it is for this reason that I find the works which are less clear about their intentions more exciting and full of more possibilities.

Opening: March 07, 6pm
Closing: March 31

João Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-5403 or 082 490-2977
Fax: (021) 423-2136
Email: joao@iafrica.com
Website: www.artjoao.co.za


Stefan Blom

Stefan Blom
Untitled, 2000
Mixed media



Stefan Blom Stefan Blom
Installation view



Stefan Blom at the Hänel
by Paul Edmunds

The gallery reports that they have never had so many passersby stopping and looking into the gallery. Nor have they had so few people coming into the gallery after this one cursory glance. The sight with which they are greeted is, without doubt, not too pleasant. Stefan Blom has created an entire installation which seems to deal with violence and bloodshed of an organised fight between pitbulls; dogs which are bred expressly for the purpose of this illegal betting sport.

Blom has covered the walls and floors of the gallery in white polypropylene sheeting. He has smeared this, rather expressively, with red paint. The viewer is left with no option but to presume that the gallery has been transformed into an arena where some violent bloodletting has taken place. From the centre of the room hangs, abattoir-style, an upside down figure, made by wrapping some kind of opaque paper over an armature. The figure is apparently the source of the blood. Colour drains out of the figure, collecting in a saturated red area at the head and shoulders which are closest to the floor. "Bood" has dripped onto a pile of fake roses and petals, some of which are scattered a little distance from the centre of the room. A monitor on the street end of the gallery shows a video and the walls along either side are hung with 10 paintings of identical format.

The video shows a few minutes of edited footage from an illegal pitbull fight. Blom appears to have slowed this down, rendering it in almost entirely red hues and dissolving it into large pixels at times. We see various shots and angles: two dogs rearing up, a handler releasing his animal into the ring or a close-up of a child, perhaps averting his eyes from the terrible spectacle.

The paintings are made with a combination of spraycan and brush techniques and are limited also to various shades of red as well as some black lines. The images, such as a prone dog, or more often a dark ominous portrait, are overlayed with drawings in light blue line. These apparently depict images from Cézanne paintings, such as a simple still life or a group portrait. Blom, I assume, contrasts these quotidian images from the early part of the last century with what appears to be a semblance of normality for the characters who populate the background of these works. These characters all appear rather threatening and criminal like, reminding me of Paul Stopforth's drawings of Special Branch policemen. They refer the viewer, I presume, back to the video where indistinct masculine figures direct the proceedings of a dogfight. Blom's press release suggests that the viewer is left to ponder the daily choices made by the instigators of this wanton violence. For myself I found little space to maneuver at all, judging these men to be ignorant, willfully violent and plain unpleasant of character. This I found to be the shortcoming of the whole show. The gore, the violent images, all that red paint and the fake flowers seemed rather too loaded and sentimental. There was little room to think for oneself let alone find any ambiguity or even discomfort. Blom's devices are a little too heavy-handed and closed to interpretation.

All this is not to say that the exhibition is unstimulating or worth forgetting about, but rather that I feel Blom didn't mine the most interesting aspects of his subject matter and nor did he render them in a fashion which was thought provoking. Most interesting for me was how he had actually obtained the video footage and the questions of morality that arise from an artist witnessing and recording something not only illegal but cruel and gratuitously violent.

Opening: Sunday February 04, 6pm
Closing: March 24

Hänel Gallery, 84 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-1406
Fax: (021) 423-5277
Email: ehaenel@compuserve.com
Gallery hours: Tue - Fri 11am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 2pm


Katherine Bull

Katherine Bull
Positioning the Cape: a spatial engraving of a shifting frontier, 1999
Installation detail



Thomas Bowler

Thomas Bowler
Table Mountain, from Kloof Nek Road above Cape Town, 1837
Watercolour



Hoerikwaggo - Images of Table Mountain
by Paul Edmunds

Table Mountain, or Hoerikwaggo as it has also been called, looms large in the consciousness of Capetonians. It loomed big in my own consciousness when I first relocated to Cape Town. Always in the periphery of my vision, I had not climbed it, was not familiar with its slopes and as such it stood to constantly remind me that I was not quite a 'local'. This exhibition reveals how the mountain has always featured in the mythology and history of South Africa and, in particular, the Cape of Good Hope. 'Hoerikwaggo' is an old Khoi word meaning 'Mountain of the Sea' and is regarded as the first name ever given to Table Mountain. This exhibition is a landmark in itself in that it draws on the collections of various Cape Town museums that together comprise Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Artifacts and objects from each of these formerly separate collections have been used to show that "Table Mountain is... a multi-layered, polyvocal symbol that speaks 'through' various people... with astonishing clarity, variety and diversity", in the words of curator Nicolaas Vergunst.

