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'Time on our Hands'

Kyle Morland, Daniella Mooney and Christopher Swift at Clock Tower Precinct, V&A Waterfront

By Natasha Norman
06 April - 31 May. 0 Comment(s)
Nelson’s Column (Ghost)

Christopher Swift
Nelson’s Column (Ghost), 2010. Robben Island fencing, cable ties and scaffolding 250 x 250 x 900cm.

Sandwiched between Phinka Ebony carved trinkets and the V&A Gateway Information centre, a small handmade sign cheerfully invites passersby:  ‘Art Inside, come look’.  But contrary to the surrounding knick-knack tourist trade or the slick finish of yet another chain-store, 'Time on our Hands' is a startlingly fresh art laboratory. The curated installation in a vacant Clock Tower retail space resonates strongly with persisting 1970s New York Fluxus trends charged with an experimental, collaborative approach and the recycling of inexpensive materials.

Many of the artists chose to work with, or in reference to, fencing salvaged from Robben Island’s prison that recent Spier Contemporary winner, Chris Swift, makes use of in his artistic practice. Reinterpreted as makeshift walls or as sculptural works, the prison fencing activates a rich discourse surrounding the exhibition. Façade and construction - an interest in unraveling the politics of place - is a pervading theme.

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Kyle Morland’s large sculptural work, Untitled, sets the tone for this reading. A large model of Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, Untitled is rendered to believable detail at the entrance to the exhibition. The clinical white front of the iconic cell-front fences off the main body of the exhibition from the entrance. As the viewer moves around the structure, its construction is revealed like the back end of a Hollywood movie set. On opening night, the constructed side was shown facing the entrance, generating the confusing sensation of entering the exhibition backstage. This farce of the façade, here particularly a comment on the pristine white-cube gallery space, is carried through in the details of packaging materials used as plinths and a sea of taped electrical cords for the highly effective makeshift lighting system by employing old office lamps and neon fittings now balancing against the walls. This both fuels the Fluxus aesthetic and produces an intelligently crafted theatrical atmosphere.

Jody Paulsen’s explosive Installation view including The Bomb that archives food packaging (plastic lids and containers) into colour wheels and cardboard boxes with shopping bags into a Table Mountain skyline, is a complex weaving of American merchandise with South African consumption heralding 'THE NEW NEW IDEA' in Carnival flags above the skyline. There is a pervading suspicion of façade and a reflective interrogation of an inherited political terrain that emerges in the juxtaposition of small cardboard architectural models. These are set near a display of Justin Brett’s Plaster of Paris apartment fronts, layered like bricks in a recess beyond which is a large lithographic print, Details of a 4 celled potter trap, by Katherine Pichulik. In front of this, Chris Swift’s The Great Escape, a pommel horse made from old school desks, opens up to a reading of Claire van Blerck’s Home Movie, a backlit projection of old home videos showing an ambiguous relationship to the South African navy. Echoing Richard Mason’s Ghost, a whited-out traffic light with uncoloured glowing bulbs is David Brit’s Vlag, a vier-kleur flag drained of all its colour that hangs eerily above Jano January’s grounded paper jets of Ideas on Gravity.

Most of the artists on the show are recent UCT Michaelis graduates. Those familiar with their graduate works will be delighted by the cross-pollination within the show.  Mark Barber’s lithographic prints of tennis courts are here reinterpreted in Jano January’s characteristic use of spices in a work labeled as Trade Routes by Justin Brett. Pichulik’s video tower from her graduate work, Anxiety in the face of time, finds connection with Paulsen’s drawing 20 Years after the Wall. Similarly, Daniella Mooney’s large snow dome with ground Robben Island fencing, titled Wish you were here, speaks to the cultural kitsch of David Brit’s VOLK made from driftwood and brass lettering.

Choosing to activate a retail space in what is arguably Cape Town’s capital of the commercialization of culture and heritage has provided fertile ground for the young Cape Town based artists to comment collectively on the status quo. The curatorship, headed by Justin Brett, was facilitated by workshops held among the participants prior to the exhibition opening. As a result, 'Time on our Hands' is a highly reflective and nuanced exploration of our socio-political landscape 20 years after the release of Nelson Mandela.