Jeremy Wafer at the Sasol Art Museum
by Paul Edmunds
Anything said about Jeremy Wafer's work is bound to remain only an approximation of what it is he has produced. Clearly his work operates within systems and structures but their principle remains fractionally beyond your grasp.
The title of the exhibition 'Survey' is carefully chosen to denote not only the retrospective nature of the exhibition, but also the scrutiny and organising principles that inform Wafer's work. Wafer's survey is not empirical in the linear sense, but is precise, evocative and relational.
Any attempt to deal with the curiously shaped spaces and puttyish colour scheme of the Sasol Art Museum is bold. To utilise all of its surfaces - the dull walls, carpeted screens and harsh white cornices - is extremely ambitious. Wafer does this with aplomb, casually leaning works against the walls, working directly on their surfaces and dividing the spaces with deliberately offset screen constructions. The show occupies the main round upstairs space and one smaller room off to the side.
The Anthole (1996) series is hung from a wall of screens which bisects the smaller space at an angle. Comprising a collection of 25 black-and-white photographs of antholes, its intention is not immediately clear. Of course a simple answer will never suffice, but one can begin to grasp Wafer's methodology. The antholes, with their near perfect symmetry, represent the deliberate and repeated actions of their inhabitants. For most of us, one anthole remains pretty much the same as any other, but Wafer's prints reveal their individuality. I doubt this is his entire aim, but examining the relationship of the individual to the collective remains a constant. Both the artist and the ants, operating at their particular scale and within their particular systems establish their own modes of order.
In Stones #1 (2001) (from the Stones series), Wafer photographed a section of ground and then counted and numbered (digitally) each stone. At some point he must have decided that anything smaller than a certain size was no longer a stone and remained ground. The square format stabilises the image and provides a frame and scale within which Wafer's system can function. In another, he uses lines to join individual stones as if describing a constellation.
Symmetry and stability inform the beautiful Republic series (2001). A group of five drawings line up in front of the windowed wall. Wafer has taken heraldic elements and composed silhouetted crests, all of which, but for one, are symmetrical about the horizontal and the vertical. The drawings are made in purple stamp pad ink on dull, brown card. The bruise-like colours and the way in which the ink has drawn the paper in towards itself suggest the nature of an official stamp, but it is the uncanny symmetry which niggles. Crests are often symmetrical about the vertical and perhaps this is a function of the stability they apparently represent. The horizontal symmetry, however, speaks more of reflection. This work is perhaps the most sinister in appearance. The ideas of territory and officialdom evoked by Republic are present in several others.
Estate (1996) comprises 96 ovoid frames containing either a matt red oxide surface or the name of housing estates near to where Wafer worked while on an exchange in the UK. The names - 'New Zealand House', 'South Africa House' etc. - refer to far-off colonies and territories. Places are thus related to each other in a manner akin to pebbles in the Stones series, but perhaps less innocuously. Wafer examines similar relationships in Amsterdam Oost, which comprises vinyl letters installed directly on the museum's walls. Here, street names referring to the Boer War, which Wafer photographed in Amsterdam, are interspersed with a handful of more recently named streets honouring heroes of South Africa's liberation struggle.
Two works entitled Horizon illustrate the slippery nature of Wafer's production. A two-metre long lozenge-shaped fibreglass, wax and pigment construction hangs relief-like on the wall. It is made up of a series of intersecting flattened spheres, the number which is difficult to ascertain without counting. I am reminded of Brancusi's Endless Column, which also consisted of a number of similar elements. Horizon is similar to Brancusi�s attempt at indefinite continuation; one can't rest one's eyes on the entire dimension of Wafer's piece. Just like the horizon, it retreats as you advance.
Opens: October 10
Closes: November 24
Sasol Art Museum, 52 Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch
Tel: 021 808 3693
Fax: 021 808 3669
Hours: Tues - Fri, 9 a.m - 4 p.m, Wed 9 a.m - 8 p.m, Sat 9 a.m - 5 p.m, Sun 2 p.m - 5 p.m