Vergunst has structured the exhibition in a way which is easy and satisfying to follow. Developing broad themes such as Table Mountain as a Name, Table Mountain and the New Dawn and Table Mountain and the Picturesque Vergunst demonstrates how these principles operate similarly in both the earliest and most recent depictions of and projections onto Table Mountain. Each theme is introduced by an explanatory paragraph and quotes from a variety of sources and widely differing times in large letters on the wall. Under the first-mentioned theme, Vergunst traces the earliest descriptions in map and record of the mountain and places these alongside Marc Cianfanelli's Atlantis, shown in Cape Town in 1998. This broader overview produces interesting juxtapositions which illuminate all of the works and artifacts presented.

Dominating the centre of the Liebermann room is Katherine Bull's Positioning the Cape: a spatial engraving of a shifting frontier. This work, aesthetically seductive as it is, is even more compelling when seen in the midst of a variety of sources on which Bull has drawn. Interestingly it serves to illuminate many of these sources which are to be found nearby. It goes some way, in fact, to suggest that Bull's work encompasses even more than the artist could ever have intended.

Interplay between the themes Vergunst has chosen often happens, but making these links is left largely up to the viewer (the exhibition is large and absorbing and this does require some diligence). A collection of 19th Century paintings of Table Mountain by Thomas Bowler, Heinrich Hermann and others is used to explore the notion of Table Mountain and the Picturesque. Text thoroughly discusses this theme and I found myself glancing back to an earlier part of the exhibition where enlarged postcard photographs by Gerald Hoberman are displayed and noticing how both depictions employed similar distortions and emphasis to similar ends. There is much discussion, in various parts of the exhibition, of physical distortions used in depiction of Table Mountain. Often these are purely formal devices, on other occasions they subtly reveal political motives; sometimes they were merely informed by ignorance.

Vergunst does a good job of exploring the image of Table Mountain in recent artmaking, much from the struggle years, demonstrating how this symbol, often used in a very personal way, is often the background to strong political feeling. Views which are depicted are very revealing in the directions from which they are taken. Before 1996, one doesn't see photographs which include or are taken from Robben Island, because this was illegal. When such views do become commonplace, we learn how, for political prisoners, their view of the mountain and bay represented freedom. Vergunst goes so far as to suggest that the popular view from Bloubergstrand "signifies colonial occupation, the island-view democratic freedom".

In its depth and size I found the exhibition quite challenging and always very thorough. Perhaps more space could have been given to the mythology and beliefs of the original habitants of this area, but perhaps this ventures a little too close to Anthropolgy. For myself, and given the broad fields which the Iziko collections encompass, I would have liked to see more geological and geographical depictions and facts. As objective as the sciences purport to be, we know that they are always the product of the society which produces them. Again though, perhaps this is a little too far out of the ballpark. It is interesting to look at historical depictions of Table Mountain and see how they so obviously reveal their worldviews and political intentions. More recent images, one would like to think, include a greater self-awareness and consciousness of their social and political constructs. Perhaps in the future sometime, we will look back on these supposedly balanced and informed views which we hold and see that they are no less revealing of time and place than maps, images and ideas held by people in the early years of the colonialised Cape of Good Hope.

Opening: November 25
Closing: April 01

South African National Gallery, Government Avenue, Company Gardens, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 465-1628
Fax: (021) 461-0045
Email: sang@gem.co.za


Marlene Dumas



Marlene Dumas



Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas The Benefit of the Doubt, 1998
Constitutional Court of South Africa Collection
Each panel approx. 15m x 2,5m




GAUTENG

Marlene Dumas tapestries at the Market Theatre Galleries
by Kathryn Smith

I found out about this exhibition for only two reasons: firstly, from a friend who was involved in the unpacking and installation of the work but didn't know the contents of the crates herself before they were opened. Secondly, another friend and colleague went to collect something at the Theatre and returned saying, "You'll never guess what's in the gallery..."

The gallery has been without a manager for some four months now, although the space is occasionally used for exhibitions that, unless those exhibiting send out a press release, no one gets to know about. Cue the Marlene Dumas non-event.

