Archive: Issue No. 32, April 2000

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 Jo O'Connor

Jo O'Connor
Installation view

 Jo O'Connor

Jo O'Connor
Installation (detail)


Jo O'Connor at The Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet
by Paul Edmunds

It has been said that, as a sculptor, one is either a "modeller" or a "carver". The modeller, in manipulating a raw material gives it form and guides it toward a certain interpretation. The carver, by contrast, takes a raw material and reducing it, reveals what was always inside. A similar dichotomy exists in Jo O'Connor's show 'Muscle', both in terms of its formal rendering and the ideas which she explores. O'Connor uses the mouth and the tongue to continue her investigation into ingestion, nourishment and expression.

The show occupies both of Coetzee's spaces. The larger part consists of a square inscribed on the floor in blackboard paint over which are strewn hundreds of tongue-like objects. Some also hang from the ceiling. In the smaller cabinet space, O'Connor has framed series of pale impressions on small squares of paper held in deeply recessed frames.

The sight of the tongue-like objects scattered across the floor brings to mind as much a scene of fallen petals as Antony Gormley's Field. Made of diverse materials, such as clay, soap, dough and fur, the objects contrast in pose, texture and tone but are for the large part coloured a reddish hue. Apparently ripped from mouths, or at least without the company of their host, some lash out, some roll lasciviously and others recline limply. The public showing of something which is so private and particular is immediately startling. Looking at them longer one starts attaching meaning to their gestures and responds intuitively to their materiality. My eyes soon picked out a number which were carved from soap. Their colour was saturated and their surface was vigorous and tactile. By contrast, the clay objects, which formed the majority, seemed formally unresolved, they didn't have the feeling of muscle inside them and their surfaces seemed tired, even flaccid. Although the poses of the soap tongues were less gestural, they seemed more self-possessed and a viewer's sensual response to their material - foul tasting, yet ironically used to clean oneself - was more powerful than the clay which seemed laboured. Also, the introduction of colour foreign to the clay, or dough in some cases, seemed to assault its very nature.

The prints which O'Connor exhibited in the other space are, I believe, the stronger part of the show. Made by pressing her flour coated mouth onto pieces of paper, they are more elusive, evocative and startlingly beautiful. The impressions left by her mouth as she apparently made various sounds or actions are often difficult to see, often being tonally similar to the ground on which they were made. Insistant (sic) Phrasing shows a series of impressions on a light fleshy coloured paper. We can only guess at what the phrase may be, and this is frustrated further by the glass which distances us more from the event. It seems that, literally, what is left unspoken is what is most powerful. Syllable presents us with a similar problem and the title suggests that even the gesture behind this work is only meaningful as part of a larger whole. The space and lightness which O'Connor leaves around the work renders it rich and fertile for interpretation. It is almost as if the "carving" is incomplete, even as she has partially revealed what is there, and the audience will inevitably complete the act.

The tongue and mouth, site of sensual and verbal experience, is explored as the interface between the personal and the public. The images in O'Connor's vocabulary are rich in metaphor and also invite a very direct, sensual interpretation. This use of a very "real" organ, literally of flesh and bone, to explore complex personal and sociological issues is brave and original. Where it is light, spacious and non-specific, where O'Connor holds back and her acts and materials speak for themselves, it is successful and refreshing. Where she imposes her hand a little heavily and perhaps doesn't quite master her craft, the work lets itself down. Like carving, it is in processes of reduction and revelation, to various degrees, that the work reveals itself best and this is where O'Connor renders the viewer complicit most effectively.

Show closes May 13

Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, 120 Bree Street, Cape Town

Tel: 424-1667 or 423-6708
Fax: 423-6709

  Phillipa Duncan

Phillipa Duncan
Showing in the Long Gallery at the AVA

Phillipa Duncan, Christopher Slack and Michael Chitter
by Sue Williamson

Three artists are currently taking up the exhibition space at the AVA: Phillippa Duncan, Christopher Slack and Michael Chitter. It is Chitter's and Duncan's first solo show, and Slack's second. Christopher Slack tackles the un-subtle language of mass media and the "arrogance of Western consumer culture". Utilising ads torn from old magazines and painted images taken from the media collaged with expressive passages of clashing dripped and whorled paint in primary colours, Slack attempts to give us his perception of the barrage of mixed messages through which we must form our world view. Some are moderately successful. Others come off looking like Robert Rauschenberg rejects from the early 60's, when this kind of put-it-all-down approach looked quite fresh. It no longer does.

