'Arcadia' at AVA
by Michael Chandler
Although Julius Mfethe's 'Recent Works' was not curatorially part of Kevin Brand and Sanell Aggenbach's 'Arcadia', the nature of the juxtaposition was such that student reviewer Michael Chandler took them to be part of the same undertaking. I have chosen to leave his review as is - Paul Edmunds, Copy Editor
Arcadia is something that has been a part of the human consciousness for justabout as long as man has been around. It is a picturesque, rural region of ancient Greece that was viewed as the ideal landscape of peace and contentment. Arcadia is synonymous with Utopia or Shangri La and although these places stem from other cultures, their concept is ultimately the same - a place of fundamental bliss and harmony. The exhibition at the AVA explores the notion of Arcadia through the works of three artists. While Julius Mfethe's work is more optimistic about Arcadia, Kevin Brand reveals how the notion of Arcadia has transformed from an idealistic rural place into chic, technologically-emphasized space. Kevin Brand's works, however, are ambiguous. While they seem to supply a recipe for contemporary happiness, they also are critical of the minimal and molded lives we live.
Sanell Aggenbach literally 'attacks' the concept of Arcadia with her piece entitled Crossfire: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right. The show involves the viewer moving from one Arcadian attitude to another, enticing them to question their understanding of perfect happiness. Aggenbach's piece is the first work that one is confronted by when entering the gallery. On either side of a long, narrow room are her signature round canvases which have soft, pink scenes of natural vistas painted on them. The gentle mood that these windows into 'Utopia' evoke is shattered by a flurry of arrows striking on and around the canvasses.
The artist explains that the work acts as an elegy of the cycle of violence, and how violence leads back to violence. The notion of retribution is suggested by an 'arrow for an arrow', 'eye for an eye' set-up created by her mirroring works. The lighting causes the arrows to splinter and 'slice up' the canvases, lending even more trauma to the gentle, Arcadian views. I don't believe that her work speaks about retribution between two Utopian worlds effectively. It is difficult to locate her intended meaning within her work at all. Perhaps the work might have been more successful if there was only one canvas with arrows.
Brand's graphic sculptures explore ideas of Arcadian ideals within a modern suburban context. His works are made up of boards, from which his linear subject matter is raised to create a wire-like, relief sculpture. His sculptures mirror the technical, efficient and modern world that we live in. His representations of the world are very clean and precise and executed in the popular interior décor palette of white and mushroom. The backboard from which the line drawings emerge has the appearance of a clean, tiled surface which invokes the feeling of a practical, contemporary domestic space. Works include representations of clean and minimal interior spaces, the inner workings of machines and ready-to-make girl and boy kits.
It is apparent that Brand's position in the Department of Industrial Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology has informed his work. Some of his pieces have directional arrows within them and are reminiscent of physics text book diagrams. These works are not just of things, but of how things work. In them Brand explores the representation of representations and simultaneously draws attention to the inner-workings of a supposedly Arcadian society. To Brand the emphasis of the inner workings of society seems to be based upon technical forces, rather than psychological and natural ones that the Arcadia of antiquity was based upon. Brand's work questions what Arcadia we are striving for today and how this Arcadia compares with the original rural notion of Arcadia. It seems that the original notion of a bountiful natural way of life has been replaced by a technical and sterile life of efficiency.
Julius Mfethe's work defuses this contradiction by marrying both contemporary and traditional representations of an ideal state.
Mfethe's works are in my opinion, the highlight of the show. His recent works include small, hand-carved characters. While most are of people's relationship to livestock, there are also beautifully-carved smoking pipes, jockeys and baboons. Mfethe's skilfulness and his handling of medium is breathtaking. He only uses indigenous woods and his understanding of carving with these woods is evident in their almost molded appearance. The attention to detail in the figures is painstaking. His walking old man has a frown of fatigue in his brow, while his clothes bear traces of wear. Different woods have been used to create differences in colour and texture, highlighting figures' clothing, hair and carried objects. If looked at closely, one can see the tensed, working muscles of the horse's legs. Each piece can be looked at and appreciated for quite some time. Every detail when seen and realised is a delight.
While Mfethe's work seems to follow a tradition of tourist art, it does not slip into a naïve representation of a pre-colonial past. Some of the figures wear non-traditional clothing, others are depicted as jockeys and the traditional hut has glass windows. This said, there is a certain element of Arcadian idealism in his work. His figures seem to be removed from reality and located in a unique 'nowhereness' ('Utopia', incidentally, is a word which means 'nowhere'). His hut scene depicts a seemingly contented family enjoying a meal together. For the outsider, the figures lend a gentleness and quietness. Such works are only too gratefully welcomed by the eyes that are used to seeing a world that is technological, fast-paced and frantic. Mfethe's works speak to us of an Arcadia that is rural and slow, quite contrary to the supposed contemporary Utopian ideals located in Brand's work. Together their different works play off one another, leaving us caught in the crossfire of our own understanding of what Arcadia should be.
Opens: October 22
Closes: November 9
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