There were no dates or information in the space, but I have since established that the tapestries have been taken down again, recrated until their eventual installation at the new Constitutional Court. What I can tell you about Dumas' three monumental tapestries is that they were hugely impressive, not just in terms of their 15 m x 2,5 m scale (or thereabouts), but more so in the translation from her watery, colour-bleeding figurative paintings to woven fibre.

Installed on stretchers on an angled strut, the space could hardly contain the panels, two of which were squeezed into the long length of the main space, and the other which was set across the diagonal length of the first space. Depicting three figures or portraits on each treated in typical Dumas style, the effect was at once awesome and intimately unsettling as noses melt into eyes and smiles become leers.

The tapestries, which were handed over by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands to the Constitutional Court of South Africa on February 28 this year, are collectively entitled 'The Benefit of the Doubt', the 'maquette sketch' of which is dated 1998. What upset me the most about not knowing about the show sooner was what this oversight means in terms of a lack of acknowledgement of Dumas' contribution to and ongoing relationship with the local arts scene. She made the Fresh residency program at the National Gallery possible, has an enormous international profile and has now donated a substantial work to the Constitutional Court of South Africa - not to be sneezed at, surely? Until they get installed at the Court (don't hold your collective breath), you will have to be satisfied with the images on the website.

Market Theatre Galleries, First floor, Market Theatre complex, corner Bree and Wolhuter streets, Newtown, JHB
Tel: (011) 832-1641
Fax: (011) 492 1235
E-mail: gallery@market.theatre.co.za


Natasha Christopher

Natasha Christopher
Tomas
Colour print
80 x 120



Mandla Mabila

Mandla Mabila
Last night I flew over Joburg
Oil on masonite
128 x 115,5 cm



Marcus Neustetter

Marcus Neustetter



Absa Atelier Johannesburg Regional Round
by Kathryn Smith

Johannesburg, always the largest point of collection for entries into the Absa Atelier Competition, received a record 166 entries this year, out of which 41 were chosen for the final show. All in all, it was a record year for the 16 year-old competition, receiving a total of 580 submissions, an increase of exactly 100 works from last year.

While the selection process could have been more rigorous, or rather, I was surprised to see some works included and others not, the selection in general did its work to separate the quality from the tired, too earnest and just plain terrible. I do hope that as many of the artists as possible who submitted works manage to see each regional round of the show, as exhibiting all the works together does provide some barometer of what is and isn't acceptable for a national-level competition. And it's not simply about subjective choices of locating trends or art fashions (the 'Wits School' is often sourly denigrated) - it's at these events where I find myself enjoying spotting strange synchronicities.

I must say that the way this exhibition has been hung smacks of attitudes both retrograde and simplistic. The work is displayed either in the gallery or on rather smart, self-lit screens in the huge skating rink of a foyer. All the video is outside, along with the majority of 'black artists', and work that is of obviously poorer quality. If you've tried to enter video into national art competitions, you'll empathise here. You are expected to provide your own equipment, so this grouping might just be logistical - bung it all together in the corner and the 'video artists' can share, or what?

While I was elated to see many more black artists entering than in previous years, I was not so elated to see them ghettoised outside. Yes, while much of the work was the worst kind of 'township art' that tourists love, could Absa not put their money where their mouths are and enter into some kind of workshop or education programme? Entries must be encouraged, but artists must also be able to find their own voice and not produce what is expected, or what they think they should produce. The irony of this situation is while being included in the gallery would seem to 'legitimatise' that work in some way, the foyer gets more passing human traffic, so this work has more chance of actually getting seen.

Johannesburg artists chosen for the next round are (some submitted more than one work): Robyn Arenstein, Joni Brenner and Natasha Christopher (each of whom were merit award winners in 2000); Marco Cianfanelli, Fiona Couldridge (finalist 2000), Kathleen Cranswick, Monty Gaeyaya, Daniel Hirschmann, Lynn Mills, Stephanie Lang, Vanessa Luyt (merit award winner, 1999), Mandla Mabila, Ian Marley, Colbert Mashile (merit award winner 2000), Siobhan McCusker, Alastair James McLachlan, Dikgwele Molete, Judith Mthini, Helen Neocleous (finalist 2000), Marcus Neustetter (finalist 1999), Richard Penn, Stefanus Rademeyer, Robin Rhode (finalist 2000), Bettina Schultz, Merryn Singer, Kathryn Smith (finalist 2000), Emily Stainer, Amichai Tahor, Gina Waldman, Janet Wilson, Israel Thavana, Michelle Kriek, Johannes Mtakwende and Carine Zaayman.