Phillippa Duncan 'working in an alchemical manner' lithos scripts from the pages of thinkers from the previous millennium onto sheets of paper, tints her paper to shades of brown, waxes the paper to the consistency of oil cloth, embroiders into it, stitches down photocopied images like little books. At the end of it all, although Duncan has produced a number of attractive sheets, the work seems to veer towards the kind of surface that would look great used as the basis for a book cover design, but somehow insubstantial over the long haul. The processes through which the artist has worked have simply ended as a collage, and do not provide a new point of departure.

Michael Chitter concentrates his efforts on the phrases 'Rainbow Nation' and 'Melting Pot', trying with frantic and clumsy brushwork to wring new import from these tired and clicheed phrases. He does not succeed.

AVA, 35 Church Street, Cape Town

Tel: 424-7436
Fax: 423-2637

 Tom Culberg

Tom Culberg
from 'In Between North and South'

 Tom Culberg

Tom Culberg
from 'In Between North and South'

Tom Cullberg at Joao Ferriera
by Sue Williamson

Young writers are often given the advice to write about what they know best at the beginning of their careers, in order that the content of their material might be authentic and from the heart while they grapple with questions of style and technique. The tone of this advice seems of have been taken by artist Tom Cullberg in his first solo show, 'In Between North and South', now on at Joao Ferreira Fine Art.

Swedish-born Cullberg studied at Michaelis in Cape Town, and since then has spent much of his time in his home country. The images on the wall reflect these two worlds, and his travels between them. The work is divided into three formats, hung at eye level around the gallery: small postcard sized oils and medium format works which record the artists' friends, landscapes, boats appear in some, planes in others. This narrative is interrupted from time to time by a painting of stripes, as if a scene is retained on the retina and in memory in bands of colour only. It is interesting that although Cullberg has lived here a number of years, his palette has the distinct character of the north - sludgy greens and greys, mediated blues, with ochred yellows breaking through every now and then like the sun.

Many artists have successfully used the theme of the traveller's notebook - one thinks of David Hockney's little Eqyptian sketches in coloured pencil. It is in the small oil sketches that Cullberg is at his freshest and most successful, capturing those glimpses and moments of his journeys both real and imagined in sure brush strokes. One or two of the artist's larger oil paintings might have been happier left in the studio, but on the other hand, two beautifully rendered lithographs make one wish to see more work in this medium.

Away from the gallery, Cullberg has given pleasure and amusement to hundreds of Capetonians with his wacky feather-filled inflatable 'Featherdome' which allows people to climb inside on a step ladder, and become a part of the piece, like tiny figures in a snowdome. This piece has now had number of sitings, and it is hoped that it will be seen one more time on Soft Serve 2 at the SANG on May 5 before it returns to Sweden.

'Between North and South' will be up at the Joao Ferriera until April 29.

João Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town.

Tel: 423-5403 or 0824902977

Norman Catherine

Norman Catherine
Curriculum Vitae (detail)1993 Hand coloured silkscreen ed.45

Norman Catherine

Norman Catherine
Taboo or not Taboo (detail)1999 Oil on wood wire 124x180x10cm


Fookin' Fantastic - Norman Catherine at the Goodman
by Kathryn Smith

Norman Catherine's self-confessed "X-rated visions" meander and skulk in the convoluted labyrinths of a myriad of minds - usually all his own. His coined phrase 'curio-city' epitomizes his left-of-the-middle, very gothic sense of humour and the fetishistic nature of his work. For those familiar with his menagerie, the latest exponents of his unique world-order cavort and taunt as usual, with a couple of threatening interactive additions to his large-scale figures. In all his work, the plainly horrific morphs into the carnivalesque-grotesque, easing away some of the trauma so prevalent in his oeuvre.

For people seeking solace in passive new age remedies, rather treat yourselves to a dose of pure Norman Catherine. The combination of garish cartoon colours and brash graphic quality is totally euphoric. His Curriculum Vitae lists so many bizarre near-death accidents, it puts a whole new slant on the notion of living a charmed life. But if the Freudian overload of his work is anything to go by, the Henry Moore comment that a child's iconography is established by age seven is rather telling. And while we can laugh at this, and at the head behind bars imbedded in the belly of Inmate that states 'Keep In', the laughter has a sweet-sour taste to it. You get the distinct impression that if Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were still alive, you'd find the three of them hanging out and getting down.

