Ruth Sacks at Joáo Ferreira
by Paul Edmunds
There is something of Miss Havisham's house in Ruth Sacks' 'Works in wax and plastic'. But while they both concern themselves with preservation, there are no cobwebs and decaying fabric here. Sacks has filled the startlingly white gallery with rich, opulent surfaces, substances and carefully fashioned objects. Most works are made from found objects coated and saturated with resin, polyurethane and wax. These substances work by penetrating and covering surfaces thereby preventing oxidation and decay. Resins are hard, glassy and brittle. Wax on the other hand, is sympathetic to the touch, yields and distorts with even the heat of a human hand. Sacks renders her objects both impervious and vulnerable. I'm often skeptical of work made with wax and resin, it so often being the default of students and amateurs alike, but Sacks uses materials and objects with great attention to their physical and emotional properties. Her hand is sensitive and her attention to detail essential.
Dark Horse presents us with a toy horse, large enough to be straddled by a small child. Layers of resin coat the object, lending it a deep, absorbent colour. Reminiscent of a roundabout horse, this object promises similar magic. Tentatively, a fleshy wax horn grows from the horse's forehead and wings bud at its shoulders. Where the damaged, old-fashioned toy from which this sculpture is fashioned speaks of a bygone era, its transformation sees it alive and well in the realm of dream, imagination and hope. The wax elements are fleshy and fruit-like, suggesting something of the magic of Springtime and also something of its passing.
A similar kind of transformation is suggested by Urban Flowers. This assemblage, casually strewn across the floor, comprises urban detritus - builder's rubble, an old clay pipe and various abandoned car parts. Amongst this one slowly picks out several flowers, beautifully made of carefully folded photographs. Faceted surfaces and forms suggest quartz crystals, the hard shiny resin coating them also alludes to such durability and preciousness. The idea of flowers growing amongst rubble is perhaps a little hackneyed, but Sacks' sensitive hand and layered conception works here. It seems, when looking closer, that the photographs from which the flowers are made themselves capture dirty, worn concrete surfaces. Urban Flowers thus situates itself on a continuum, and while the flowers represent the triumph of growth over decay, they also embody their own demise.
Chocolate Stand and You can't have your cake and eat it too are lavish arrangements of faithfully and beautifully recreated cakes and confectionery. In the former, a tiered stand holds a vast array of small wax and resin 'chocolates' in paper cookie cups. The sustenance suggested by this opulence is an illusion - they are inedible and handling the wax will distort the forms and mark their surfaces with fingerprints. A vanilla scent emanates from the construction, making it all the more tempting.
On the face of it, this is not really my kind of work - I tend to shy away from the visceral and I've already mentioned my aversion to resin - but in Sacks' skilful hands, and with a careful selection of found objects, the work is neither overly-emotive, tackily produced or gratuitously visceral. Instead, it is careful, fresh and sensitive.
The show closes on February 22
João Ferreira Gallery, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town
Tel: 021 423 5403 or 082 490 2977
Fax: 021 423 2136
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 6pm, Sat 10am - 2pm