Judges were Clive van den Berg, Marc Edwards, Conrad Theys (SANAVA president) and Lucia Burger.

The exhibition ends March 29 2001. The announcement of the final winners takes place at the opening of the national show on July 18 at the Absa Gallery, JHB.

Opening: Tuesday March 20, 5:30pm
Closing: April 07

ABSA Gallery, ABSA Towers North, 161 Main Street, JHB
Tel: Julie MacLiam (Absa Media Relations) (011) 350-4588
E-mail: juliemc@absa.co.za
Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday 9.30 am - 3.30 pm


Karin Preller

Karin Preller
Jack en Rienie Overbeek, St Lawrencelaan 39, Langlaagte Noord, 1943, 1999/2000
Oil on canvas
1m x 1m



Karin Preller

Karin Preller
Jack en Rienie Overbeek, St Lawrencelaan 39, Langlaagte Noord, 1970, 1999/2000
Oil on canvas
1m x 1m



Karin Preller

Karin Preller
Chris Venter, Montgomery Park, 1966, 2000
Oil on canvas
1m x 1m



Shades of Grey: Karin Preller at the Absa Gallery
by Kathryn Smith

I like this exhibition despite myself. While I make a point of shying away from 'artfulness' in art, there is something attractive about these quite artful images: their overall sameness, apparent impenetrability of surface and a disturbing erasure of Preller's brush (they look airbrushed but aren't) are the things that clever ruses are made of. From a distance they look like dated black and white photographs. Up close, you wonder why. There is a total lack of detail, Preller instead filtering the image into areas of stark tonal contrast.

Her rationale mentions her desire to refocus attention on the labour of painting, especially in relation to images that can be produced in more economic or technologically sophisticated ways. The reconstruction of memory, the publicising of the private familial 'look' and the banal are all stated as aspects of her research. She also speaks of the "blind spots" of memory, existing in - or outside - the frame of the image, observing that painting may have the ability to draw these out.

In relation to the work on the exhibition, this is all pretty pedestrian. Shoot me for being cynical, but give any contemporary artist (especially a South African one) a family photograph to deconstruct and they'll churn out similar discourse as if by rote. The exploration into photography's relationship to truth, memory and 'the personal', and by extension, the reconstruction or recovery of memory has been explored by two consecutive Vita prizewinners, namely Jo Ractliffe and Terry Kurgan, albeit in very different ways. These paintings, sometimes toned with a yellow or greenish glaze to simulate age, operate on other levels.

These paintings may reveal more about what photography 'leaves out' (a popular thematic in much contemporary art practice) than if one were to employ photography itself to this same end. I say this because there is something uncomfortable about the space you sense lies between the original photograph and Preller's resurrection of its image as a monochromatic painting. She selects her images carefully. If one pays attention to the titles, we can trace certain people from childhood to adulthood, and a family home through several decades. But she also make sure to include images that reveal the technical shortfalls of either the photographer or the equipment (vignetting and poor focus) or photographs stamped 'Final Proof' from professional photographic studios.

This, along with the lack of details speaks to the standards of domestic photography at the time (between the early 1940's and the 1960's), an era where the documentation of family was usually the role of the father. There are two kinds of images here: the posed, either formally or informally, and those that mark occasions, whether it's shopping downtown or at a dinner. Throughout, details implicitly reveal the Calvinism informing this particular familial masquerade. Gloves are worn when shopping and people are seen to occupy roles that don't challenge the expected. The banal, and the style of execution which is strangely devoid of personality, seem to make public a conservatism that is difficult to identify specifically, but is pervasive.

This show could suffer from two things: a too-earnest attachment to the academic and well-worn readings of family, memory and the attention she focuses between the 'labour' of painting and the 'ease' of photography. Secondly, painting lessens the effect of voyeurism on the part of the viewer by playing down the affect of 'the real'. As such, we don't question issues of representational responsibility. I did leave feeling quite ambivalent, but also thinking that Preller, for all the fetishising of painting's authenticity and uniqueness, had rather neatly inverted a well-known notion from Roland Barthes' seminal Camera Lucida: "What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially." It seems that Preller, through painting, has reinvested these images with some sense of the existential that has less to do with her stated interest in how families masquerade, and more do to with trying to recapture something of the original moment when the image was taken.

