No Homilies - 'Homing In' at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstownwn
by Mark Hipper
Curated by Virginia MacKenny and Paul Edmunds, 'Homing In' is a show that startles, entices and finally, I think, frustrates and perhaps deliberately thwarts the viewer. This frustration, however, is a way into the thinking around, and experience of, the notions of home explored by these young artists.
'Homing in' suggests, amongst many other associations, close scrutiny, and under this close scrutiny the idea of our home - private refuge and sanctity - is fractured into a number of dislocated and separately contested issues and spaces. Home is what is familiar, but all the works that comprise this show contest that familiarity and reveal our 'home' - that place of comfort, identity, and the sense of belonging that it evokes - as displaced, dislocated and problematic.
Collectively then, these works interrogate our comforting and received notions of 'home', and they invite the viewer to take up this interrogation. Does it matter that individual pieces are unsatisfying, or do not offer answers, eloquent declarations or poignant insights by the artists, but instead are arrested, as it were, at that moment of a sort of horror vacui, emptied as these works are, of all remnants of the consoling associations with our home? It is precisely this shortcoming that allows, I believe, for this interrogation.
Kelly Tuck has 'emptied' a space of all but an armchair and a drawing of a window with burglar bars on one of the walls. The white (innocent) room is thus leaked of all comfort and sanitised to the point of discomfort. Minutely, the word 'emergency' has been embroidered on the white fabric of the armchair.
In one of the interconnected spaces built on a floor plan of an oversized hopscotch game, Milijana Babic has spelt out the word feel in sweets or chocolates coated in silver-blue wrappers; a promise, an invitation, that is forever withheld, removed from us by the clear perspex box that houses these sweets. Below, on the floor, the shadow of this word suggests the fragility of this invocation to feel - what is it that we are asked to feel - and the unattainable attraction and promise of the lure. Sweets dissolve, are the temporary pacifiers that we hand out to children to please them, to soothe their discontent and satisfy their craving.
These two examples are indicative of how this exhibition offers none of this. None of these works render descriptive images of the home, but instead dispel the ever-familiar homilies regarding the home that we hold sacrosanct in the keepsake bell jar of idealized memories, or the cunning simulacra of these used to market consumables and a way of life.
This show, I think, is timely, and courageous; it articulates a sober, thoughtful and at times parodistic (sic) discontent. In that sense it articulates quite acutely an experience of loss, of compromised identity, memory and being. And it does so without taking recourse to the realm of received aesthetic practices or discourse. It is a show that is consequent in its strategy to displace, unsettle and question the familiar. The familiar - home - is always a return to, a repetition of a past experience or pace; it is a fiction we ought no longer to return to if we hope to address the present.
June 27 - July 5
National Festival of the Arts
Mark Hipper is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Rhodes University Fine Art Department.