Archive: Issue No. 78, February 2004

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Brendhan Dickerson

Brendhan Dickerson
'Overkill', 2003/4
stainless steel

Brendhan Dickerson

Brendhan Dickerson
The Long Arm of Denial, 2003/4
stainless steel

Brendhan Dickerson

Brendhan Dickerson
The President's Entourage, 2003/4
stainless steel

Brendhan Dickerson

Brendhan Dickerson
'Uber-baby', 2003/4
stainless steel

Brendhan Dickerson

Brendhan Dickerson
'Vok Voort', 2003/4
stainless steel


Brendhan Dickerson at the AVA
by Kim Gurney

Walking into the AVA's main gallery, to view Dickerson's mobile stainless steel sculptures hanging suspended from the roof could be compared to a reading of three-dimensional newspaper cartoons: the light-hearted inward breath of anticipation, the three-second survey, a quick referral to the caption, followed by a final satisfying epiphany in the 'a-ha' moment. With an eye for absurdity and a gifted hand guided by a sharp wit, Dickerson has crafted a highly enjoyable body of work to mark his return to South Africa, after two years in Ireland. 'Suspended Disbelief' is the name of the show, referring both to form and content.

Dickerson takes a satirical bite out any self-rtant pomposity. The two-faced politician, the starry-eyed lover and the fanatical eugenicist all earn his ire. Dickerson's motley crew of metal characterslecting various states of all-too-human denial are perfectly balanced in frozen animation - and yet perilously so. One slight push by a viewer and it soon becomes apparent these sculptures are finely crafted engineering feats, equally effective static or recovering their equilibrium.

Dickerson says: "I am fascinated with precariousness: things that change and transform." This preoccupation is also evident in his well-known fire sculptures comprising wire armatures bound with a wick and burnt in 10-second performances. But to witness this transient art, South Africans will have to wait a few more months.

There is nothing subtle about Dickerson's message. Unlike the man himself, sculptures like Vok Voort offer themselves up (in this case, quite literally) with no hint of self-consciousness. And yet there is still enough ambiguity to allow viewers to inject their own interpretations. According to Dickerson, this is as it should be. He cites one of his works at the Johannesburg Art Gallery concerning the baggage of life, which has been re-interpreted by visiting school children as relating to mining. The message might be plain but there is no lack of finesse.

Dickerson says: "I am also interested in a fine sense of materials - making manifest beauty in the world. I have little truck with new media, for instance, which often mistakes the medium for the message."

When viewing this work, it is almost impossible to avoid thinking of that master of mobiles, Alexander Calder. The other immediate impression is how closely Dickerson's works resemble line drawings in space - a sensitive flow unexpected from a hard medium. The decisive strands of steel appear so casually descriptive. But each line carries the heavy responsibility of defining both form and volume and there is no such spontaneity to their craftsmanship. According to Dickerson, each line is reworked until it claims for itself the perfect place.

The different mobiles hang together well as a whole, and arguably form Dickerson's most coherently produced body of work since his Masters in 1995. Perhaps this success is a consequence of fully resolving the pieces in maquette form before realizing the larger scale structures.

Dickerson is optimistic about his return to South Africa: "The country is vibrant and exciting and I want to be part of that. It is my home and where I feel more alive." Those sentiments certainly emerge through his work. One gets the feeling Dickerson has found his voice - loud and clear.

Petra Keinhorst's drawings, spanning several years, on show upstairs, form a pleasing counterbalance to Dickerson's mobiles. Keinhorst is more introspective, showing a series of intense and compact studies in contrast to Dickerson's extrovert and expansive style. Yet they have similarities too: while Dickerson's sculptures evoke line drawings, Keinhorst's drawings have a three-dimensional aspect to them.

"People do say they feel a sense of energy coming towards them [from my drawings]. And perhaps it is a way for me to gain energy for other work too," she says. That work includes life-size wax sculptures, which Keinhorst aims to develop further this year.

Keinhorst's pencil and Chinese ink drawings are visions of organic forms or scenes, while some have figures flying in these visualized spaces. She says the challenge in drawing is to find "an honest line". Her own drawings she explains as a kind of vision, often inspired by long walks - "a head-space which does not exist in reality".

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