Opening: February 07, 5.30 pm
Closing: February 28

ABSA Gallery, ABSA Towers North, 161 Main Street, JHB
Tel: Julie MacLiam (Absa Media Relations) (011) 350-4588
E-mail: juliemc@absa.co.za
Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday 9.30 am - 3.30 pm


George Gittoes

George Gittoes
The kiss
Oil on canvas



KWAZULU-NATAL

'Lives in the Balance' at the Durban Art Gallery
by Virginia MacKenny

'Lives in the Balance' is an exhibition of selected works (1989-2000) by writer, photographer, journalist and war artist George Gittoes. Gittoes has been in more wars than one cares to imagine, sometimes as many as three in a year: Cambodia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Somalia to name a few. Often travelling with the UN peacekeeping force, working in the frontline, regularly doing the official body count, he gets to see the events he describes first hand. The content of his art rears up immediately: men's brutality and cruelty to others.

Whilst artists abandoned figurative painting during WWII as inadequate in the face of the horror of photographic evidence, Gittoes values painting for having a longer shelf life than news photos. Paintings also allow the artist to reconstruct the events in a way that the photograph cannot. Reinforcing the impact of the work is the scale; most works are over two and a half metres.

Accompanied by written narratives, which form an integral part of the working drawings, it is the anecdotal nature of the work which humanises it; the young AWB boy who closes his eyes against the taunts of the world's media in White Earth, the boy and girl in Sarajevo whose physical and mental lives have been torn apart by war, the man who holds the bloodied head of his daughter (all that is left of her) in his hands after the Rwanda massacre hoping to give it a proper burial.

Shaken by the horror of many of the stories, it is easy to miss the fact that it is often the words themselves that create the impact whilst the images remain, perhaps, merely monumental illustrations of the events. Painted with high key colours and strong outline many of these works, despite their emotive content, fail to move one - their stylisation links them more to graphic comix, with their attendant sci-fi gore, than real life. In addition the chunky, Auerbach-like, expressionistic painting also often fails to rise above a certain predictable visual rhetoric. Gittoes work is thus shocking because it is unexpectedly distant.

This is true in all but one of the works. Salvage II is based on the painter's experience of a friend's death by torture and the finding of his body trussed up like a salami, bloated and damaged, and dumped on the street: a warning for all to see. Within the blunt scrabbling of mark making in this painting there is a sensation of emotion lacking in the other works on show.

Gittoes is no contemporary Goya; what he depicts is more of a Boschonian nightmare. Following in the line of Otto Dix or George Grosz, he represents the dreadfulness of war through a kind of extreme representation. However, whilst many of the stories are of violence, there are many of courage and hope and Gittoes seems to search for reasons to be optimistic in the carnage. Whatever one's assessment of the work there is no denying the power of Gittoes' stories, nor the need to hear what these particular stories have to tell. For its contentious subject alone this is an exhibition well worth attending.

Closes: April 8

Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, City Hall, Smith Street, Durban
Box 4085, Durban 4000
Tel: (031) 311 2262
Fax: (031) 311 2273
Gallery hours from 09:00am to 12:00pm


Trevor Makhoba

Trevor Makhoba
Invitation image



Linda Jones

Linda Jones
Invitation image



Trevor Makhoba's 'Rebound' and Linda Jones 'Inside: Looking In' at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny

Currently at the NSA are Trevor Makhoba, an established black artist (1996 Standard Bank Young Artist's Award winner) who paints the township life of Umlazi and Linda Jones, a white middle-class housewife, whose installations are supported by video projections. Distinctly different the two need to be taken on their own terms.

Makhoba's naturalistic vocabulary, an eye for acute social comment and his imaginative, almost surrealistic, works are familiar. 'Rebound' was intended to show him renewed and invigorated after time off the public exhibition circuit. Such an intention has been undermined by a show of uneven quality where the originality of the best work is offset by the stereotypical and predictable - here some works encapsulate an Africa most often found in curio shops. Detailing, normally a strong point in Makhoba's work, is often lessened in intensity by a surface treatment which appears rushed.

The best works, however, remain strong throughout - Old Information Burns is an almost hallucinogenic scene of rats running across piles of old books whilst a purple brain burns in the background signalling the death of the old South African order. Bad Nanny, depicts a group of black children, presumably left unsupervised, watching a white couple copulating on the TV. Here the light from the screen reveals a detailed inventory of the room's contents and the children's expressions strengthen the impact of the subject. Fired at Midnight, an image of the wealthy white madam who fires her maid after an evening's entertainment whilst over-pink white socialites chat in the background, remains a pertinent observation of the current status quo. It is in these works where Makhoba reinforces his relevance.