The gallery space has been configured to accommodate a central space filled with lurking anthropomorphs. Well-placed and lit, they are, in the words of David Bowie, "the real-deal". Approaching a particularly menacing threesome at the back, entitled Armed Response, Sentry I and Sentry II, red eyes began to glow and the creatures emitted a series low, deep-throated moans at random intervals. The fright-factor was lessened when I realised these were triggered by infra-red sensors set into the sculptures and subsequently had a great time running around and setting them off again.

But the best thing to come out of this show is the superb monograph published by Goodman Gallery Editions. Writers of the calibre of Ashraf Jamal and Hazel Friedman are contributors, with an anecdotal foreword by David Bowie, a long-time collector and admirer of Catherine's work. Bowie bought his first Catherine from a London dealer and friend in the mid-1990's and realised he had never bothered to ask what race the artist is. He writes, "Not knowing this one factor takes the onus off of post-modernist prattle. It suddenly becomes 'about the work'." He ends off the piece with a comment, "So, anyway, Bernie tells me Norman's white. So that's that then."

The monograph is a gem of a book, full of interesting informational tidbits, like the fact that Catherine was denied access to the Fine Art Department of the Witwatersrand, owing to his technical college secondary education. A appendix traces Catherine's status as heir-apparent to Walter Battiss' Fook Island mythology and rule as King Ferd the Third. As Friedman states, in a time of political desperation, Fook "mushroomed from the recesses of desire".

Post-1994, Catherine's work has taken on a lighter, although no less threatening edge to it. Where his earlier airbush work is full of angst and base terror that offers little reprieve, his current work is revealing more of Catherine himself than the hopeless political situation he faced during his earlier career. His present work concerns itself with the surreality of living in urban dystopias that is experienced on a collective level. While the violence is random and shocking, it is often so bizarre in its extremity that to dwell on anything other than its utter absurdity becomes absurd itself. A depiction of the local morgue in Welcome to Johannesburg wryly proclaims 'Vacancies'.

While you could pop in for a quick-fix, quintessential kooky-Catherine details are a reward to the really observant, so pay special attention to the multi-levelled wall pieces. Taboo or not Taboo offers a small bottle of 'Life After Death' tonic. The label clearly states: 'No Returns'. Catherine's work is an inoculation or elixir against the spoils of inner-city psychosis, post-millennial anti-climaxes. But where his tonic may not be commercially available, and the flashing lights of his Curio-City fade, the monograph, as a portable exhibition, stays tangibly with you. But you know it will all return, with more intensity, more wickedness and more irreverence - and so will you.

Ends May 6

Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: (011) 788-1113

- For Sue Williamson's review of Norman Catherine's catalogue, see this month's Special Book Review Section.



The Heart of 'Artichoke'
by Kathryn Smith

Although it was a long time coming, 'Artichoke', Johannesburg's answer to 'Red Eye @rt' (Durban), 'Soft Serve' (Cape Town) and 'Fractal' (Bloemfontein) was a success. Some 300 attendees at the launch event at the Sandton Civic Art Gallery were treated to a diverse range of visual, performance, digital and musical offerings during the three-hour art party.

The event was attended by the public, the media, performers, artists, students and families complete with baby-in-pram. Suplex with Diva Ziza provided groovadelic ambience and the performance programme was dynamic and fresh, if too dependent on dance. The visual arts were represented by Fiona Couldridge, Peter van Straten, Julia Tiffin, Chris Gous, Federica Michot, Lynne Lomofsky, Marcus Neustetter and Jan van der Merwe, as well as an installation dealing with the experiences of a group of artists who went through six weeks of art therapy - very consistent with the evening's theme of 'catharsis'.

But in terms of outcomes, 'Artichoke' needs to find a focus. The definitive agenda of 'Red Eye @rt' with its monthly art events in the Durban Art Gallery has been a major contributing factor to its success. As a result, a great deal of otherwise non-existent funding has been made available to the Art Gallery and a new generation of young adults have a palpable sense of pride in the culture of their city. 'Redye@rt' and 'Soft Serve' have proved hugely successful largely because those freewheeling events take place in handsome institutions against a backdrop of traditional gallery collections, drawing in new audiences for the gallery.

