Ulric Roldanus and Michael Croeser at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny
Chinese opposition to the 'Truth about Tibet' exhibition at the NSA may have given greater credence to Tibetan claims of Chinese stricture, but the furore also served to overshadow two other exhibitions currently on show there.
Ulric Roldanus' 'The Road' explores the artist as itinerant on the planet. A short video piece made during his residency here, Driving, Walking, Standing (2002), shows footage taken from a moving car depicting the road, passing trucks, rural KZN and Durban suburbia. Created on computer using Adobe Premiere, the first string of images gradually becomes transparent, revealing the artist's bare legs and feet standing still on different surfaces: tar, grass, the red earth of Africa. Stasis and movement combine to evoke the freedom of travel, its vulnerability and the need to be "grounded" in alien lands.
That the pale, white feet evoke those of a medieval Christ, with the attendant associations of penitence and transcendence, may not be surprising given Roldanus' background. The son of a missionary, brought up in the Cameroon, his childhood memories fuel much of his adult presence in Africa. Other works such as The Twelve Apostles, a commercial poster of 12 African masks with the names of the disciples replacing the original labels, engages issues of ideological transposition with a wry and witty eye. Similarly a wall relief made of clay with small wooden "African" heads set up like a fairground sideshow with blue UV backlighting and flashing lights signifies cultural appropriation and devaluation.
Conceived as an installation, the exhibition only succeeds as such in part, with the large floor piece of rubber tyre strips lying like an abandoned tangle of Scalectrix. Punctured with wire "stalks" carrying small photographic cut-outs from the artist's travels, it leads one to a beleaguered, reddened banana plant, its earth similarly punctuated with little photographs sprouting like some strange foreign growth flowering in local soil. Beyond this on the wall is an aerial photograph on canvas of the mission station of Roldanus' youth, surrounded by more photographs - this time in the form of "soft" cushions with ill-defined edges, evoking the imprecise memories we retain from the sites of our experiences.
Roldanus, unlike many another foreign artists who come to our shores seeking inspiration and the exotic, has a clear eye on the white man's history across the planet as interloper, voyeur, imperialist and cultural plunderer.
Michael Croeser's 'Recent Works' takes the viewer on a different kind of journey, with large charcoal drawings of images from disparate sources collaged together. His exhibition has none of the makeshift diversity or immediacy that Roldanus uses to evoke his construction of meaning while on the road. Considered and controlled, this kind of charcoal work is reminiscent of the large airbrushed billboards of the Sixties or the smooth finishes of artists like Rosenquist, with his love of the commercial image.
Slick and even, these images erase the efforts of the human hand, suggesting fragments of some giant graphic novel grappling with meaning in the detritus of our contemporary world. Juxtaposing plastic sheep made in China against cosmic explosions under titles such as Economically Viable Chinese Birth/Death Paradox, the works hint at the possibility of larger truths while embracing the banal.
Until March 17
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