Jones' work is itself formed from the domesticity of white suburbia. Meticulously presented and finished, 'Inside: Looking In' interrogates the limited horizons of the domestic realm; a private space that promises a certain amount of personal freedom, but paradoxically becomes suffocating and claustrophobic. Defined by the roles of mother, cook and chief bottlewasher, women lose themselves within these societal roles. Such is the stuff of much feminist art and it is to Jones' credit that she creates a fresh take on an old subject.

A large installation of gelatinous, latex 'cysts' or 'livers', covers the gallery floor. 'Incubating' under red spots they threaten to proliferate, contaminating the space around them. Digital prints of micro-environments in the home such as spaces under furniture where carpets hide their detritus of dust and insects are juxtaposed with close-ups of barely recognisable body parts. Confined, the artist is forced to turn in on herself literally; the body becomes the vehicle for the articulation of the unspeakable. A compelling work is an installation of a suburban lounge complete with pot-plant and pink velour lounge suit. On the TV in the room is a single image video - a view inside the artist's mouth; her epiglottis straining to contain itself against the intrusion of the video camera into its domain. The camera remains so long inside that the effect of gagging or retching is generated, not only in the artist, but also in the viewer. To retch is to reject, not digest. Wordless and distinctly incapacitated, the body clearly signals its distress, a distress that is amplified in the rest of the show.

Both shows close March 26.

N S A Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa, 4001
Postal address: P.O. Box 37408, Overport, Durban, South Africa, 4067
Tel: (031) 202-2293
Email: iartnsa@mweb.co.za
Website: www.nsagallery.co.za


Jo Ractliffe

Jo Ractliffe
Port of Entry, 2001
Photographs
Installation view



Sebastian Diaz Morales



Sebastian Diaz Morales

Sebastian Diaz Morales
The persecution of the white car, 2001 Video stills



'Open-Circuit Closed' at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny

'Open-Circuit Closed' is the culmination of the Pulse initiative, part of RAIN (Rijks Academy International Network), that last year comprised an exhibition and conference and this year ends in a collaborative project and a catalogue documenting the entire process. Conceived and organised by Greg Streak, this final component is an immensely satisfying conclusion.

The show is both lean and rich. Only two works occupy the gallery; one a 20 m x 20 cm photographic strip by Jo Ractliffe, the other a video projection by Sebastian Dias Morales. The two support each other so well that they cease to be companion pieces and become a complement of one.

Ractliffe and Dias Morales spent five days exploring Durban through the themes of the conference: the collision between First and Third world. Potentially a recipe for superficiality, since neither artist knew the other, nor the other's work, nor Durban, the resultant works, however, reveal a layered complexity and a Durban rarely shown.

Ractliffe, working with her familiar plastic toy Holgar camera, shot off a series of images, in the manner of her Vlakplaas piece. However, instead of hiding horror in a banal landscape, Port of Entry evokes a city not typically captured by the ad agencies in their promotion of Durban as a place of sea, sand and sun. Gloomy darkened images blur into one another, fleeting focus smothers clarity and vertiginous views create a sense of displacement and dislocation. Mainly shot in dispassionate, understated blue-grey, this is broken by the sudden technicolour orange of bloodied carcasses in the muti-market rearing up against drear taxi ranks, backs of apartments and ships in the dry dock, as big as buildings, where workers transmute into alien militaristic figures. Ractliffe herself describes the landscape as 'apocalyptic' - referencing the sci-fi cult movie 'Blade runner'. The urban sprawl of one of the world's fastest growing cities is eroded and dismembered, deconstructed as both implosion/explosion.

This statement of excess and violence is counteracted/complemented by Dias Morales' video which is overlaid by spoken dialogue (with subtitles) between the artist and an unidentified woman. Hinting at an intimacy beyond the conversational it starts in the clouds as seen from an aeroplane. From this lofty position the premise of the work is tentatively suggested - a work about memory and experience. A reflection on his time in a city never specified (all verbal references to Durban are deliberately 'pipped' out), here Durban becomes a place of the imagination. Entitled The Persecution of the White Car, the video, at times, evokes a B-Grade movie, at others it becomes magical; depicting a flickering, starlike cityscape at night. A man striding out towards a tree with a million birds introduces a fable-like whimsicality whilst a harpooned stingray writhing on the ground, its gasping mouth like a bloodied wound, punches one emotionally. Both a love story and self-conscious post-modern treatise on the search for the elusiveness of meaning, it becomes a personal narrative of surprising intimacy.

