Archive: Issue No. 73, September 2003

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Mark Hipper

Mark Hipper

Mark Hipper's global-political stance
by Andrew Lamprecht

Mark Hipper's second exhibition at João Ferreira this year sees the artist engaging with media control and other forms of social manipulation. Needless to say, this is something that is close to his heart, ever since the public furore that surrounded his controversial Grahamstown National Arts Festival show in 1998.

Here Hipper engages with, what he describes in his artist's statement as, his "fury/anger/frustration regarding the way the USA manipulated both its audience - us (the rest of the world) - and the reasons (evidence) for going to war." The exhibition consists of 6 large-scale (2.4 x 1.9m) paintings on plywood panels, mounted, as if hovering, about 15cm away from the walls of the new upper space of Ferreira's Hout Street gallery. This presentation is effective, as was his last installation but the scale itself tends to encourage a reading of magnitude that eludes one or two the works.

Directive 9.11 is, as far as I am concerned, the most fascinating and accomplished work on the show. Slightly angled stripes of red and white march across the painting's surface in a neat arrangement. Viewing it at a distance reveals that the red, like the red of Title and some of the other works on display, is made up of a careful, subtle mixing of shades that evokes danger, smoke, and, as I will allude to later, blood.

The white is painted with road white. Hipper reveals in his statement that this is the only work in the exhibition based on an image: an internet picture of a woman falling down out of the World Trade Centre. This work immediately caught my attention, and the artist's revelation as to its source does much to strengthen his claims as to the political nature of this body of work. By removing the figure from the "action" we are forced to contemplate the nature of danger and how "danger" to a nation or people is constructed through the media. It is a most effective statement from Hipper.

There are less successful works. In Prop the surface is dominated by a large swipe of red running from near the top left to the middle of the panel. Tins, cans (mostly rusted) and jutting pieces of wood give stability to the lower sections of the work. Nevertheless this work, as well as Special Effect, which also uses pieces of wood in a similar fashion (accompanied by pieces of hair), fail to impress in the way more restrained work such as Studio or Title did. Studio sees the outlines of a cubic form traced in red on a surface transformed by concrete and graphite, and in Title the viewer is presented with the word Exitus, rendered in rich shades of red against a smooth white surface of enamel paint.

I was also less attracted to Prop, and its all too-literal reference to blood, by means of the symbolism of a pool of red paint. Although this is not the only meaning Hipper wants us to read into the remarkable reds in this exhibition, it does seem to dominate in places. The subtlety of Title and Directive 9.11 are far more convincing.

Overall this is a most accomplished display of painting. Hipper has mounted two highly convincing, engaging, even profound solo exhibitions in the space of a single year. The global-political stance he takes here seems to mark an important shift in his work, and promises rich fruit for the future.

Opening: August 7
Closing: August 30