Archive: Issue No. 61, September 2002

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Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood setting up at Spark!

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Black Hole, 2002
Perspex, satin ribbons and wood
1.8 meter diameter x 25cm

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Nothing really matters (detail), 2002
Cube shaped structure
Projected images on all four sides
(Film of glass container filling up with washing powder)

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
White light, 2002
Wood, perspex, light bulbs
1.8 diameter x 12cm

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Absorbers, 2001
Red fake fur slippers
Installation view

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Absorbers (detail), 2001

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Floating trophies (detail), 2002
Found silver cups, engraved

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
installation view on 'Homeport'
in V&A Waterfront

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
A friend, 2001
Found cabinet and Sarie magazines

Doreen Southwood

Printed paper
Installation view on
'Too Close for Comfort'
at Bell-Roberts Gallery

Doreen Southwood
by Paul Edmunds (September, 2002)


Doreen Southwood, a young artist who first attracted public attention on the group show which opened Cape Town�s Bell-Roberts Gallery in 2000, doesn't limit herself to work in any one medium and has produced sculpture, objects, prints and most recently a video. Notably though, when Southwood does work in two dimensions, the works retain something of an object-like nature. Over the last two years, she has produced an impressive body of work. Despite the fact that she is still a student, completing her Masters degree, her work retains a quality of production seldom met and seldom surpassed by many professional artists further along their career paths. She often employs the skills of craftspeople such as glass blowers and cabinet-makers. In this sense, and also in terms of the scale of the projects on which she embarks, Southwood is not short of ambition and certainly unwilling to compromise on the quality of work she produces. The influence of peers such as Brett Murray, Lisa Brice and Bridget Baker is evident, particularly in her earlier work, but certainly in the work of the last two years, she has found a voice of her own.

It's difficult to talk about Southwood's work without talking about the artist herself because she so unashamedly bares herself, warts-and-all, to an audience. Plumbing the depths of her conservative, white, middle-class Afrikaans upbringing, Southwood unearths a nasty cycle of repression, abuse and the coping mechanisms offered her by this society where women occupy a silent and haunted interior. Southwood's candidness about her own disposition leaves a viewer trapped between doubting her sincerity and wanting to know less about a near stranger. 'Too close for comfort', her first one person show, held in 2000, presented the viewer with this dilemma in an all too attractive way. The seductive surface, exquisite craftsmanship and obsessive nature of much of the work lulled a viewer into a complacency that was rudely disrupted by both the contents of individual works and an air of quietness and oppression attending the whole exhibition.

Floating Trophies comprised a collection of old small silver cups of the kind awarded to junior school sporting champions newly inscribed with legends such as 'Doreen Southwood 1997 - 1999 Panic Attacks'. Other conditions detailed here include 'Hardlywigheid', 'Spastic Colon' and 'Sleeplessness'. All the symptoms of worry, stress and repression are listed here without fanfare. The idea that the trophies are 'floating' implies the cyclical nature of these afflictions, handed down through generations of women brought up in such an environment. Another trophy-like work is Freedom, Hope, Strength, a series of three shield-shaped, glass-fronted frames filled decoratively with over-the-counter painkillers.

Absorbers, a snaking line of red fur slippers, led a viewer around the corner. The 26 pairs of slippers, each representing a year in Southwood's life, ascended in size, suggesting a path of silent footfall from infancy to adulthood. The line ended at the foot of a cabinet - A friend - filled with copies of 'Sarie', an Afrikaans women's magazine. Only the spines were visible with the magazine's motto MY INSPIRASIE (my inspiration) clearly legible. Individual issues sported themes such as 'Gesond en Mooi' (Healthy and Pretty) and 'Word jou eie baas' (Become your own boss). If these were the pathetic aspirations available to a woman, Southwood's next show presented one with something a lot less definable.

