SMAC Art Gallery 01

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The Shelly Monster and Other Art Objects of Chris van Eeden

Chris van Eeden at Brundyn

By Mitchell Messina
04 September - 25 October. 0 Comment(s)
They See Me Rollin

Chris van Eeden
They See Me Rollin, 2014. Freshwater Pearl, stolen palette, mixed media 295 x 100 x 20 cm.

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines 'open' as having no enclosing or confining barrier, accessible on all or nearly all sides. Urban Dictionary defines it as someone who is easy to fuck. I forgot the point I was trying to make with this sentence.

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I walked into Chris van Eeden’s 'Open' at Brundyn+ on opening night and I liked it a lot. I mean, admittedly I felt really overwhelmed, but in that very specific way: too many items on the menu; too many products in the grocery isle; too many tabs open on my browser; too many works demanding too much attention. It’s mostly because density tends to initially present itself as flatness, with me butting up against it, trying to get close enough to an impenetrable mesh until it resembles a network. I guess that’s what I liked a lot – the idea of a show seeming vast and difficult to grapple with, the excitement of finding works hidden in the corners or near the ceiling, and having to adjust your eye from these small gestures to the bigger works you’re standing right in front of. And feeling rushed, as if there’s some imposed time limit or urgency, as if someone’s pulled over and asked you for directions, as if you have to see it all in one go.

I Object (with Miranda Moss)

Chris van Eeden
I Object (with Miranda Moss)
2014
Everything, Cowry shell
155 x 100 x 130 cm

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On opening night I managed to sketch out a rough theory of how the show functioned. The dynamic of 'Open' relies largely on the paintings, which are mostly colourful, noisy, and abstract – on canvas and synthetic velvet. They’re expected, they set the tone and create a kind of visual language that the sculptural works can riff off. As if the show was subverted half-way through completion.

Now, there are works that are outliers to this theory; Homeopathic Doze for instance, a painting with a pill box atop the canvas, is a diluted blurry version of a van Eeden painting, playing with the stylistic uniformity the paintings set up. Counter Proposal with its pastel tones and shorter strokes resembles a more conservative from of abstraction (I like to believe that such a thing exists), but gives the viewer a glimpse into an alternate trajectory the show could have taken. This allows one to imagine an entirely different show altogether, with a different set of paintings and subsequently, very different sculptures.

In my first draft I wrote that the sculptures resemble the sort of exercise a sculptor might create to get their eye in (I like to believe that such an act is practiced); pile one thing onto another thing until they do something interesting. A comparison could be drawn between the incoherency of piled up brush strokes that comprise the abstract paintings, and the piled up objects that make the sculptures, especially in works like Accessory (Dessert Of The Real), I Object and maybe Standards of Living. I mention these examples specifically because in them the individual object is lost to the density of many, with I Object in particular, it’s almost impossible to differentiate between objects – the work becomes a solid mass, an amalgamation of different parts resembling Frankenstein’s monster, with a cowry shell atop all of it. (It’s worth noting the medium described in the accompanying price guide, states: 'everything, cowry shell'. It’s also worth noting that my allusion to Frankenstein’s monster largely has to do with me reading the title as a syntaxless version of 'I am an object!')

Radiant Cool

Chris van Eeden
Radiant Cool
2014
Umbrella, mirror ball, knife, mixed media
Dimensions Variable

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However, said comparison also fails to recognise the power of objects, that we read them differently to brush strokes, that we attach a lot more to, and project a lot more on, them. I don’t read They See Me Rollin as abstraction so much as I read it as a weird pile of very specific objects. A freshwater pearl on a mouse trap is a work in itself, a mousetrap on a brick is a work, a brick on a palette could possibly be a work, a palette with two beams underneath it that makes it resemble a litter for carrying things of importance by those of little importance is definitely a work.

Altogether though, they form something open-ended, something that’s seemingly too strange to have been put together deliberately, something that has the confusing quality of an object you might find at a market, or see in a dump, or see from your car on the highway. The sort of configuration that could only happen accidentally, that’d leave you wondering what could have possibly willed it into existence.

I imagined a lot of scenarios when I engaged with van Eeden’s sculptures. I thought that was the show’s greatest strength. If the work resembled some sort of strange found artifact I imagined narratives, and if it didn’t, I imagined the artist (and collaborators) in the process of making the work. I had to imagine context to fill all the 'Open'.

There were easier sculptures to grapple with though, those with an underlying strain of materiality and plays on visual language. Here’s a list: black paint being used as glue; glue being used as transparent paint; gemstones imitating impasto strokes; a canvas resembling a kite wrapped around a pillar; a disco ball with an attached hook becoming a headache/wrecking ball; a painting becoming a protest sign; and a briefcase becoming a table.

Homeopathic Doze

Chris van Eeden
Homeopathic Doze
2014
Glue size, oil, general tonic, mixed media
180 x 120 cm

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If a criticism should be leveled against van Eeden’s show it would be that of curation. Returning to my experience on the opening night, the room had a sense of energy. It felt as if it would just continue to fill up with people and sculptures as the night progressed, all of them stuck in some sort of loop between the ‘Open’ sign at the entrance and the ‘No Exit’ sign in the space. The whole thing, with its interventions and gestures, had the energy of studio practice. Returning a few days later to an emptier room was a somewhat sobering experience, seeing, in fact, that the works had reached finality.

That’s an undeniable risk all works run into, that jump from studio to gallery. In the studio these sculptures, sandwiched between tools and notes and other objects, would appear more open (I like to believe that such a state is possible), they’d grow, or get lost, or get swallowed by other works. The question of whether they were done or not wouldn’t even be raised. The issue with the placement of the works was that by giving each work a pocket of space, they leaned from gesture to statement, they became contained objects - the type you suspect of trying to say something specific.

I’m being difficult with this last sentence, but I wanted a type of curation that resembled the nature of the works, I wanted to struggle to see where one work ended and another began, mostly though, I wanted a saleable nightmare where collectors fought over custody by drawing lines in the sand.