One would wish the same for Johannesburg. But herein lies the rub: JAG is semi-functional, understaffed, flooded and an undesirable destination for a large (monied) sector of the population, thus it needs help even more than its sister institutions in other cities. But those very factors mitigate against it attracting funding. Thus what started out as the 'JAGi' (Johannesburg Art Gallery initiative), with very similar aims to 'Red Eye @rt', has had to metamorphose into 'Artichoke' and move to Sandton to convince funders that the project was worth supporting.

'Artichoke' was sponsored by the inimitable MTN Art Institute, the Goodman Gallery, as well as Datrix and Ultimate Sound. The art therapy component was funded the National Arts Council (who turned down an initial JAGi proposal). It looks like the basic sponsorship will be ongoing, with the next event scheduled for July-August.

It is the intention to go quarterly and appear in diverse venues, to provide a tightly co-ordinated event that appeals to a variety of popular sensibilities without compromising on quality. So watch this space.

Clive van der Berg

Clive van der Berg
Drawings in Light 2000
Installation view

Peter Schultz

Peter Schultz
Madonna figure from 'Drawings in Light' 2000


Brett Murray
If another white artist brings me a portfolio of guilt, crisis of identity and memory... I'm going to throw up 2000


Luan Nel
The pool at the Stadio del Marini1999 - 2000
Shown as part of the 'New Signatures Revisted' exhibition

To The Klein Karoo and Back: Roundup of the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees 2000
by Kathryn Smith

The excitement I felt leaving Johannesburg hinged on the fact that a) I had a pretty good idea about what I should expect of the visual arts programme on the Main Festival and was looking forward to it, and b) I was going to the desert and would hopefully be able to soak up some rays so lacking in rain-drenched Gauteng. I was right on one count: the visual arts programme was one of the best I have yet seen at a local festival. Unfortunately the Gauties travelling to Oudtshoorn took the rain with them.

But not even a torrential downpour on the first day of the festival could quash the enthusiasm of festival-goers, many of whom take leave from work for this one cultural-filled week. As despite complaints from previous years around what would seem to be a fascist-like protection of kuns en kultuur, there was no sign of that this year. Instead, I felt a huge respect that a minority culture takes such pride in its language and culture and, with generous support from a myriad of sponsors, have made this festival a flagship for local popular and cutting-edge culture.

However, the performance art avant-garde as defined by the festival leaves much to be desired: Diek Grobler, winner of last year's Herrie prize, and his performance art company Fopspeen, delivered up a bizarre and utterly pretentious piece called Ararat, dealing with Noah's dual pathologies of a fear of water and words (apparently the Biblical figure stuttered and the water part is self-explanatory). Not even great digital technology and a superb soundtrack could save it from itself. This was unfortunate as it was one of the few pieces on the main programme that actively engaged with local talent, pulling in dancers and a choir from the coloured community of Oudtshoorn. It has been one of the major criticisms of the festival thus far that it does not access or cater to this very large demographic, and admittedly, despite all the positive aspects of the festival, it still remains something of a whitewash after six years.

But the very capable directorship and management team of the KKNK cannot be accused of being conservative in their thoughts around the fine arts. Their appointment of Clive van den Berg as visual arts co-ordinator for the main programme for a three-year term was a wise move on their part, resulting in a series of shows that were as challenging as they were accessible and seductive. A highlight was Drawings in Light, featuring large-scale metal cut-outs derived from artists' line drawings solicited by Van den Berg, which were illuminated by Christmas-style lights typical of local municipalities. They were erected in an empty lot and were utterly stunning by night. Contributing artists included Peter Schutz (whose Madonna, waiter and springbok head worked particularly well in this medium), Claudette Schreuders, Clive van den Berg, Robin Rhode, Stephen Hobbs, Hentie van der Merwe and Ryan Arenson. The lights remain property of the town.

The linocut exhibition 'Self', where Van den Berg commissioned artists to produce images in linocut, was equally interesting, with pieces by Paul Edmunds and Brett Murray emerging as personal favourites. Murray's cartoon-like image of an induna addressing a white colonial traveller, retorting " If another white artist brings me a portfolio of guilt, crisis of identity and memory - I'm going to throw up", is apparently going to be followed by another work where the white character says, "If this black artist romanticises poverty and uses the shack as a metaphor, he is on my next show in London." But despite these fantastic moments, contributions by Steven Cohen and Terry Kurgan were disappointing, specifically because they did not answer the brief and work in linocut. The show was intended to get artists to experiment and expand their language - if one does not feel up to the challenge, one should simply refuse the invitation.

