'Grime' at Bell-Roberts Art Gallery
by Sue Williamson
For a show entitled 'Grime', the artists exhibiting at the Bell-Roberts have made work which is remarkably clean. Dark in hue, certainly - charcoal is the colour of choice - but even the blackened viscous liquids which are the grimiest elements of 'Grime' are carefully contained in three enamel bowls (Hanneke Benade) or a long shallow trough (Retha Erasmus).
'Grime' is a follow-up or successor to a show held in Johannesburg's Millennium II gallery last year entitled, yes, 'Clean', both curated by Retha Erasmus. Much praised at the time, 'Clean' featured denatured and desaturated work in shades of white. Many of the same artists are exhibiting again, and I for one felt the lack of not seeing the first show, as a perusal of Brenda Atkinson's review on Artthrob showed that a number of the artists (Diane Victor, Kathryn Smith, Erasmus again) have quite consciously worked from one show to the other. A dual catalogue currently in production will help to fill this gap.
Prize for the wittiest piece on 'Grime' goes to Kathryn Smith. In the words of her artist's statement: "With Apologies to Kathryn Smith is based on a book I found while browsing in the airport before boarding a flight abroad. In the 'S' section, I see my name on the spine of a book I don't remember writing. It's very pink and published by Avon Historical Romance. The cover depicts a couple, cleavage and muscular chest bared, embracing in a field." Compelled by synchronicity to buy the book, Smith found she actually enjoyed it, cover to cover.
Emailing her namesake, Smith (2) decided to continue her ongoing investigation into authorship and representation by cannibalising the book to form the basis for her piece. Switching genders and reconstructing chunks of the story to write a new narrative, Smith programmed a much more sinister version into a black electronic display machine which allows one to display about 350 words of moving red text. Rising dynamically from the text box, like cartoon thought bubbles or the globular blobs of oil in a lava lamp, are a series of framed round images of what appear to be extreme close-ups of body parts (sourced from the front cover of the novel). Fresh, funny - and would "incisive" be the right word?
Christian Nerf shows a video (black and white) of a trawl through city streets at night. Not too much happens, though the camera rests on two adjoining posters pasted on to a wall long enough to give them some significance - one proposes Mbeki for president, the other announces a Razzmatazz concert. Dispersing crowds later in the video must have been at the concert (they're too cool-looking to have been at a political rally).
Hanneke Benade, Gordon Froud and Antoinette Murdoch have come up with answers to the theme which seem somewhat formulaic and arbitrary - and although one admires Alex Trapani's tenacity in photographing the 24 corners of a small metal cross, and the uncompleted grid of square photographs of what look like flashes of light is quite appealing, it's difficult to see any connection with grime.
Having said that, it is not easy to see what Berco Wilsenach's Hokgeslaan has to do with the theme either, but there is no gainsaying the strength of the piece. A porcupine constructed of hundreds of castoff quills inserted into a perspex drum revolves slowly inside a glass and perspex playpen, the quills catching and clicking on the bars of the pen as it turns. An allegory of man's inhumanity to animals? Or of childhood? The ambiguity allows for an open reading.
One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter is the title of Frederik Eksteen's innovative contribution. Eksteen takes art simultaneously into the realms of science experiment and creepy gothic movie by injecting two old picture frames with the spores of oyster mushrooms in order to activate the "white rot" action of the fungus on the frames themselves.
Wim Botha, who sculpted the hanging figure of Christ from motel room bibles at last year's Oudtshoorn festival, here turns his attention to another icon of religion - the black Madonna, pregnant and with a baby on her arm. The artist has used a mixture of epoxy resin and powdered anthracite to produce a dense material that looks as if it has been hewn from the coalface, dull and light-absorbing on some surfaces, glittering blackly in the strongly cut fissures. A contemporary and slightly dangerous halo is provided by the flames of a gas ring (one is happy the halo is fixed in place and cannot slide down around her neck).
To complete the show, Diane Victor shows three of her powerfully realised narrative charcoal drawings, Retha Erasmus's De Structure sculpture suggests the vertebra of a prehistoric swamp creature rising from the black depths, and Marcus Neustetter offers a pile of murky photocopies of a printout of one of those endless emails from Nigerians (and now South Africans seem to be leaping onto the supposed bandwagon) with ever more fanciful and badly spelt schemes to get one's bank account details, always to be kept strictly secret, of course.
One of the best group shows of this year, 'Grime' gives Cape Town audiences a rare opportunity to view the work of the younger generation of Gauteng artists.
Until July 20
Bell-Roberts Art Gallery, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: 021 422 1100
Fax: 021 423 3135
Hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm