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'The Future White Women of Azania'Athi Patra Ruga at Whatiftheworld/gallery
‘You should think of myth as a process, as a verb ‘to myth’, then you understand the function of it much better. [That is myth’s] underlying function is to help us think about what human existence is like. But instead of closing meaning off, they push you and point you in different directions.’
Prof Mary Beard
Athi-Patra Ruga is one of a handful of artists, working in South Africa today, who has adopted the tropes of myth as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era. Ruga has always worked with creating alternative identities that sublimate marginalized experience into something strangely identifiable. Amongst many notable creations to date has been the ambivalently gendered Beiruth, whose name, with its middle-eastern associations, evoked ideas related to Edward Said’s 'Orientalism' and the Illuwane, again an ambivalent sexual entity rooted in Xhosa Mythoglgy.
But Ruga is now bringing a new set of mythical characters a little closer to home. In 'The Future White Women of Azania' he is turning his attention to an idea intimately linked to the apartheid era’s fiction of Azania – a Southern African decolonialised arcadia. It is a myth that perhaps seems almost less attainable now than when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) appropriated the name in 1965 as the signifier of an ideal future South Africa – then at least was a time to dream more optimistically largely because the idea seemed so infinitely remote.
But Ruga, in his imaginings of Azania, has stuck closer to the original myth, situating it in Eastern Africa as the Roman, Pliny the Elder, did in the first written record of the name. Here Ruga in his map The Lands of Azania (2014-2094) has created lands suggestive of sin, of decadence and current politics. Countries named Palestine, Sodom, Kuntistan, Zwartheid and Nunubia are lands that reference pre-colonial, colonial and biblical regions with all their negative and politically disquieting associations. However, in what seems like something of a response to the ‘politically’ embroidered maps of the Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti, Ruga infers that the politicization of words are in a sense prior to the constructed ideology of the nation state.
What is more Azania is a region of tropical chromatic colours, which is populated with characters whose identities are in a state of transformation. At the centre of the panoply of these figures stands The Future White Woman whose racial metamorphosis, amongst a cocoon of multi-coloured balloons, suggests something disturbing, something that questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation. And it is here that the veracity of the myth of a future arcadia is being disputed if not entirely rejected.
To be sure, unlike Barthes’s suggestion in his essay ‘Myth Today’, Ruga is not creating myth in an act that depoliticizes, simplifying form in order to perpetuate the idea of an erroneous future ‘good society’. Instead, placing himself in amongst the characters in a lavish self-portrait Ruga imagines himself into the space of the clown or jester (much like the Rococo painter Watteau did in his painting ‘Giles’), into the space of interpreter as well as a cultural product of the forces outside of his own control.
Ruga’s Azania is a world of confusing transformations whose references are Rococo and its more modern derivative Pop. But whatever future this myth is foreshadowing, with its wealth, its tropical backdrop, its complicated and confusing identities, it is not a place of peaceful harmony - or at least not one that is easily recognizable. As Ruga adumbrated at a recent studio visit, his generation’s artistic approach of creating myths or alternative realities is in some ways an attempt to situate the traumas of the last 200 years in a place of detachment. That is to say at a farsighted distance where their wounds can be contemplated outside of the usual personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.
27 November 2013 - 08 February 2014
'BLOCK'Maja Marx at Whatiftheworld/gallery
Maja Marx’s solo exhibition, 'BLOCK', is a series of rich, evocative paintings that draw on the capacity that mark making has to construct and carry meaning. The mark can take the form of hand-writing, calligraphy, self-correction, note to self, act of erasure or censure, of the painterly gesture or pictorial illusionism - all acts of surface intervention that are explored using the surface oriented medium of painting. Marx’s signature minimalist, analytic approach seizes on the simplicity of the mark making process in order to access the abstractions, intangibilities and the visual, as well as subjective immensities, to which the mark acts as vehicle or anchor.
The Cross Series collects notes from a selection of thinkers, with the common theme of self-correction; in all the notes writing has been crossed or blocked out. In these acts of selfcorrection a dialogue is revealed between the writer’s intent and the process of writing. When Marx repaints these notes, she enters into this dialogue by carefully negotiating the relationship between transcribing the calligraphic marks of the original and the now painterly marks of her medium. The literal content of these notes is lost in translation – instead meaning is found in gestures, the act and marks of writing that are quoted, and the marks used to paint these. Within this process mark making proliferates, as each process brings with it its own sets of marks, as the reference image gets folded, or stuck onto a wall, or crumpled, Marx carefully records these, painting the topographies that envelops the type, marking the blunt lines of masking tape that hold the reference image together.