The 'Sasol New Signatures Revisited' exhibition brought together a collection of compelling works, with Marco Cianfanelli's pristine mixed media pieces and Luan Nel's large lightboxes of blurry images of the pool at the Stadio dei Marmi in Rome the strongest works on show. Hentie van der Merwe's 'Emotions and Relations' also deserves a mention as one of the most fresh exhibitions of camera-based works seen of late.

The KKNK has also helped expose Richard Penn as a young animator to look out for - he facilitated as well as showed work on the KykNET-sponsored 'Animation' exhibition that presented a two-hour programme of short animation films by artists. His work 'The Immigrant' deserves far greater exposure than this festival could provide. And the Koos van der Watt-curated exhibition dealing with the Anglo-Boer War was a pleasant surprise - Jan van der Merwe's rust-covered bed and closet were extraordinarily poetic. Installed in a church, the suitably low lighting could have been a bit melodramatic. Instead, it complemented the work produced by Mark Wilby, Chris Gous, Van der Merwe and Van der Watt.

More than anything, this year's visual arts programme has set a standard of experimentation and quality contemporary art that is worth following closely. Where Grahamstown centres itself around art with a capital A, the KKNK's embracing of popular culture makes the transition that much less threatening for festival-goers. And most importantly, these shows were visited by a steady stream of committed, interested people.

Annelieke Grob

Annelieke Grob
Daily Life in a Suitcase
Multimedia installation


Annelieke Grob - 'Daily Life in a Suitcase' at the DAG
by Virginia MacKenny

Dutch artist Annelieke Grob's Daily Life in a Suitcase, is not the sort of exhibition you should pop in to see if you only have a couple of minutes to spare. Ten years in the making and densely packed with visual, auditory and tactile stimuli it takes a while to orientate oneself in relation to the plethora of drawers, knobs and screens that present themselves for scrutiny. Telling the lives of six South African women, four black and two white, the project was initiated by sending a suitcase with a camera and instructions to various women who were prepared to participate.

These disparate lives are brought into union through the structural device of the packing cases that are cleverly designed not only to carry the works, but also open like old-fashioned dressers to reveal their contents. Rarely has the feminist dictum �the personal is political� been so clearly elucidated. Generic categories such as "family"� "house"� "work"� and "garden"� allow the viewer to make comparative assessments between the lives of the woman. These comparisons reveal the larger context within which the women live.

Jerry cans and paraffin stoves play off hairdryers and electric mixers. The minutiae of domesticity slowly and effectively builds up a very powerful sense of the differences that apartheid created. Narratives of privilege are played out against narratives of loss - Audrey Heyns� simple statement "I seldom swim. You know how it goes, when one has a pool one does not use it much"� becomes jarring when set against Kedibone Elisabeth Malulika's celebratory declaration at having running water in her new bathroom. This is given added poignancy when she remarks that they hope to add a geyser so they can have "hot water!"

The cut-out figures atop the crates or the tableaus set up within them become equally telling in their simplicity. The miniature, pink, plastic suitcase packed with "daily sources of strength"� from the bible is integral to the life of a woman handicapped in childhood by the spillage of boiling water, the little flickering toy TV or the dolls china tea set talk of familiar daily rituals that structure the various women�s lives. Individual stories, told through mini projection boxes which viewers have to activate by hand, engage through their more open interpretation of events in the women's lives.

The narratives, on the whole, though, seem to come across more powerfully in words than in the visual presentation. Whilst the panoramic shots around the women's homes are powerfully evocative the considerable quantity of snapshots presented produces a visual fatigue that leads to generalised looking. It is only the small typed headings that stop us and call one to scrutinize more closely. The simple one-liners where the women make statements of their own personal triumphs or insights into life or talk of their gardens; the need for a fence to keep goats out; the dream of fruit trees, seem to indicate that a book could as easily and effectively been constructed from these encounters.

Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, City Hall, Smith Street
Tel: (031) 300-6234/5/8
Gallery hours from 09:00 to 12:00




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