Michaelis Graduate Show at Michaelis
by Fabian Saptouw
Much like my experience when reviewing the University of Stellenbosch student show, I found myself continually pressed for time when engaging the Michaelis show. The large student body at Michaelis offered a diverse multitude of avenues for engagement. Once again my response to the show takes the format of a brief survey of works that were particularly successful.
Lucy Owen's employment of scale in her engagement with modernist notions of flatness is extremely effective. The exposed sections of wooden construction of Ark (2007) enable one to remain aware of its nature as a façade, despite being overwhelmed by its intense physicality. Examining the other works on display, it becomes evident that Owen continuously sets up these oppositions. As viewers, our awareness of these polarities is crucial for an engagement, as it allows one to experience the constructed environment as simultaneously finite and infinite.
Michaelis Prize-winner Rowan Smith presented a very solid body of work which engages the complex notion of technological obsolescence. Smith's various renditions of antiquated technology evidence a keen awareness of the material value and the conceptual implications of each object's displaced status. Having heard Dot Matrix Loop (2007) functioning during a press viewing I was a bit disappointed to find the work silent during my second viewing. I flipped the various power switches in frustration, but the printers refused to continue populating the paper loop with small figures. Reading beyond just how troublesome it is to practically employ antiquated technology, I realised that the inactive dot-matrix printers were actually a very eloquent expression. The halted production locates the work in a particular time and space, providing a platform for the re-evaluation of our obsession with technologic progress.
Bianca Baldi and Esti Strydom engaged the notion of performativity in two distinctly different bodies of work. Both presented traces of events and performances that successfully manage to escape the derivative status of documentary evidence. Baldi draws on the language of Catholicism and underpins a score of visual and emotive considerations that is centred on how belief is manifested. Strydom's photographs, on the other hand, feature the re-insertion of various archival materials into public spaces. The immaterial quality of these insertions is greatly contrasted with the intense physicality of their undertaking. One can imagine what a challenge it must have been to execute each, especially given the cumbersome nature of the equipment required. Where Owen's labour produces a structure that practically becomes immobile because of its cumbersome nature, Strydom's interventions leave no trace at the site of their execution save a few footprints in the sand, a shared experience amongst a selected group. It is this intangible property which makes these images so exquisite.
Niklas Wittenberg's work represents quite a drastic shift in tone from the other works on display. In my writing process I realised that describing the installation fails to create any real sense of the actual experience of being inside the exhibition space. There is something profoundly personal about the space, almost as if Wittenberg had emptied the contents of his life (or maybe his entire apartment) into the space. The placement of each element was formally considered to strike up a conversation with the neighbouring pieces. To my mind the experience is incomplete without the gramophone playing The Supremes' Baby Love, which unfortunately wasn't working on my third visit to the show. A certain sense of dislocation pervades the work, as if these items were cut adrift from time itself before appearing here. One can't fail to notice how anachronistic the installation looks amidst the clusters of iMacs and video projectors in the nearby exhibition spaces.
Sabelo Mhlongo's Condomaiza.com, a series of stop-frame animations, provided a healthy touch of humour to the exhibition. The combination of educative and satirical elements manages to successfully avoid becoming too didactic. The focus of some pieces on certain parliamentarians' featherbrained response to serious crises in the country was utterly hilarious.
Another body of work that brought a smile to my face was Debbi Morkel's Lest We Forget: A Selection of Commemorative Dinnerware . Her series of commemorative porcelain dinner plates presented anecdotal, obscure and entertaining facts. The fact that the images actually start to evaporate when photographed, materially references how personae are shifted to the peripheries of communal memory with the passage of time.
There were two other playful bodies of work which made reference to notions of interactivity. Neil Wright produced Toy story (2007), a series of sculptures reflecting contemporary stereotypes based on the design of Lego-men. His craftsmanship and keen eye for detail made each 'individual' a very successful gesture. Moa Lindh's Effervescence (There's No I In Apathy) was a conceptually dense body of work executed with a refined touch of humour and thoughtfulness.
There were a few things that I did find a bit more frustrating than my lack of time (and trying to avoid what was becoming a overly lengthy review). The first is the employment of DVD players, remotes and projectors which refused to function at the appropriate time. The second is the racket made by the construction workers on the Hiddingh Hall rooftop. Despite these frustrations I found the exhibition to be very impressive, the works on display sporting a high degree of finish. The students managed to clearly and thoroughly articulate their concerns. Overall the exhibition was well worth the time invested in its installation as well as enduring the aforementioned frustrations while engaging the works on display.
Opened: December 5
Closed: December 15
Michaelis School of Fine Art
Hiddingh Campus, 31 - 7 Orange Street, Gardens
Tel: (021) 480 7111