Fabian Saptouw at Michael Stevenson Side Gallery
by Tavish McIntosh
As the pungent, heady and ultimately organic aroma of the canvas' raw cotton met my nostrils, the realisation that Fabian Saptouw is an artist well versed in the complex interrelation between materialism and conceptualism is borne upon me. His installation, 'Unravelled and Rewoven Canvas', is the fruit of a laborious process of futility whereby the artist painstakingly unravelled a piece of canvas, labeling the threads numerically as he did this. The carefully preserved threads were then used in their original order to recreate a hand-woven canvas of the same size. Although his installation appears initially to be the fruit of rampant conceptualism, Saptouw is clearly responsive to the material demands of art-making.
Indeed Saptouw pointedly investigates the historical enmeshing of art and craft, highlighting the a-priori importance of craftsmanship in creating the classical masterpiece by deconstructing and reconstructing the traditional ground of painting: the canvas. Canvas has featured as a ground for oil painting since the 15th century, but it is an often unacknowledged feature of the discipline. The demands of smooth finishes and photo-realistic paintings mean that the material weave of the canvas itself is often obscured. In a material deconstruction of this obfuscating process, Saptouw gives the canvas a chance to tell its own story. The artist documented the process of unravelling and reweaving the canvas via a CCTV camera in his studio, revealing the process that went into his final product.
The work is indeed far more concerned with process and production than with the finished product. And more attention is paid to the off-cuts, the excesses and the archives of that than to the central piece of canvas. The numbered threads, the technical graphs, Saptouw's carefully carved tools and the CCTV cassettes crowd around the loom, overwhelming the raw canvas. Saptouw deliberately includes both the tools that constructed the piece and the obsolete threads, the used cassettes and those that remain blank.
I last saw this installation at the Michaelis Graduate exhibition and the change effected by a suitable setting is remarkable. Here the grey walls bring out Saptouw's carefully preserved canvas threads, painstakingly numbered and stuck up in ordered rows like organic bar-codes. These relics of the original piece are obsolete; without the weaving machine the canvas became far less dense and consequently needed far fewer threads to complete. Like a large composition of its own, the pattern of these redundant threads is complemented by the intricate patterning of the hand-woven canvas and the grey walls against which they are arranged bring out the monochromatic tones of the CCTV recordings playing in the corner. Saptouw's installation, in this setting, comes into its own and reveals all its theoretical and aesthetic nuances.
Saptouw is currently completing his Master's degree at Michaelis School of Fine Art.
Opens: July 12
Closes: August 11
Michael Stevenson Gallery
Hill House, De Smidt Street, Green Point
Tel: (021) 421 2575
Fax: (021) 421 2578
Hours: Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm