David Koloane's 'Rituals'
by Brenton Maart
David Koloane's assemblages, on show at the Goodman Gallery, are three-dimensional wall-mounted sculptures constructed from found objects bound together crudely with wire. Dustings of dirt, coarse bitumen and chunks of ground gravel - the offsprings of capitalism, the by-products of consumerism, the leftovers of daily flows of people into the city and back home again - seem to have settled over his work in the same way that the atmosphere of Johannesburg settles over buildings, vehicles and people. The works, like the city they were made in, are dirty.
In Voice box (2003), Koloane uses tomato boxes wrapped in dirtied, brown canvas to create two compartments: the top houses a telephone receiver; the bottom, the telephone's dialling component. Both items, initially part of a single working structure, are now separated, wrapped individually in chevron tape and bound with wire. The push buttons on the telephone emerge as if uncovered by someone tearing at the tape. Seen in the context of Koloane's work on the urban condition, the work is mute yet vocal, devoid of agency and powerful, abject and strengthened by ritualistic mediation. The memories lying dormant in discarded items are reawakened and given new layers of meaning.
However, when seen in the context of the adjacent assemblages - some containing pages of artists' r�sum�'s and lists of African artists, all barely legible beneath the layers of grime - Voice box could be read as a critique of modernism.
Initially classified as an offshoot of western modernism, African modernism is now understood to be distinct from its western counterpart, particularly by virtue of its overtly political concerns in the postcolonial era. It is this theme - unpacked by Okwui Enwezor's touring show 'The Short Century' (2001) - that Koloane seems to interrogate.
Political and ideological independence and liberation struggles, explored in near-isolation by African artists, are just visible, just emerging, from the dust of colonialism. Koloane's form of modernism may be seen as a study of the growth of African modernism from, in the words of Enwezor, the "ruins of colonialism."
In many of the assemblages, a variety of packaging materials (boxes, sealing wax, packing tape) are gathered together onto one surface; wire attempts to hold it all together. In a gesture almost as if turning inside out, Koloane reveals his working method as an interrogation of packaging the work of black artists, the false notions of modernism(s), the dialectic between inside and outside, the dichotomy of centre and periphery.
Visually, the assemblages become landscapes constructed from the debris of everyday life. They become physical manifestations of Koloane's modernist internal processes. Metaphorically, the components adopt the role of postmodern, recontextualised signposts and markers; a new possible history developed from the debris of the old. In this way, Koloane's methodology has links with the Francophile Negritude movement, drawing on elements of re-assignation, quotation and case-in-point examples.
Further, Koloane combines the notions of postmodern construction with an analysis of a real manifestation of postcolonialism. His assemblages, relatively recently constructed from found objects, give an impression of having been shoved into a corner: new, loose dust has settled, pigeon feathers flutter from surfaces; spider-webs adorn dark corners.
Koloane's assemblages are a dimensional extension of his works on paper, a selection of which is also on show at the Goodman. Although distinct, his works on paper elicit similar emotions of heaviness, sadness and anger. The blur and grime and degraded light, formal visual techniques that are his signature, render tangible the invisibility of urban life.
Celebrating the reality of fragmentation, embracing provisionality, and exposing incoherence: David Koloane's new collection of work at the Goodman (spanning more than ten years) demonstrates clearly the artist's passage through postcolonialism via African modernism into an experience of African postmodernism.
Opens: June 7
Closes: June 28
Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: 011 788 1113
Fax: 011 788 9887
Hours: Tues - Fri 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sat 9.30am - 4pm
Brenton Maart is ArtThrob's new Johannesburg Editor.