The 2003 KKNK: A Report Back
by Sean O'Toole
Despite being warned that the KKNK was a rather chintzy affair, there was a lot to be taken in by at this year's event. Like Doreen Southwood's untitled exhibition.
Last year I listed Southwood's show 'Nothing Really Matters', at the Bell-Roberts, as a personal disappointment. It seems that early into 2003 her new show is my current highlight. This is because in a rather modest little room, in the Principia College, Southwood created a taught little exhibition. All the elements of her show reverberated with a subdued power. The Swimmer, a painted bronze sculpture of a young woman in bathing suit, precariously perched at the end of a diving board, evoked just the right amount of latent tension.
Understated is probably the right word in describing Southwood's show. At no point didactic, the positioning of her new, wall-mounted Black Hole created just the right amount of tension when viewed alongside the dispassionate swimmer, the young woman's eyes fixed on the white nothingness ahead. A consummately pieced together solo effort.
The last time I saw Antoinette Murdoch's work at the Spark gallery, in Johannesburg, I was a little disappointed. Her infatuation with domestic kitsch reminded me of V�ronique Malherbe circa Bob's Bar, and her thought processes appeared scattered. Seemingly she wished to emulate the same domestic psychosis as Southwood but ended-up belaboured by kitsch.
Murdoch's new work for Oudtshoorn - heart shaped sculptures made out of fabric tape measures - was however far more focussed, paired-down and entirely less obvious in how it asked one to interpret the work. It suggests a heartening return to form by an artist that once so excited Okwui Enwezor that he wrote a full-page review of her first solo show, for the prestigious art magazine Frieze.
The two other female solo artists at the Principia College were Fritha Langerman and Isabella Quattrocchi. Langerman's 'Learning to Speak' show comprised, amongst other things, rows of painstakingly crafted box sculptures. Titled Black Boxes, the work was highly reminiscent of Willem Boschoff's work. More impressive was Remembering and Forgetting, an elaborate sculptural piece featuring an outdated kitchen weighing machine set atop a plinth bristling with spikes. "Wate" it instructed. A show that explored the imaging, imagining and symbolism of notions of nationhood, the small space did not entirely benefit Langerman's enquiry into systems of ordering.
Although Isabella Quattrocchi made better use of her allotted space than Langerman, she was the least engaging of the four female artists. Her detailed drawings were overlaid with large transparent gauze netting, the latter encrusted with metal. This effectively created a grid-like structure, something that appeared to have a rather benign function. Like Diane Victor though, her drawings are technically impressive and similarly disturbing.
There was an almost unbearable lightness to Wim Botha's installation, the second in his 'commune' series. Not only were there a profusion of fluorescent lights, but everything, the large parlour table, the ceremonial washbasin, the leaky ceiling, all were suspended from the ceiling. Easier to describe than to interpret, the work included many recurrent motifs. Hyenas particularly were a common image. They appeared in the four lead-glass windows, two of the three etchings, as well as the suspended ceiling detail that dripped water onto an indented parlour table with hyena cornices.
Why a hyena? Traditionally this animal is regarded as a scavenger. The insertion of its image into an environment strongly reminiscent of traditional pioneer homes offers many interesting possibilities. The fact too that everything was suspended only added to the awkward tone of the overall piece. Immense, and at times inscrutable, Botha's latest work was demanding in a way that few might have expected, or for that matter have been equipped to handle while casually steering their way through an art programme that included a Tretchikoff retrospective and a poor group show that brought together female artists from across the African continent.
Was this difficulty though necessary on Botha's part? Yes; the only danger is in getting all tongue-tied trying to explain his work. "It is a useful working rule that clarity of expression is an index to clarity if thought." Judging by their output at this year's KKNK, Wim Botha and Doreen Southwood ably vindicated my old law professor's comments.
March 29 - April 5