'Houding' - Paul Edmunds at João Ferreira Fine Art
by Tracy Murinik
The word "houding", in Afrikaans, refers to attitude. In a military context "houding" also apparently denotes an overall sense of discipline - an adherence to a particular attitude that would include physical presentation and action; compliance into a particular philosophy. "Verhouding" is a relationship. "Hou ding", in turn, is literally something that holds, a container, or something that can be held.
Paul Edmunds' 'Houding' is a sparse exhibition. In fact, some have reportedly entered the gallery to view the exhibition and have left claiming not to have found it. This, for the record, is not the case though. For 'Houding' does indeed "hou dinge" (hold things) - five rather extraordinary works to be exact. Pieces that, true to what has become the Edmunds trademark, might initially appear unassuming, but which ultimately astonish in their skill, their physicality and their quiet but reverberating aesthetic and overwhelming discipline. Each piece is painstakingly worked. And obsessive is not a word that does not come to mind here. But this is no pathology. It is precisely a particular attitude or philosophy, the "houding" that appears to provide the precedent for each work and for every project that Edmunds takes on and which directs its process. These works are infinitely deliberate. Each moment of them is carefully considered. Their processes are formal and clearly defined. They adhere to a strict code.
And yet there is also a lighter flipside to all this formal process in that the raw materials that Edmunds uses border on the quirky, being almost flippant: an ode to the polystyrene container. The effect is like small jokes or little reversals, but they also edge at the alchemical in the profound effort that these non-spectacular materials are afforded.
The most precarious work in the gallery has to be Reef - an installation of lightly balanced polystyrene cups that tower just enough to induce a sense of vertigo to anyone walking past them, flaunting a promise of being easily demolished or at least notably rearranged. The cups bear small traces of the liquids they once contained: coffee, hot chocolate; but these "hou dinge" no longer adhere to their original holding potential. For each polystyrene cup in Reef has small, precisely measured arrows carved out of it. Each cup has exactly the same number of arrows carved out as the next one. But no arrow-shaped carving tool or stamp has been used to make the insertions. Edmunds has carved each arrow individually, each facet measured according to the angle of the blade used to cut it. There are, apparently, a total of 75 000 arrows in Reef. The energy and sense of cohesion that they create in their interplay is amazing.
The Same But Different is a linocut of red on white that resonates in a similar way, despite an entirely different physical format. It is Zen-like and hypnotic: a single fluid red line that plays out a pattern of ongoing slight ebb, with occasional subtle shifts in rhythm or breath, building to a body of pulsing lines.
Quite different, though, are the bronze works. Untitled I, II and III transform the rather nefarious polystyrene containers that they are cast from into objects of notable gravity - not simply by nature of their weightiness. Methodically carved surfaces take on the suggestion of military objects, echoing the surfaces of helmets or granades. They are exquisitely self-contained, solid things - tightly worked and beautiful; with a new physical potential, though, that is latently unpredictable and possibly sinister; the fragile quality of the original container having been dramatically altered in the process of being cast.
Despite the rather coy "verhouding" of these works to the size of the surrounding gallery, each one is worth scouring the gallery space to find.
Until December 1
João Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-5403 or 082 490-2977
Fax: (021) 423-2136
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 6pm, Sat 10am - 2pm