Smith, Cape Town
Michael Linders’ exhibition ‘Exile’ at Smith is a quirky and light-spirited rendition of the artist’s post-Apartheid experience. It examines the formative role of popular images in a capitalist visual culture. He has incorporated the iconography of the immediate post-Apartheid South Africa, as both an examination of his experience and of the collective cultural space.
Pieces such as Inkomazi represent the time in post-Apartheid South Africa that the commodification of African cultural symbols ‘lost’ their spiritual element and acquired a ‘universality’ that was choreographed by the impersonal strategies of capitalist-driven initiatives. Linders incorporated it in his nostalgia memory bank where it accounts for the extent to which South Africa popular imagery or icons in the 1990’s became imbued with an uncertainty: one had to be cognizant of diversity from a capitalist consumerist perspective.
The exhibition’s limited use of colour through mixes of CMYK inks is also symbolic of capitalism. In ‘Exile’, the artist reminds the audience of the mythologies that emerge from political and capitalist mores that pronounce divisive values, with notions like ‘less is more’ being not just symbolic of the cultural process of printing but also of the measure with which the community interacts.
If one considers Splaaat – which uncharacteristically inverts Linders’ usual approach by using black as the background of the piece – the implications of the truncated use of colour is focused on the ‘splat’ in the middle of the image. What is emotive is limited to the gamut of the CMYK profile colours, the icon then becomes a symbol for the ethics and values of capitalism in South Africa. This also implies that the entrepreneurial drives in the context of post-Apartheid South Africa, encouraged an ethic of limited expression and production based on cultivating a divisive culture.
Linders’ vocabulary of products is a collective one, simultaneously complicit and combative. Combative in the sense that a collective voice can instigate transformation and complicit in terms of the entrepreneurial drives that were implemented in the context of transformation.
For example Study 2, with its concentration on the impact of colour on the paper without the use of text or black ink, shows how the colours utilised in the commercial printing process can reveal the limitation of affective and cultural creativity and expression where social implications and capitalist interests intersect in a scramble for the psyche but also for the historic location of marking the point of transformation.
The light sculpture titled NOW, NOW articulates the immediacy and emotional distance that a plethora of popular visual stimulation competing with each other, with the similar cultural goals can instigate. As a visual piece it resounds with the impact of a shop marquee sign. The phrase is a South African colloquialism that is an example of the power of language to instil collective ethics.
This property is protected by depicts the measure with which the cleavage of cultural ethics (and the visual language that surrounds security and its implements) is imbued with a particular identity. The image of the black man between two tigers, communicates the measure with which cultural security also has commercial instead of formative connotations. Instead of cultivating communal values, it rather cultivates capitalist ethics. There is a history of anonymity in the figures related to cultural security and its implements, and it is the commercial iconography that dominates the ethics of security rather than formative figures.
With a title such as ‘Exile’, the visual language can be detected to be symbolically divorced from the formative connotations of a transforming cultural dispensation. One can’t help but be infused by a measure of nostalgia, induced by the familiarity of the icons, the yearning to comprehend what they mean for the artist and the community, and their emotionally distant rendering.