Joanne Bloch, Langa Magwa and Mark Hipper at the National Arts Festival
by Virginia MacKenny
In an attempt to increase the visibility of the visual arts, this year's National Arts Festival also sponsored an exhibition of the work of Tracey Rose (see Edmunds review) and two official artists-in-residence: Joanne Bloch and Langa Magwa
Joanne Bloch is one of the festival's more idiosyncratic artists. A collector of all things plastic and kitsch she buys up fridge magnets, plastic toys and ornamental bric-a-brac. Arriving at the festival with containers full, she eschewed the officially designated Thomas Pringle Hall and set up shop in a small room just off its perimeter. Here she started pinning up her treasure, filling boards with selections based either on colour or content.
One board became the depository for a massed collection of plastic food, another was filled with body parts - hands, arms, eyes and hearts - while another brimmed with all things blue. Far from being random collections the works contain witty and ironic reflections on contemporary culture. The food board contains a tiny sign saying 'Keep Thin' while the body part piece is interspersed with different cutting implements such as knives and axes, also in plastic. Their ability to function remains purely symbolic. More recent works take as their starting point key works from the canon of Western art and recreate them with alternative materials - another comment on the commodification of culture?
Langa Magwa festooned his area with cowhides, which he proceeded to work on, covering the floor with the hair he shaved off the hides. The recipient of a DaimlerChrysler nomination for sculpture last year, Magwa has consistently been engaged with the valorisation of Africa. Last year on Carol Brown's 'Male Order' he exhibited monumental tribal bracelets and on 'Outpost II', in Stellenbosch, his extraordinary books made of hide and mud spoke eloquently of 'texts' accessible only to the initiate.
While the sheer presence of the hides proved powerful, Magwa's work for the festival lacked his previous inventiveness. It seemed to disturbingly fall prey to an Africa-by-numbers stereotype with its map of the continent emblazoned with a spear-wielding fist. One can only hope that this was an expedient way of dealing with the pressures of being viewed while in production - an uncomfortable situation for most artists.
Another show that carried some stature within the festival ambit but which was not part of the official programme was Mark Hipper's 'Exitus'. Well known for provoking controversy (his drawings of naked children created an outcry while his show of body masks displaying a range of male members was equally provocative) 'Exitus' was painted in response to the American invasion of Iraq and the media circus that accompanied it.
Surprisingly, given Hipper's success in the realm of sculpture, the show is dominated by painting, albeit it a painting that treads a curious path between two and three-dimensions. Dominated by red, large canvases float on the wall. Each is given a title that relates to an aspect of movie making.
Several of the panels borrow from Hipper's last show 'Inquisitors', where branches appeared to penetrate the gallery wall. Here smaller versions protrude from the painting surface. While in 'Inquistitors' these branches were powerful in their probing presence here that power is somewhat diminished. Perhaps surprisingly it is the pure paintings that carry the greatest conviction.
A large red and white chevron painting with bleeding edges is the first encounter in the room; its simple abstraction is based on the lines of the World Trade Centre from a media image. Abstract but with referential associations it signals it message with masking tape bleeding edges and subtle tonal shifts, which seem to allude to another lurking presence behind the flat surface.
Another work that also creates a powerful pull is Hipper's painting of the studio. A grey panel has the outline of a room in perspective drawn in red paint. Reminiscent of Barnett Newman's 'zip' paintings and Matisse's studio paintings (who lived through two world wars without overtly rendering their effects) it reflects a meditative space cut through by a disturbing undercurrent.
June 27 - July 5
National Festival of the Arts