A flight of stairs lead from the floor of the double volume space of the Spark! Gallery in Johannesburg, rising 11 metres up the wall. Each stair was sheathed in a knitted sleeve, the bottom-most step the blue/grey of the rug at the foot of the stairs, each following step fading uniformly to the white of the summit. The title of the show, a two-person affair held with Johannesburg-based Antoinette Murdoch, was 'Eksie Perfeksie (Just Perfect), and saw Southwood examining how it is we are continually measured up to 'perfection' which is presented as the norm. Flanking the stairs were two other pieces White Light and Black Hole. Pitched between the extremes of the latter two, the stairway to heaven, or oblivion, is rather precarious. Black Hole comprised a deep disc whose interior was filled with concentric rings of ribbon, stitched together and moving steadily from white at the outside to a black-blue in the centre. The smooth transition from stability to disorientation is a slippery slope, made no more secure by Southwood's obsessive method of constructing the piece. While the resultant objects are less figurative than her previous body of work, the more abstract, oblique reference to her own instability and vulnerability (a fact to which the show's publicity drew attention) is somewhat darker.

Southwood's new body of work 'Nothing, really matters' continues this exploration. A series of prints, sculptures and a four channel projection detail the artist's negotiation of this territory which is a little more stripped of its familiar domestic referrants.


Southwood is completing her Master's degree at the University of Stellenbosch which she began in 1999. Recent Standard Bank Young Artist Award recipient and winner of FNB Vita Award winner Alan Alborough is one of her supervisors. She is also very busy producing work for her upcoming show and the exhibition of glasswork both at the Bell-Roberts later this year.

Southwood produced a work for �Homeport�, the Public Eye-curated event which took place at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town last December. Her work comprised a series of phrases describing sensations and feelings infused with a sense of loss. These phrases were made from cutout letters which were attached to submerged scaffolding. At different times in the ebb and flow of the tide, some phrases emerged from the water, others stood just proud while the rest were obscured by the opacity of the surface. Like all of Southwood's work, this was extremely photogenic and featured on the cover of the catalogue.

Soon after this she partook in 'Eksie Perfeksie' with Antoinette Murdoch at Spark! in Johannesburg. She produced four incredibly ambitious works for the show but ended up exhibiting only three. The last piece, having been worked on some more will be seen for the first time at the Bell-Roberts this month.


The Cape Town public first became aware of Southwood when she showed Freedom, Hope, Strength on the 'Emergency' show, which she co-curated, at the opening of the Bell-Roberts Gallery in 2000. Later in the year she showed a disconcerting bronze self-portrait at an exhibition of work in bronze entitled 'Cast' and featuring work by Brett Murray, Julia Clark, Kevin Brand and others. The work depicted a standing figure, painted in pastel colours, clutching to her shoulder what appeared to be a baby. On closer inspection, the 'baby' was really a swaddled dog, then the artist's object of affection.

In 2001 she held her first one-person show 'Too Close for Comfort' which revealed her as someone to watch. This extraordinary body of work was exquisitely crafted and featured blown-glass works, digital prints, the above-mentioned bronze, two embroidered pieces and a number of assemblages of found and created objects.


Southwood's next show opens on September 18 at Bell-Roberts. Shortly after this, expect to see some more glasswork at a show at the same venue in November.

Born in Cape Town, where the artist still lives and works
BAFA University of Stellenbosch

University of Stellenbosch , Awarded Top Student for Fine Art
Kempton Park Tembisa Competition

Awarded Stellenbosch 2000 Bursary

Selected Exhibitions:
Brendon Bell-Roberts Gallery, Group Exhibition - 'Emergency'

The Granary, Cape Town, Group Exhibition - 'Celebrating Difference'

Bronze Age Foundry, Simonstown , Group Exhibition - 'Cast'

Red Cross fundraising exhibition, Cape Town

Bell-Roberts Contemporary, Solo Exhibition - 'Too Close For Comfort'

ABSA Atelier Award Exhibition, ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg

Belville Arts Association, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Group Exhibition - 'Aarsel/Waver'

International Contemporary Art Fair of Marbella, Group Exhibition

Artscape, Cape Town , Group Exhibition

Cape Town group exhibition, curated by Public Eye - 'Homeport'

Bellville Arts Association, ABSA- l'Atelier

Klein Karoo Kunstefees, group exhibition, curated by Clive van den Berg - 'Images of Self'

Spark! Gallery, Johannesburg, two person exhibition with Antoinette Murdoch - 'Eksie Perfeksie (Just Perfect)'

Public Collections:


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)