Mike de la Harpe - 'The Improbability of Flight' at the AVA
By Tracy Murinik
Mike de la Harpe's wondrous, vaguely hovering cast of not-quite-airborne creatures - which are currently attached to the walls of the AVA's Long Gallery - are greatly and playfully pleasing. They're also quietly spectacular in their quirkiness, beautifully crafted in wood and lead - and the occasional pebble or Smurfette that might make its way to the fore. And, with consistent quirk, one is able to buy individual elements that make up many of the works (you can, for example, take a single flame from a blaze rather than the whole rocket, or a single panty-wearing torso out of a trio of other knicker donners), which makes them infinitely consumable too (and thereby increasing their probability of flight).
The show's press release describes the works as a "collection of metaphorical space ships, flying machines, wrecks and parts thereof". Each piece in the exhibition suggests some potential for movement or action: wooden snail trails that plot a traveled path; stars above surreptitiously impacting on the course of things below; the circular gaping mouth of a nurse and a devil with the suggestion of perhaps sound or, alternatively, consumption. But there are also elements in each work that hint at a particular innate or latent property to that thing, something inferred symbolically as a personality trait. One feels inclined to ascribe a possible "mindset" to each entity simply through the materials that comprise it.
For example, a trio of similarly structured beings - namely Art Bomb, Untitled I and Untitled II - are all vaguely cherubic in design (central torso with wings/arms). Art Bomb bears taut, outstretched yellow arms (rather than wings, and appearing quite crucifix-like) and a glassed-in window at its centre, filled, quite ominously, with the volatile potential of match tips and a stick of dynamite/cracker. Untitled I, alternatively, has the lightness of feathers at its centre, but bears the weight of pebbles in its wings, and Untitled II is solid lead to the core, bearing a crest on one wing and a pebble on the other, cold and foreboding.
The latent reproductive potential of things is considered in works such as Fertile I, II and III and Birth. Fertile I and Fertile III appear to trace back the procreation of Granny and Grandpa, each straddled by younger generational pantied bottoms and bare torsos (or perhaps there's the reference to the course of interaction that led to the younger generation being in the first place). Fertile II comprises a series of seed-like entities, and Birth presents a glorious golden tail, rooted in wood, swathed in red underneath (not unreminiscent of the devil's tails on the opposite wall), emerging triumphantly with feathers on its chest and a sinister glow to its being. The references are recurringly around an ambivalence and often co-existence of "good" and "evil": of Untitled IV's pebble heart, encased in lush red velvet, and the glimmer of a white feather inserted into the core of the stone.
Until September 22
Association for Visual Arts, 35 Church Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 424 7436
Fax: (021) 423 2637
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm