by Michael Smith (August, 2006)
Frances Goodman prefers to locate her work in a realm where neuroses and obsession manifest as symptoms of threatening social environments. Her work often bears the influence of the trivial, the mundane and the everyday, as these things usually obscure issues that people resist confronting. Her work investigates the moment when routine becomes obsession, that obsession becoming indicative of deep-seated fears, resentment and prejudice.
While Goodman is equally at home in the disciplines of sculpture, photography and sound, a common thread of language emerges from these various disciplines. This in turn reflects her belief that the ubiquitous and insidious nature of language renders it more emotive and unnerving than images by themselves. Her sound works especially operate in a way that marries her interests in language and obsession: eschewing aural abstraction or non-referential 'soundscapes', these works use repetition, instruction, and a curious passive aggression that signals a concern with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
In 2005, Goodman showed a series of photographs and sculptures entitled Love Smells Like Death. In this series, Goodman explored the moment when death begins to overtake beauty, when the beautiful object or creature begins to succumb to the ravages of age and decay. This interest links Goodman with important South African artist Penny Siopis, for whom this concept was pivotal in the mid- to late 80s. There is something of an 'everyman' quality that distinguishes Love Smells Like Death from this influence, however: flowers, seminal images in the series, are such common symbols of love exchanged, affection promised, or sympathy communicated, that their use allows Goodman to locate her exploration in the realm of the everyday.
It is this rooting of lofty existential observations within the realm of the common experience that makes Goodman an interesting young artist. The gallery-generated text for this show (produced by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, and containing writing by curator David Brodie) quoted French theorist George Bataille's statement that '... The flower is betrayed by the fragility of its corolla: thus, far from answering the demands of human [ideals], it is the sign of their failure'. Yet Goodman seems equally home listening to popular music, finding the expressions of very real emotions in this genre as compelling as any of Bataille's observations.
'The mundane, the ordinary and the trivial have always been of interest to me, as I believe they all obscure dark places - issues and emotions that people do not wish to confront.
'I began my investigations into this area with work dealing with routines. More specifically: the fine line that exists where daily routines become obsessions, when they become unacceptable to society. Paranoia and neuroses about specific and seemingly insignificant things often hide deep-seated fears, resentments and prejudices. I used the example of people's fear of germs as a reaction to the physical structures in which they are forced to operate, where there is a distinct lack of space.
'After working with a number of media I eventually found that words and language had the uncanny ability to unnerve and get under people's skins in a way that visual images and modes could not. Words function in a similar way to my concerns: on the surface they seem simple and clear, and yet they are often full of innuendo and subtexts. They too have a dark underbelly. This is because they do not hold a sacred position in society, which often seems the case with many art forms. They are the raw matter of life, the buildings-blocks of relationships and social interactions.
'I work with everyday issues such as relationships, violence, personal impressions and memories, all of which seem to be based on collective emotions that are experienced individually, and feel deeply personal and unique to everyone. I love listening to Pop songs on the radio because no matter what mood I'm in I will eventually hear a song that expresses the way I feel. I intend my work to function in this manner because the subject matter is deeply personal, while being broadly based which makes it accessible and familiar to the listener.'
In June 2006 Goodman had a sellout success at the Goodman Gallery stand at Art Basel. A series of 20 embellished cushion-like wall sculptures sold out within two hours of the show opening, with orders received for a further 40 works. The works combine numerous familiar aspects of the artist's output, but develop them further. The works pit seductive surfaces and labour-intensive production processes against the viscerality and immediacy of the words and phrases they contain.
The surfaces of these works are encrusted with a variety of items, from beads and sequins to Swarovski crystals. They operate on two levels of visual embellishment: first, they are often enlivened with a pattern of some sort. Frequently the designs of these patterns exist somewhere between the decorative and the biological, which proves subtly disquieting. These grounds are overlayed with pairs of words, usually an adjective and an abstract noun. The resultant phrases reference intense emotions, like 'bloody rage', 'blinding love' or 'consuming jealousy'. The overtly kitsch qualities of the text-style and embellishment serve to locate the phrases within the high melodrama of the soap opera or the Agony Aunt columns.
And yet, Goodman seems to insist that these emotions, no matter how ubiquitous or shop-worn, remain important because they are the stuff of real everyday life. Of course, an interesting sort of street-smart post-feminism informs the artist's choice of materials, as if Goodman, tongue firmly in cheek, is channeling the humourless earnestness of the typical undergrad's 'reclaiming of women's work' into something altogether more savvy.
