Bronwyn Lace at DUT Gallery
By Carol Brown
Bronwyn Lace is the third artist in the DUT (Durban University of Technology) Artist-in-Residence programme instituted by curator Nontobeko Ntombela. The programme brings a welcome energy to this gallery which has not done much to attract the public previously, charting a new direction which looks as though it is working. By inviting artists to come and work in the gallery and interact with students from the institution, the curator exposes them to contemporary practice in a meaningful way.
The first artist in this programme, former DUT lecturer Angela Buckland, is a well respected photographer whose work has earned her national acclaim. Her recently published book Zip zip my Brain Harts engaged the process of representing disability within the family which was the subject of her residency programme. It was important to bring awareness of this issue to the student population who also participated in various photographic workshops led by her. She was followed by painter and well respected Durban art teacher, Pascale Chandler, whose favoured medium is oil painting.
Current artist Bronwyn Lace is Johannesburg-based and first showed in Durban in 2005 at the KZNSA YAP (Young Artists Programme) and also at a 'Red Eye' event at the Durban Art Gallery. Lace's work charts the complex territory of aesthetics and the intersections between art and science. She explains that 'I work with the natural ratio of Phi 1.618... it's an irrational number which means it never ends or repeats. It's famous because of its remarkable properties and has recently become extremely popular, mainly due to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. This ratio has been used throughout history to construct things from buildings to paintings. What appeals to me about Phi is that it's supposed to be the most aesthetically appealing proportion to the human being. It is a proportion that is found within us - our bodies use it for length of our limbs, seashells and webs and flowers use it - it's a very powerful thing, a very appealing concept'.
I quote extensively from this statement because I am not quite sure that I understand this relationship and I haven't even read The Da Vinci Code so maybe I'm missing something significant which the rest of the world has seized upon with enthusiasm. However, having got that confession out of the way, what I did react to was the beauty and the tension within the show.
The gallery is a cool white space in which Lace has made a subtle intervention which articulates the space by confounding our expectations. Her work involves weaving nylon thread into intricate patterns which appear fragile and yet have a strength. We are at first nervous at the apparent fragility - the main feature of the exhibition is a trio of Perspex fish bowls with live fish swimming in them. At first they appear to be floating in mid air but closer examination reveals that one bowl is set upon a Perspex stand which is not immediately visible, and the other two are suspended from the ceiling with nylon threads. The nylon is woven into an complex spider's web construction and is evidence of a great amount of patience and intricate work which is initially invisible to the eye.
Her work plays with reality and our perceptions. The fish are also displaced in that some appear to be swimming under the water level and others above it � she achieves these illusions by the placement of black stones which divide the bowls into different configurations - these are well structured and bring us back to the mathematical references in her work. The goldfishes' endless circling within the stillness of the gallery becomes hypnotic, alerting us to Lace's statement about the fact that Phi 'never ends or repeats'.
One also has a sense of time passing and the continuity of life. When I recently observed fish swimming in an aquarium I thought this endless swimming in a circle was cruel but someone explained that fish only have a few seconds worth of memory and thus did not suffer. One could tease a number of meanings from this phenomenon and how memory affects human action. This suggestion of continuity is echoed on the walls which are hung with photographs of previous similar installations in other galleries where the divisions of space were more evident than in this particular installation. The past becomes the present and conceptually echoes the cyclical trajectory of the goldfish.
The exhibition was certainly a thought-provoking one, combining a critique of beauty with a comment on how the human mind complicates life. I am sure we will be hearing quite a bit more about Lace in the future.
Opens: May 21
Closes: May 31
Durban University of Technology Art Gallery
Mansfield Road, Durban
Tel: (031) 204 2207
Hours: Mon - Thur 8am - 4.30pm, Fri 8am - 3pm