Visual art at the Aardklop Festival
by Kathryn Smith
In the Mail & Guardian (October 12-18 2001) Riaan Wolmarans described the Aardklop Arts Festival as little more than a big church bazaar with a couple of theatrical and visual arts highlights. He was not far wrong. Neither was he wrong to heap praise on Leora Farber's installation in the old Snowflake flour mill, 'All You Can Be'.
My little field trip to the North West Province was undertaken with limited time and two aims: to take in Robert Hodgins' '50 Years A Painter' retrospective and Farber's show. I stumbled first upon Jan van der Merwe's installation 'Bagasie' in the Perskor exhibition venue at Potchefstroom University. Having glimpsed the (rather tacky) pamphlet produced for the visual arts programme, I was under the impression Van der Merwe was showing his work produced for this year's FNB Vita Art Prize. He was, alongside a number of older pieces that together made for a truly awesome installation in a less than ideal venue. While many criticise Van der Merwe for being slightly simplistic or rather unambiguous in his translation of content into form, seeing the work stand together as a collection allows one to fully appreciate not only his dedication to process, but also the complexities of how he deals with archaeologies of histories, truths and ideologies. And with the ongoing strike-against-terrorism campaign in the Middle East, Van der Merwe's work transcends its immediate associations with the old apartheid state and becomes immediately relevant within a broader context.
That said, he would have done well to secure a space in the Snowflake building, an awesome venue well-utilised by Leora Farber and Johan Moolman, both of whom presented installations with a sensitivity for the old industrial textures and defunct machinery in the building. Most of the other work exhibited here on an amorphous group show (or shows) could have been done without, although Andre Venter deserves a mention for a humorous multimedia piece structured as a confessional booth. In a very tight space, we are confronted with a near-lifesize, jerky animation of a man getting a bit too familiar with a vacuum cleaner hosepipe to the sounds of Tom Waits. Great stuff.
'All You Can Be' occupied the top floor of the building. Climbing up narrow, rickety staircases definitely complemented the experience of Farber's installation, but I couldn't help wondering how the hell they got all the work up there in the first place.
Farber was one of three invited artists, along with official festival artist Robert Hodgins and Thijs Nel (whose exhibition I didn't have time to see). Part of the invitation was a request that she show older work from her 1997 Thompson Gallery exhibition, 'Instrumental'. Farber's older work is textbook feminist body politic stuff, but thankfully without the angsty performance work so often associated with the discourse. Her work, constructed from pigmented wax, found clothing and medical instruments, is technically awesome but often a bit too didactic and uncompromising. Then again, the restrained, Victorian approach and labour-intensiveness are totally appropriate for her subject matter.
Farber has ventured into video and is now exhibiting a greater control of the medium than in her earlier work. Three huge video screens braced the back wall of her space, showing explicit details of cosmetic surgery procedures not unlike the work of French performance artist Orlan, accompanied by lilting, classical piano music. Corpus Delecti was the video pièce de résistance - showing chocolates rapidly melting and bubbling into their own slick consistencies.
Individually the works are powerful, if only in their visualisation of utter abjection, but the sum of the parts of this installation presented Farber in her best light yet.
And finally, Mr Hodgins in the foyer of the Sanlam Auditorium at Potch University. What can one say? With a collection of some 70 pieces, gleaned from institutional, corporate, museum and private collections, Hodgins managed the near-impossible - to deflect attention from the rather fascist architecture so typical of universities. The show is worthy of a good few hours' attention, with work spanning circa 1950 to 2001, including a typical Hodgins witticism produced especially for this show (Ek sal vir jou so 'n klap gee). Curator Neil Dundas admitted it could have easily been double or triple the size.
But what a treat. Despite obvious aesthetic connections to contemporaries Peter Blake and Francis Bacon, Hodgins is utterly local, cheeky and pulls no punches. The more familiar works become, the more they reveal themselves in terms of colour, texture, technical prowess and an acid wit. The show included short films and animations made in collaboration with William Kentridge and Deborah Bell and will travel the country. Best of all, a long-overdue monograph is due out in time for this show's appearance at the Gertrude Posel Gallery at Wits next year, with essays by Ivor Powell, Brenda Atkinson, Kendell Geers and Hodgins himself. The book can be pre-ordered through Tafelberg Publishers.
'Robert Hodgins: 50 Years A Painter' tour schedule:
Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch University
December 12 2001 - February 3 2002
Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand
March 12 - April 26 2002
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
May 7 - June 9 2002 (dates subject to confirmation)