Isabella Quattrocchi, 'Doodles' and Bernice Stott at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny
The NSA has been dominated by drawing for the past few weeks. Upstairs 'Doodles - An exhibition of serious drawings' fulfils its apparently contradictory brief with a range of drawings that are remarkably fresh for a small show. Focusing on contemporary production the show's highlights include Miliana Babic's wall drawing which recreates a children's drawing book maze as an analogy for woman attempting to find herself, Raymundo Bila's exquisite charcoal drawings on sandpaper and glass, Andries Gouws's meditative ink sketches of skulls, Seiodin O'Sullivan's imaginative meanderings on blueprint and Georgia Kotretsos' witty jagged heartbeat of a line made up of the words "To be or not to be".
Downstairs the theme of drawing continues. Isabella Quattrocchi has perfected a type of classical drawing that has its roots in the traditions of the West as propagated by the University of Natal's Fine Art Department under the tutelage of Derek Leigh and Ginny Heath. Classical male nude figures, dying harts and a lyre signal the mythology of Orpheus and Eurydice. The classical vocabulary of such images is reinforced by the ubiquitous presence of the modernist grid that underlies or is imposed on the drawings.
While on one level appearing traditional, even archaic, these works probe many accepted premises of Western thought. Examining the polarities of the binary oppositions of life/death, nature/mind, male/female, Quattrochi posits new possibilities of interpretation.
Five large drawings on paper hang along the back of the gallery. Elemental forces of water, air and earth in tumultuous chaos, reminiscent of large versions of Leonardo's 'Deluge' series, are constrained by delicate grids of paint-resistant wax text expounding on issues of mapping and place. Locating the content in a dialogue of history and geography, rendered in muted tones of grey and brown with soil from the artist's garden, these works are both philosophic and personal.
Tightly controlled yet still lyrical these works have more recently expanded in both scale and material. Dominating the gallery are three suspended fibreglass gauze works. Hanging three to five metres high and seeded with living grass in gridded blocks, the gauze supports a variety of nails and tacks which cluster together to form images. These "drawings", created out of traditionally masculine hardware, visually evoke stitching and sewing. In one the image of a dress with embroidery across the chest hangs crucifix-like in front of a veil of grass that has slowly lost colour and died during the exhibition. While providing the matrix for growth, the mesh/grid does not sustain the grass/nature.
Embodying cycles of life and death, these works call for new partnerships of co-operation and sustainability. Encoded with the "eternal" language of classicism, they embrace transience; monumental yet fragile, their power is reinforced by the delicacy of their treatment and detail. This is a finely crafted and reflective exhibition that is rooted in tradition but engages with current issues.
Bernice Stott's enigmatic slide/video installation The Colours that Come Back to You from the World fills the media gallery. Disturbingly large images of a woman's face, floor to ceiling, bounce off the mirrored surfaces of the floor and walls. Dominating the room, the face is "whited-out", mask-like, in the tradition of Japanese Kabuki. Enabling emotions and colours to be played out over its surface, it invokes the disquieting presence of the female masquerade where identity is constructed and multiple.