Diane Victor at Goodman Gallery Cape
by Tavish McIntosh
The current malaise of political correctness has led many artists to an untenable position; opting out of the politics of the day, a whole generation of artists appear too afraid to
involve themselves in current affairs. And when they do, it often appears as a blinkered re-working of the opinions current in the mass media, with little or no insight into the reality of political engagements. Diane Victor's intense involvement in tracing the lines of power from their philosophical sources to the minute effects manifested in the everyday is therefore doubly refreshing. There is no fence-sitting here and no sops for the sentimental.
In Victor's work, the foundations of a national identity, based on solid concrete walls and backed by high fences, are systematically ripped to shreds. From behind the Goodman's partitions and from both sides of the fence, Victor's assault on the optimism of political commentators continues. Introducing the show is a series of drawings that explores contemporary landscapes - through the lens of despair. 'Drawings of Mass Destruction' are the most recent works on the show, and therefore reflect on very current issues - with Koeberg power station dwarfed by the city's iconic table silhouette and a collapsing stadium reflecting a fatalistic view of the brouhaha around 2010. In embracing topical issues and reflecting views of cityscapes in
progress, Victor does not eschew the history that feeds into and out of this situation. Her Monument - the flagship piece on the show - illustrates a collapsing Voortrekker Monument. The 'volksmoeder' is symbolically smashed face down into the concrete arena. Decay, destruction and disillusionment seem to undercut the current narratives of progress, indicating a breach between political optimism and the everyday.
It is important to note the cathartic element of Victor's work. Her process � like that of any traumatised individual - is a 'debriefing', an expunging of the trauma through narrative. Her works are dense essays in the repressed links between national fantasies and the very real damage inflicted by the abuse of power. Whilst the therapeutic power of visual language - 'the drawing cure' to misquote Freud - is not disputed, the excess of fodder Victor has to fuel this process is unnerving. Like the dream world Freud was enamoured of, Victor's prints and drawings produce fantastic distortions of reality, fatalistic reproductions of the everyday, but also unswervingly factual
accounts, reminders of overlooked newspaper reports and repressed elements of society underpin these visual essays. Victor refuses to turn a blind eye, encrusting all that we might prefer remains behind closed doors on the already laden surface of her works.
Her 'Disasters of Peace' series stretches back to 2001 recording and recoding the events of the day into a lexicon of mayhem and disaster. The entire series is a good reflection on the stories current in the media, but Victor does not merely reflect asinine opinions of the dailies. Images of atrocities perpetuated everyday are given dramatic significance through Victor's compositional acumen and rich, gothic tonal range. Nothing escapes her drypoint needle. Robert Mugabe becomes a mad drummer cavorting, a blinded judge pronounces his verdict distracted by the blowjob he's receiving under the table; a family is transformed into a row of shooting targets in Kom Vrou en bring de Kinders - the range reveals a disturbing violence and corruption underpinning the country. As an uncanny counterpart to Goya's 'Disasters of War' series, the grey shades of 'Disasters of Peace' reveal that all that is not
well with the �rainbow nation'.
Alongside the 'Disasters of Peace' series sits a triptych that displays Victor's dazzling printmaking abilities, but also continues her critical injunction against the abusers of power. Using etching and embossing in conjunction, the 2 m tall
prints are rich and intimidating centrepieces. 'Unholy alliances' is made up of three historic masculine icons: the honest politician, the good shepherd and the good doctor. Visually linked by the delicate scrolls that form gothic arches around their heads and their full-length central composition, the trio is united conceptually by Victor's intrepid unveiling of their underlying phallocentricism. Each figure reveals a symbolic source of power: the priest's erect staff, the doctor's entwining snake and most obviously the ungainly politician's unzipped fly all point to the underlying phallic connection.
The uncompromising and carefully articulated trio face a wall hung with the victims of crime. The 'Casualties' series is made using wisps of carbon left by candle smoke. The faces are not anchored by bodies but float unsteadily on the paper, unfixed and unclear. The contrast between the large, imposing prints and their opposite, the transitory smoke drawings of casualties, shows the different mental imprint left by the powerful and the powerless.
Ranging from work produced as early as 2001 to work produced this year, Diane Victor's first solo exhibition in Cape Town serves as an introduction for local
yokels to her oeuvre. Known for her disturbing, densely articulated prints on both
small and large scale, her more recent forays into smoke drawings and return to the
classic medium of charcoal drawings are also on show. This plethora is a due
testament to her range and skills but I could not help wondering if a more judicious
editing process - not within the works themselves but in their hanging - would not
have benefited the exhibition. Although the scope of Victor's work remains a
cathartic critique of dominant institutions and social systems, the introduction of
a new series of decaying, decrepit or destroyed architectural scenarios adds an
unexpectedly austere element. Victor's usual virtuoso delight in figurative drawing
is banished (or in the case of Monument reduced to minute depictions of
tumbling sculptures) and without this the images are less convincing. These cannot
be said to have the same impact as her exuberantly peopled prints that peer from
behind the partitions at the gallery. Although they add to the critical dimension
updating the show to the here and now, they lack the voluptuous sensuality and
carnivalesque jollity of her carefully articulated depictions of the human figure.
By layering the density of the individual pieces, with such a dense collection of
Victor's oeuvre the curators have not done the viewers and the artist any favours.
Opens: February 7
Closes: March 1
Goodman Gallery Cape
3rd Floor Fairweather House, 176 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
Tel: (021) 462 7573
Fax: (021) 462 7579
Hours: Tue - Fri 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sat 10am - 4pm