In the Block Series of paintings, the iconic image of black notebooks tiles the surface of the painting. The books are positioned face down and are signified in the simplest of terms – a black block – with gentle, calligraphic lines created by the ribbon and elastic that would hold the books closed. Evocative of the marks used in acts of censure, these riveting abstract compositions withhold their content, with only shimmering white outlines, where paper protrudes beyond the confines of the book’s cover, revealing the enticing promise of its content.
Marx's mark making operates somewhere between the promise and the secret, beyond the proliferation of mark making lies the promise of endless, encyclopedic meaning making. But within that same simple mark also lies the capacity to withhold, to block or obscure reading, to hold things secret. And these secrets, in their silence, speak volumes.
23 October 2013 - 23 November 2013
'Ecstatic Entropy'John Murray at Whatiftheworld/gallery
Whatiftheworld presents 'Ecstatic Entropy', an exhibition of new paintings by South African artist John Murray. Using the term entropy as a starting point to frame this body of work, Murray has created a series of paintings that exist in a state of tension between order and chaos.
The paintings, whilst attempting representational gestures toward landscapes, structures or symbols, ultimately fail in their task. Functioning in a liminal space, the paintings fall indecisively between organic form, geometric shapes and allusions toward landscape and architecture.
n. pl. en·tro·pies
1. Symbol S For a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.
21 August 2013 - 12 October 2013
'Pattern Language'Rodan Kane Hart at Whatiftheworld/gallery
Whatiftheworld presents ‘Pattern Language’ by Rodan Kane Hart, an exhibition of new sculpture, sculptural inlays, and installation.
In this exhibition Hart continues to explore experiential structures and sculptures. Inspired by architectural forms found in the urban environments of his native Johannesburg and Cape Town, his recent series of steel sculptures explore the notion of generative shape, pattern and form in relation to the viewers’ experience. These works attempt to stimulate a heightened emotional response through their illusionistic and fragmented forms.
Referencing Christopher Alexander’s architectural, urban design and community livability book titled 'A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction', published in 1977, 'Pattern Language' attempts to identify, expose and ‘unpack’ the ideological constructs that underpin numerous urban forms found within these contemporary South African cities.
Hart’s most recent solo exhibition titled 'Structure' (2013) presented a series of minimal steel sculptures, drawings & books investigating the ideological impulses that are revealed when manufacturing tectonic forms and how a better understanding of these impulses allows a more complex reading of these built environments. Using sculpture as a lens through which to view historical and spatial contexts, Hart creates shifts in context, which in turn become generators of experience. Activated by the movement viewer the shape and form of the work unfolds as time and motion proceeds.
Referencing the theory outlined in pattern language Hart focuses on the notion of pattern in a broad sense. Within a sculptural and visual paradigm pattern is deployed to track problem solving in a context of design as well as social transformation and urban environments .The underlying theory manifests in layout, city grids, paths of desire and built form, social interaction, human inhabitancy, connectivity and conversation.
'A Pattern Language' details how individuals could be empowered and equipped with the tools and language responsible for the design and construction of communities that reflected both their interests and those of the broader public. The book attempts to expose the function of language within design, the authors mention that in designing environments people will enviably always rely on certain visual ‘languages’ that allowing them to coherently articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a formal system.
05 June 2013 - 06 July 2013
'Far from the Sea, Perhaps...'Morne Visagie and Mbongeni Dlamini at Whatiftheworld/gallery
Whatiftheworld is pleased to present 'Far from the Sea, Perhaps...' a collaborative debut exhibition by artists Mbongeni Dlamini and Morné Visagie.
Dlamini and Visagie approach landscape both as literal subject and metaphor. Using geography as focus and filter, the artists grapple with questions of identity, belonging, the worlds they inhabit and the tenuous nature of human relationships.
'Far from the Sea, Perhaps...' derives its title from Micheal Taussig's seminal text What Colour is Sacred, and points towards both colour theory and the aftermath of the colonial, historical, and social narratives that are the core of the artists' inquiry.
This new body of work represents the confluence of the artists' uniquely intertwined practices. Geographical sites, extrapolated colour fields, and historical archives are the main methods of exploration. Created collaboratively during shared tie in Cape Town South Africa and Mbabane Swaziland the exhibition presents a series of archival photographs, richly hued monotype prints, and site specific installations. Characteristic of Dlamini and Visagie's works, 'Far from the Sea, Perhaps...' describes a deep engagement with land, identity and the delicate balance between melancholy and hope.
25 April 2013 - 23 May 2013