Clive van den Berg at Goodman Gallery Cape
by Fabian Saptouw
Clive van den Berg's loosely-titled 'New work' presents a large body of work, featuring a variety of sculptures and prints. Monoprints narrate the activities of figures: some feature individual figures while others concentrate on the exploits of groups of figures. Wooden carvings are divided into three distinct groups: namely a series of books, some maps and a few more figurative works. These elements are distributed throughout the gallery space in such a manner that each section seems to extend the overall narrative rather than restrain it.
Notes Against Amnesia, one of the many sculpted books on display, has a large selection of carved bookmarks extending from the one side of the work. Although the title alludes to the potential loss of memory and the attempt to counteract it, it is interesting to note how the volume of bookmarks will become cumbersome to the fictive reader. The act of wading through the sea of unmarked and impossibly entangled notations is potentially so frustrating that the required information may indeed never be retrieved. In this sense the act of continually marking particular sections of the book starts to embody a futile attempt at creating a solid foothold within the muddy waters of human memory.
The artist's choice to render the textual content of the books inaccessible at once furthers this analogy and presents yet another challenge to the ever cautious 'reader'. Attempting to avoid trite remarks about a book and its cover, one is left to scrutinize van den Berg's cautious choices about the adornments of each of these untold narratives. The particularities of these cryptically carved covers range from load bearing figures, groups of figures and even a landscape. The idea of the closed tome is countered by specific works like Greeting, Gland Tree and New Paisley , in which viewers are allowed access to selected pages. In these works the emblems and figures echo the adornments of the other book covers and likewise become fragments of an unknown narrative.
This language of access, fragmentation and dislocation is crucial to the engagement with parallel works like Map, Receiving and Expelling I and II. I found myself wondering what terrain these works map out, and if they bear any resemblance to a specific geographical location. There is something ominous about their grid-like manner, as if they have been excised from an invisible 'whole'. The neatly demarcated edges of these works become reminiscent of computer-generated landscapes, primed for scientific investigation, and even those primarily structured for play. No hint, however, is given about the adventures that play out in this bleak deserted and potentially post-apocalyptic landscape.
The large array of visual markers that populate the undulating woodened surfaces ranges from little dots, deep incisions and black reflective material, to cones that burrow deep into the ground and protrude inverted from the rear of the sculptures. The combination of these elements becomes visually reminiscent of the barriers and borders that occupy the discourse around landscape, as well as the accompanying issues of control and legislation.
There is an interesting relation between these demarcations and their location in this bleak, deserted landscape. Concealed Geography in fact extends this tension by demarcating large areas with reflective black material. Here the various shapes and sizes read like sites ear-marked for construction, already tarred and invaded by uninvited inhabitants. Another shift that Concealed Geography
introduces to the ideas touched on by Map, Receiving and Expelling II, is that large areas have been flattened by force. The visual tension between the undulating terrain and the open planes are emphasized by the addition of various linear markers that clearly separate these areas.
The physical construction of the maps lends a specific tone to their associations. Concealed Geography is visually reminiscent of a scroll, particularly in the manner it furls up at both ends, strengthening associations of a cartographer's renderings. Yet this language is complicated by the various phenomena related to the way the world at large is mapped, especially in light of the various technological advancements in that field. Although a potentially banal link, applications like Google Earth could be mentioned here, specifically for their ability to allow the public a forum to intervene and label the landscape.
Closer inspection of the manner in which van den Berg has handled the surfaces of Map, Receiving and Expelling I and II allows for the extension of the metaphor from a geographic to a corporeal association. The incisions and cavities on the surfaces become suggestive of wounds inflicted on human tissue held under a microscope, an association that van den Berg emphasizes through the titling of an adjacent work, Wounds Graced by Flowers. This work, the largest of the figures on display, is a life-size nude male figure. The figure�s pose and intent carries an element of uncertainty and discomfort, something made explicit by the numerous cavities that have been sutured with wooden conduits and sculpted flowers. The latter visual motif is repeated in Tribute, a blackened book with floral elements extending like page markers from the side, and more indirectly by Gland Tree and New Paisley. In Wounds Graced by Flowers these markers do not primarily become a visual motif of adornment, but rather imply a form of encumbrance. The fragility of their physical attachment becomes a realization of the figure�s vulnerability. The current state of the grafting and subsequent healing process advocates care on the part of the figure as the wounds could reopen anytime, metaphorically re-enacting the trauma inflicted.
This state of vulnerability is also evident in several of the monoprints on display. Various figures, predominantly male, are plagued by the presence of spectral beings, their actions retarded and interrupted by those that co-habit the image frame. In the group of prints from Ghosts and their Surrogates to Archival Waste the act of selectively reprinting certain images makes them appear as ghosts in adjacent works, and suggests an unfolding narrative within this particular context.
This clearly intentional repetition, evident in numerous other works throughout the show, allows the images to flow into each other in a constructive manner. Through this process the act of isolating specific works for interrogation becomes increasingly complicated as van den Berg has woven a dense web of visual and intellectual cross-references. As a viewer, one is in a sense enacting the role of the fictive reader of Notes Against Amnesia: luckily our experience is much more fruitful and satisfactory.
To my mind it is in van den Berg's eloquent evocation of the complex interplay between these various themes that the real success of the exhibition lies. Through the use of sophisticated metaphors he manages to convincingly traverse the boundaries between the corporeal, geographical and psychological. In each case he engages the content and context of the relevant objects with candour and complexity.
Opens: October 11
Closes: November 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