Everard Read Gallery, Cape Town
12.11.2015 – 02.12.2015
It is appropriate that the @play group-show at Everard Read prompts child-like exclamations of ‘that’s so cool.’ While all the artists have different styles, they converge on the task of ‘experimentation and the processes of physical mark-making’ without restraint. Ranging from deconstructed pianos to dogs crafted out of carbon fiber, this show is entirely too caffeinated to called a meditation on medium.
Samuel Allerton’s ‘In The Balance’ series sets the pace for the show. In the entry-piece, a rhino is cast out of oxidizing bronze, toting a horn so strikingly phallic that Freudian notions are irrepressible. Even as it urges tittering, this work, like others by Allerton, is a reminder of environmental responsibility. Through his depiction of a horn that is disproportionately large when compared to the animal’s body, he gives a truthful account of how this living creature is seen and treated by illicit markets.
Florian Wozniak interprets the theme of play more literally. His carved figures are smooth and stately, making their buoyancy that much more remarkable. In Swing and Hard Drive, stone is near-airborne, the figures appearing to defy gravity. However, it is the detail of the facial expressions that makes the figures endearing. Their investment in a see-saw and an imaginary car is thorough, the works are resonant enough to trigger the mirror-neuron; the viewer smiles back in a combination of nostalgia and envy.
Wozniak’s sweetness contrasts Jop Kunneke’s combination of art historical wit and technological slickness. His bronze is not stately or faded; it glistens, dripping smooth urbanism. Most emblematic of his output is Nike of the Samothrace Bushmeat mash up. The 3D printed classical object is given the head of a gorilla that recurs in Kunneke’s work. It is a tongue-in-cheek subversion of grace. It would appear that Kunneke’s version of play is not one of abandon, it is firmly entrenched in a cerebral trendiness.
With less metatext is the work of Frank Van Reenen. His work takes on the candy-pink hues of cartoons. The figures have button-noses and vague eyes. However, it is his large-scale painting Sitting Dog that arrests. Featuring statements like, “I’m just selling art to support my passion for being a waiter” and “ballerina girl stuck in a river of shit and still dancing,” the painting’s sprawling comic scenes are dreamy and funny.
All the shimmer and exuberance of the other artists is slowed down in the work of Lynette Bester. At first glance, the detail the work is composed of is the stuff that becomes Windows screensavers; the uncompromising geometry looks like simulation. But on closer inspection, the crafting of the wood becomes the embodiment of tenderness. Discarded objects are reincarnated as gateways to visual awe, showing plainly the time and patience that must have been used to make them. In snakes and ladders –legacy knot five ladders command the gallery floor. The wood is faded to grey and is carrying only the most belligerent of paint stains. While the title tells us the form is a knot, the imagination takes liberties because this is a time for ‘play.’ The composition appears to be a prehistoric arachnid in the throes of its death rattle. There is a sense, even in its’ stillness, that something profound is responsible for this structured entanglement. With this piece, as with her other work, the invitation is to a hushed beholding, Bester’s sense of ‘play’ is inclusive of interiority.
But what is significant about this show is that it highlights the importance of naming and framing. With any other title, under any other kind of concept, the sweetness of the works would have been cloying, the polished urbanism of Jop Kunneke of would have been a fevered modernity and the Besters’ voice would be incomprehensible in its complexity.
But because of the name of the show, similar to a twitter-handle, the experience was jovial. The voices were too complimentary to be a cacophony; the humor too human and relatable to be sneering. The self-possession of the works excluded self-consciousness. Simply put, @play was an aesthetic reprieve, a reintroduction to fun.