'Petit Mort' in 2005 at the Goodman Gallery established Goodman's reputation locally. Her adept shifts between disciplines and visual languages in one show revealed her as an artist of significant dexterity and strategic intelligence. The show's title references the tradition in more flowery French pornographic writing of terming the moment of orgasm a 'little death'. This tactic of linking sex with death, while not new, definitely takes on fresh resonance in a country beset by the ravages of STI's. More than this, however, it established Goodman's field of reference as being the inevitability of loss and decay, and the moment of ecstasy being the beginning of all inevitable disappointment that follows.
Her multifarious approach has enabled her to foreground certain aspects of her work at different times for different shows. For example, '[prologue] Reclaiming Europe from a new feminist perspective' at the Cornerhouse, Manchester UK, allowed her to participate as a voice from the colonial margins in the interrogation of a post-colonial European paradigm.
Numerous solo student shows and participation in group shows around Europe and South Africa preceded 'Petit Mort', most tellingly involvement in 'Your Heart is No Match for My Love' at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, USA in 2004.
'Double Check: Re-Framing Space in Photography' at the Camera Austria, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria, allowed Goodman to explore the role of photography in her practice. David, 2002 - 3 took the form of a sound installation. Creating an environment as part of the work, Goodman hung headphones with the audio content of the work in a room created to look like a gym hall, with mirrors and a wooden floor. The 'David' of the title is presented as an unattainable entity, an ideal that disappoints in its inaccessibility. The aural element of the work combined music, found sounds and spoken word, creating a rich mental environment at odds with the mundanity of the physical space created.
In 2001, Voice of Reason was presented on 'Juncture' in London and Cape Town, a show which she co-curated with artist Robyn Denny. The work explored Goodman's interest in germ- and hygiene-related neuroses. Of this work, art historian Jacqueline Nolte said: 'In Frances Goodman's sound installation, the body is less an object of desire than a source of all manner of fears associated with its being a shared frontier... Goodman's gestures are directed toward an interrogation of both the pristine confines of personal space, as distinct from contaminated public space, and the gallery space, as distinct from its more soiled surrounds. Goodman pursues anxieties to the point of phobia; the process of living represented as inherently invasive, alien and dangerous.'
In 2000, Goodman completed an Master's Degree through the prestigious Goldsmith's College in London, and held a two-person show with Moshekwa Langa at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.
Goodman is working towards a new body of her cushion-type works for Art Basel Miami. This will effectively extend her visibility, which has been significant in Europe and South Africa, into the USA.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1975
Graduated with a Fine Art Degree from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in 1998
Graduated with an MA from Goldsmith's College in London in 2000
Resident at HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Art) in Antwerp, Belgium, from 2001 to 2003
Lives and works in Belgium and South Africa
SELECTED SOLO SHOWS
2005 'Petit Mort' at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
2004 Solo Exhibition, KULAK, University of Kortrijk, Belgium
2000 Goldsmith's MA Exhibition, Goldsmith's College, London
2005 '[prologue ] Reclaiming Europe from a new feminist perspective', Cornerhouse, Manchester UK
'Art out of Place' , Norwich Castle Museum and Art gallery, Norwich, UK
'Double Check Re-Framing Space in Photography: The other Parallel Histories', Camera Austria, Kunsthaus Graz, Austria
2004 'Your Heart is No Match for My Love', The Soap Factory, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA
'Show Us What You're Made Of', The Premises, Johannesburg, SA
'After Hours' and 'In/Out', Hisk, Antwerp, Belgium
2003 'Something About Love', Casino, Luxembourg, Luxembourg
'Intimate/Inanimate Moments', The Process Room, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland
2001 'Fluid', Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK
'Juncture', The Granary, Cape Town, South Africa; Studio Voltaire, London
'Body: Rest and Motion', Oudtshoorn Festival, South Africa
2000 Two-person exhibition with Moshekwa Langa at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
2002 Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Scholarship, South Africa
2001 Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Scholarship, South Africa
2000 Visiting Arts Award for Juncture, Visiting Arts, UK
1997 Martienssen Prize First Prize Winner, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
University of the Witwatersrand, Anya Millman Travel Scholarship, South Africa
University of the Witwatersrand Sculpture Merit Award, South Africa