Both artists reference each other in their works - glimpses of lenses signalling the 'gaze' as an integral player in a dialogue of exploration and mutual presence. It is a great pity that this show is not on for longer.

Closing date: March 04

N S A Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa, 4001
Postal address: P.O. Box 37408, Overport, Durban, South Africa, 4067
Tel: (031) 202-2293
Email: iartnsa@mweb.co.za
Website: www.nsagallery.co.za


The Villa Stuck in Munich.



Front cover of the catalogue.



INTERNATIONAL

'The Short Century' at the Villa Stuck, Munich: a curatorial note
by Rory Bester

My involvement in 'The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994' began when I met with Okwui Enwezor in Cape Town in late 1998, barely a year after the opening of the Second Johannesburg Biennale. Museum Villa Stuck in Munich was interested in hosting Enwezor's proposed exhibition on independence and liberation movements in Africa and he was putting together a curatorial team to produce the exhibition. I had just finished co-curating 'Democracy's Images' at BildMuseet in Sweden and was looking for new opportunities. Suffice to say I agreed and a team that included Enwezor, Lauri Firstenberg, Mark Nash, Chika Okeke and myself met in Munich in April 1999 to plan the way forward.

The interdisciplinary focus of the exhibition research was meant to come to terms with the nature and extent of an African consciousness in the aftermath of colonialism. In looking at art, architecture, film, photography, music, literature, theatre, graphics and documents that were produced from the end of World War II to the period immediately after South Africa's first democratic elections, the exhibition came together as a series of articulations of and responses to notions of modernity that emerged out of African and western encounters. The archive, in its historical and contemporary form, as well as the cultural links made between these temporal spaces, was a central feature of the exhibition research and provided the momentum to ask potent questions about the place of Africa at the end of the century. Central to this was the fact that much of the archival material on independence and liberation movements was restricted by 50-year secrecy legislation and has only recently become available for public access.

The sumptuous Villa Stuck, built in the early 1900s for the painter-architect Franz von Stuck, is now a museum dedicated to his memory. The Museum Villa Stuck also has an active temporary exhibition programme that in recent years has included a number of historical and contemporary survey shows on African art. At the time of our initial meeting in 1999 the Villa Stuck was in the throes of a DM22 million worth of renovations and extensions. Only the outer shell of the new exhibition venue had been built, making it quite difficult to envision the space that would finally house the exhibition. 'The Short Century' was planned as one of the millennial showcase exhibitions of the revitalised Museum Villa Stuck. Almost two years and 10,000 pages of research later we gathered again in Munich for the final stages of the installation of the exhibition.

When I arrived in Munich on Sunday, February 11, the reusable aluminium and Perspex partitioning structures, designed by New York architects Craig Konyk and James Tichenor, were in place around the venue. The Museum Villa Stuck's exhibition area is more vertical than horizontal in extent and some of the partitions were sheer surfaces that, in extending the full length of the three floors, provided an ideal surface for video and slide projections. What followed were three days of intense installation, occasionally broken by smatterings of German delicatessen food.

The central place of decolonisation in the history of the twentieth century has been highlighted by careful organisation of the exhibition space. By combining conventional wall and floor displays, glass display cases that jut out of the Perspex walls, monitors recessed in the same Perspex walls, and rear projections, 'The Short Century's' narrative weaves in and out of material forms and architectural levels to create what Okwui Enwezor calls "a contemporary 'critical biography' of Africa". At the heart of this are the variegated senses of African modernity that were constructed out of colonialism. These are experiences of modernity that extend not only to the political and ideological paradigms of independence and liberation struggles, but also to new modes of cultural expression and self-awareness.

'The Short Century' exhibition includes over 60 artists, a number of whom are from South Africa. The South African contingent includes Jane Alexander, Willem Boshoff, Dumile Feni, Kendell Geers, David Goldblatt, Kay Hassan, Gavin Jantjes, William Kentridge, Sandra Kriel, Sydney Kumalo, Moshekwa Langa, Ernest Mancoba, Santu Mofokeng, Zwelethu Mthethwa, John Muafangejo, Gerard Sekoto, Lucas Sithole, Cecil Skotnes and Sue Williamson. Important to the exhibition as a whole, this extensive range of historical and contemporary art from South Africa clearly establishes historical tensions between Verwoerd's racist 'post-colonial' declaration of independence from Britain in 1961 (at a time when most other African countries were establishing themselves as independent democracies) and the 1994 elections that ushered in a post-apartheid South Africa.

