Kevin Brand, Samson Mudzunga and Walter Oltmann at MSCG
by Kim Gurney
Without wanting to sound like a party-pooper, I must admit that 10 years of democracy is starting to lose its appeal. The attractive binary has spawned so many shows, exhibitions and other celebratory events that the glittery sheen is starting to wear thin.
In this context, Kevin Brand's latest installation at the Michael Stevenson Contemporary Gallery was a welcome relief. Eleven-a-side is the title of his 22 painted bronze figures of football players, derived from the table-top game familiar to pub-goers and arcade fans around the world.
Both teams are represented by combinations of four sculptures of single players, two double-figure pieces and one trio, each player painted in white or yellow kit. They stand just below eye-level, with half their height due to a pedestal of expanded steel.
In this case, however, the football players are rendered useless. They have no arms, there is no lever to manipulate their bodies, and the figures are all fixed in separate groupings rather than playing as a team. Each figure or group of figures is named according to its function but we all know that no ball is going to get kicked about here.
As a viewer, one is immediately implicated in this dysfunctional game as you walk among the players and scan each face for a flicker of intelligence. Instead, dumb expressions of gaping mouths and senseless eyes refuse to acknowledge their futility. They are frozen in their arrested state, some even tilted in a pathetic gesture of anticipated action.
Eleven-a-side immediately recalls Brand's 1988 installation of Nineteen Boys Running, which commented upon the politics of the time. One cannot help but draw parallels between the two. Structurally, they both have plinths as integral elements but the football game also speaks clearly to me as a new political metaphor of our time.
Our 'rainbow nation' is the product of very particular branding. Its multi-coloured packaging, each person weighted equally in this new victorious team, reveals a different reality within. Unwrapping the contents can be a let-down. Grim disparities that disconnect team members threaten to scupper the whole exercise.
Next door, Walter Oltmann (Standard Bank Young Artist for 2001) exhibits a range of works constructed of the wire technique for which he has become well known. Intricately woven but seemingly disconnected objects adorn the walls: a locust, flowers, a pillow with an insect resting upon it, sandals, a bedroll and a larva suit.
The latter is certainly the centre-piece (with a price tag to match) and is accompanied by two beautiful pencil and ink drawings. Larva Suit II is technically brilliant, revealing a fastidious eye for detail and masterful technique.
Larva Suit II speaks strongly of dichotomies. Its powerful presence simultaneously conveys absence of the body within the suit. Its aggressive armour suggests a need for protection. This vulnerability is exaggerated by the elongated arms and awkward substitution of two pincer-like wire extensions for hands and feet.
In his recent work, Oltmann explores images that tease the borderlines between categorisations of humans, animals and plants. He often plays with paradoxes between vulnerability and the monstrous in his sculptures. This show pulls all these threads together.
In the first two rooms of the gallery, Samson Mudzunga presents a minimal show that somehow suits his enigmatic nature. Well known for his eccentric performances, which include enactments of 'burials' and 'resurrections', Mudzunga presents a video piece that documents a recent performance, Suka Afrika Fundudzi.
This was an attempt by the Venda artist to unite the people of a small Limpopo village called Dopeni. It included the symbolic unlocking of a padlock fixing wooden chains around his feet.
Mudzunga has become well known over the past decade for his carvings of large drums, which he uses to interrogate the customs of his community. In this show, he exhibits only one of these special drums. The drumstick is cleverly designed with a hand on one end, which the drummer must hold in order to beat the taut surface.
His work was recently included in an exhibition called 'New Identities' in Bochum, Germany, and a work closely related to that on show here is currently to be seen on 'Personal Affects' at New York's Museum of African Art.
Opens: September 15
Closes: October 23