cape reviews

Student Review: Surfacing

Various Artists at Goodman Gallery

By Al├ęsha Bredell
22 March - 19 April. 0 Comment(s)

Candice Breitz
Treatment, 2013. Film Stills .

The captivating show 'Surfacing' calls one to explore the array of possibilities, of things coming to the surface, held by the title. White hats floating in the air, a light-box photograph of water glimmering on the wall and some disturbing sounds greeting you as you come in. Taking in all the excitement created by the art works on display whilst trying to figure out where the sounds are coming from, makes one realise that the show will ask more of you than just looking. The show can however, most definitely also be enjoyed from an exterior or surface level at first. The carefully and well placed art works of this exhibition convey the meticulous effort and skill of curators, Emma Lourens and Lisa Essers.

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Each artwork within this exhibition deserves time from the viewer as well as a degree of effort to understand the histories, personal stories and messages contained beneath the surface of the art works. The exhibition is designed and displayed in a way that multiple and open meanings can be unearthed by the viewer. It is not a static show – it has the ability to move the viewer and to elicit various responses. The stories and lived experiences within the histories revealed are also open for interpretation and contemplation as it can always be viewed from different perspectives and life experiences. The order in which the works are displayed does not appear to tell a specific story; rather all of them are connected to one another through broader themes in some way. One can make connections in multiple ways from each work to the next. 

One of the most overt themes to be picked up on, though not restricted to, is that of violence which is evident on an explicit as well as on a more subtle level. Destructive acts of violence being a recurring theme within this exhibition that takes various forms. Some of the destruction being discussed by the works relate to politics, colonization, slavery and injustice. The work by Haroon Gunn-Salie, titled Amongst Men, is a comprehensive inclusion of the various types of destructive acts being presented by this exhibition. While the artwork emulates the burial of Imam Abdullah Haron on the surface, it also exposes histories of resistance to colonialism and apartheid within the history of South Africa from an Islamic perspective. The 150 kufiyas on display are transformed from a beautiful, mesmerising installation to an unsettling presence of the reminder of the things that happened in the past; bringing up the topics we want to forget or overlook, possibly opening up these vulnerable histories for discussion and contemplation.  

The work by Alfredo Jaar, One million points of light, and William Kentridge's Drawing for what will come, also deal with vulnerable histories that are important to remember, namely slavery and colonisation. These histories, entrenched in the work are not at all visible as they are only revealed after reading more deeply into them. Ultimately these works are commenting on the injustice of the lived realities of the victims, the enslaved and the colonized. Nonetheless the light box and the moving table are both aesthetically beautiful objects to look at, revealing something other than their loaded meanings. These works are bringing up possible memories and feelings of pain, loss and suffering of the lives of those represented within the histories of the works. These works appear to reflect that the portrayal of injustice can yield beautiful objects without explicitly revealing what the works are expressions of.  

Amongst Men

Haroon Gunn Salie
Amongst Men
M1 casts with marble aggregate and fiber-glass blanket, gut, sound element
Dimensions Variable


The award winning dual-channel installation, Treatment, by Candice Breitz speaks of the emotional abuse loved ones inflict on one another; domestic and verbal abuse being the most apparent within the piece. This installation urges one to ask what is beneath facial and verbal expressions. The work reveals more of the personal than was conceivably intended, or even brings the private and hidden to the fore to be further explored and scrutinized. On their exterior, things can be displayed to the world to either hide or expose. Mikhael Subotsky’s installation, I was looking back, speaks of the act of looking through a camera lens, a television or computer screen, where the act of photographing can almost be seen as a violent act in itself. The work also speaks of representational violence and how we have become desensitized to witnessing violence through a surface such as the television screen. Though the photographs on their own do not speak of violence and destruction per se, the ways in which they are presented allude to destruction and violence. The acts of destruction are echoed through the artists’ choice of smashing the surface of some of the frames.

The glass beads woven onto cotton by Liza Lou, Dirty white, talks about how the effect made by the hands working with the beads, leaves marks and wounds, and ruptures our notions of an ideal, yet the end result of those imperfections yields a work of great beauty. This work seems to summarise the entire show, hinting at the likelihood of positivity that arrises out of destruction. Whilst reconstruction has the chance of taking various forms – as is evident in this show which talks about so many different stories and histories through different mediums – it appears to say that beauty can to be found in the aftermath of destruction. ‘Surfacing’ needs the time and patience of the viewer to allow for the things above and below the surface to appear.