Archive: Issue No. 71, July 2003

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Johannesburg gallery roundup
by Sean O'Toole

The temperature has dipped below zero recently. Sadly there is little on the exhibition circuit to warm the spirits.

The most striking thing about Obie Oberholzer's exhibition at PhotoZA (Rosebank) is the image confronting you as you enter the gallery. It depicts mutilated and crushed cans collected by the photographer, presumably while mapping and photographing the length and breadth of South Africa (Australia too if you look carefully). Luxuriously printed with special pigments on a textured paper, the photograph has a charming, decorative quality. Less convincing are the photographer's pseudo ethnographic studies of South Africa's 'diversity', as well as his largely forgettable experiments with light painting.

The Johannesburg Art Gallery's project space dedicated to new and emerging talent, X-Gallery, has hosted some interesting shows over the last few months. Most notable amongst these was Churchill Madikida's rather eclectic installation titled 'Liminal States'. I was less convinced by his elaborate construction hindering access to his resonant video piece depicting the artist force-feeding himself with maize, only to later regurgitate the staple diet. Less disturbing than it was subtly amusing, the work is open to many interpretations. I liked it because it reminded me of reminded me of a video piece by American installation artist Bruce Nauman in which people shouted the word work ceaselessly.

An interesting pairing of sculptures and canvasses by Keith Sondiyazi and Louis Chamane followed Madikida's show. Chamane might have tended to over populate the space with too many of his teak sculptures, but on the odd occasion they had a striking poignancy. Keith Sondiyazi's acrylic works were reminiscent of Walter Mayer's studies of outmoded buildings and structures, yet conveyed enough of a stylistic difference to merit attention. Mostly the subject matter was Boksburg, that dull east Rand town once the subject of Goldblatt's attentions.

After receiving a photocopied notice advertising an art sale at the Unknown Gallery I decided to visit this unknown gallery. Don't let the location, 9th Avenue Melville opposite Service Station, put you off. Never mind the oddity of some of its staff either, or the paucity of the work on offer in this slightly dishevelled space - your perseverance will be rewarded. The Unknown Gallery holds rare one-off monotype prints by the eccentric poet slash artist Wopko Jensma. Executed in blue ink, the prints richly convey the (ultimately tragic) schizophrenia that beset this visionary artist. That they are dated 1976 only adds to the poignancy of the visual claustrophobia they depict. 1976 wasn't a good year for South Africa.

Some still tend to sneer sarcastically when you mention the Bag Factory. Having walked a somewhat circuitous route around it myself for some time I was pleasantly surprised by the refurbished gallery space. The central reception area has been given more than a simple whitewash and now capably serves as a gallery space. While I am personally unconvinced by Bongi Bengu's work, David Koloane and Sam Nhlengethwa offered interesting pieces worthy of a pause.

Last on the list, and not strictly a gallery space, I visited the new constitutional court. This R90-million structure will soon host works by artists such as Penny Siopis and Walter Oltmann. Although not many artists reportedly responded to the call for submissions, a sneak preview offered by architect Andrew Makin confirmed that this showpiece structure is going to be a much-talked building. "What we are doing here is reconfiguring history for the benefit of the future as opposed to simply moping about it," Makin told me. Doubtlessly those artist's who elected not to respond will realise that history has bypassed them only once the building has opened, and by the then its too late.