Excessive Surfaces: Gina Waldman at Bell-Roberts
by Ruth Sacks
The current show at the Bell-Roberts could easily be mistaken for a collection of clothing designers' storyboards. Different sized surfaces are coated with fake flowers, ribbons, glitter and lots of pins. Each piece could well be the background concept for an upcoming season of camp and kitsch. This idea was encouraged by the fact that the artist herself wore gold lam� to the opening to match Pollination, a large painting made up of gold glitter and sequins. This was a rather nice touch.
Waldman is no stranger to the ephemeral language of fashion. She is co-owner of her own clothing label, Boom Factory, most noted for its range of girls' underwear. Her art practice in 2004 places the frivolous trimmings of clothes and accessories into the arena of serious art discourse. Unfortunately, the written explanation of this exhibition appears to be as kitsch as Waldman's chosen materials.
Statements like 'the artist strives to decorate the damaged' and to 'speak of the inner psychological human condition' are problematic. If the chosen objects are superficially attractive to start with, just what is the damaged thing that is being prettified? Grand statements like these undermine the viewer's ability to take the show at face value and formulate their own judgments.
More successful pieces are attractive visual studies. Within deep black frames and set behind glass are concentrated layers of chaotic colours and shapes. Swops I and II use flat, mass-produced images of generic flowers, manically arranged and assembled with pins, to create a unique, almost organic whole.
This series becomes interesting when real butterflies are included in the jumble alongside fake ones in Artifice. While the artificial representations will last forever, the real insects are dead and already disintegrating (bits of broken wing can be seen lying at the bottom of the frame).
Another stronger work, Pollution II, has a dense surface made up entirely of tightly packed white chef's gloves. These are held in place with hundreds of pins. The coloured plastic pinheads form a floating layer of different colours over the white gloves, creating an artificial spectrum of pastel reflections. These smaller pieces in box format have a sense of containment; they speak of a curiosity cabinet gone wrong.
The larger, unframed pieces don't sit comfortably in the same space. Untitled (red) is an array of silk flowers, occasionally interspersed with gold tinsel. Inter - consists of fabric overlaid with gold brooches. While these make for attractive invitations, it is not quite clear how they function as artworks.
Waldman's wallpaper series is easier to read as it refers directly to fa�ades. The ink drawings sketched on scraps of old wallpaper are suggestive of landscapes. The works could be seen as a critique on the traditional landscape genre. That is, there is a suggestion that a lot of art serves as glorified wallpaper. Many buyers do want something that matches the curtains to hang on the walls.
'Excessive Surfaces' comes at the tail end of a run of exhibitions using an excess of mass produced objects from consumer culture. Both Julia Clark's recent 'A Million Trillion Gazillion' and Joanne Bloch's 'Thingerotomy' exhibitions at at Jo�o Ferreira, employed plastic trinkets, pins, glitter and cut-outs to critique greater societal issues. While the work of all three artists appears playful on the surface, there is an underlying suggestion of obsessive neurosis. However, where Clark and Bloch's messages are usually quite straightforward, Waldman's is more abstract. It's difficult to pinpoint the substance behind the surfaces, partly because of the disparity between the different pieces on display.
Kitsch is a tricky area to dabble in. One's never quite sure if too much camp is ironic or just plain bad taste.
Ruth Sacks is a practising artist and teacher who lives and works in Cape Town.