For me there were some very poignant visual moments in the work from South Africa. It was quite a special site to see five Sekoto paintings - Two Friends (1941), Four Figures at a Table (1940-42), Houses: District Six (1943-45), Street Scene (1945), Song of the Pick (1946-47) - displayed together in a European venue. Their place within early expressionist traditions is significant indeed. At least four of the Sekotos are the first things you see when entering the exhibition venue. Another work that we do not often see outside of South Africa is Jane Alexander's The Butcher Boys. As one climbs the museum's spiral staircase, the haunting sight of The Butcher Boys awaits your arrival on the top floor. It's quite a remarkable statement.

The 12-member Villa Stuck installation team did an extraordinary job in getting The Short Century up before the press conference at 11 o'clock on Wednesday morning. At the appointed hour the 200-seater pressroom overflowed with print, radio and television journalists eager to hear about 'The Short Century', and also how much this exhibition was a precursor to Enwezor's upcoming Documenta XI programme. A small number of artists attended the Munich opening of 'The Short Century'. These included Ibrahim Mohammed El-Salahi and Iba Ndiaye, two figures who were pivotal in establishing post-independence art academies in Sudan and Senegal; Georges Ad�agbo, Kay Hassan and Pascale Marthine Tayou who put up their installations in the Villa Stuck venue; and Olad�l� Ajiboy� Bamgboyé and Touhami Ennadre.

From paintings by Uche Okeke and Tshibumba to installations by Yinka Shonibare and Georges Ad�agbo, from cloths that include likenesses of Queen Elizabeth II to posters celebrating Mozambican independence, from photographs that capture experience of liberation and independence throughout Africa to models of Bodys Isek Kingelez's utopian cities and Yona Friedman's modernist apartment blocks, from recorded compilations of Verwoerd's speeches to a copies of Uli Beier's Black Orpheus: A Journal of African and African-American Literature, the exhibition is a testament to the spirit that emerged in Africa after independence and liberation.

One archival document we did not get for 'The Short Century' was the recently released audio recording of Nelson Mandela's defence speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1964. While browsing through an English Sunday newspaper on the connecting flight to Munich I read that the British Library had successfully re-copied an old audio recording of Nelson Mandela's speech using a now-defunct dictabelt machine. On Monday morning, I downloaded an extract of the recording from the British Library website. The intonation and pauses in the delivery of the speech are very moving. Mark Nash, the exhibition's film curator, immediately made a series of frantic, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful calls from Museum Villa Stuck to the British Library to get a copy of the audio recording. Hopefully we will have this important document for the opening in Berlin.

The official opening of 'The Short Century' took place on Wednesday evening. Requisite speeches from ambassadorial representatives from South Africa and Nigeria, along with a formal introduction of the curatorial team and attending artists, and an official opening by a bureaucrat from the City of Munich, made for a rather long opening ceremony that taxed the attentions of the 1,000-strong audience. Walking around the crowded exhibition space afterwards, I could not help but wonder about the extent of the (mostly) German audience's feelings of dislocation and strangeness about the material on display. The exhibition is so much the antithesis of the discourse of colonialism, and the very feelings of "otherness" that colonialism evoked in Africans was here being returned in newly historicized expressions of self.

I left Munich early on Thursday morning, clutching a souvenir poster in one hand and my suitcase in the other. At the check-in counter I was censured about my overweight suitcase. No doubt the catalogue, I thought. At 496 pages, the catalogue is quite spectacular. Produced by Munich-based mega-publisher, Prestel, it had arrived at Museum Villa Stuck late on Tuesday afternoon. In addition to commissioned essays by scholars such as Manthia Diawara, Mahmood Mamdani and Valentin Y. Mudimbe, and illustrations of all the material on the exhibition, the catalogue also include a comprehensive anthology of manifestos, resolutions, speeches and writings on Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, liberation movements, African socialism and cultural debates. The anthology component of the catalogue reflects one of the pivotal approaches of the exhibition as a whole, namely an exploration of the extent to which historical narratives and discourses inform and impact on contemporary consciousness.

The exhibition ends its run at Museum Villa Stuck on 22 April, and then moves on to the House of World Cultures in Berlin (May-July 2001), Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (Sep-Dec 2001) and finally P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Feb-May 2002).

Opening: February 14
Closing: April 22

Villa Stuck, Munich
Website: www.theshortcentury.com

- Rory Bester is an associate curator of The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994. The extract from Nelson Mandela's speech can be downloaded from the British Library website (www.bl.uk).

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