When left to wander along the Goodman Gallery’s ‘Edge of Silence’ it can be easy to become distracted by attempting to fill in the gaps. The exhibition and its premise of ‘silence as a space to allow for listening’ is vague enough to allow for satisfying speculation. However, it seems less the ‘silence’ that is meaningful in this exhibition than the ‘edge’ which comes along with it.
Looking for the links which connect the show’s title, and the works within, becomes a practice in either ultra-specificity, or alternatively, giving in to generalisation. On my initial viewing, I was convinced that I could pair off almost every work with another—creating micro-conversations of meaning that fit together with a pleasing symmetry. However, this piece is not about that, but rather, what came afterward—the doubts, and where they came from.
The exhibition is a group show, involving artists affiliated with the Goodman Gallery, around the theme of the title. With such a varied sample of contemporary artists, and works produced at different times (all appear to be, in one way or another, older works), the links between them are, at times, tenuous. From Kentridge’s etching, Goldblatt’s photography, Fatmi’s sculpture, Kiwanga’s organ performance, Machona’s wooden door, and Busuttil’s painting (among others), the works are often quite disparate. What they all share is not so much a silence, but rather a commentary (in various tones) on issues at the intersection between art and society.
One is quietly brought to question the use of the word ‘silence’ in the title of the exhibition. The hum of Lorna Simpson’s 15 Mouths just left of the entry to the show is an unexpected encounter. The work creates its own cocoon of image, text and sound, highlighting almost right away that the ‘silence’ of the exhibition is obviously not the absence of sound or text, but rather, quite simply, an absence of the spoken word.
It is strange how aware of sound one becomes when placed in a framework of ‘silence’. It makes the space almost ring. The organ playing from Kiwanga’s piece, while meant to be heard through earphones provided, emanates throughout. The footfalls you are confronted with when walking through Oswald Dennis’s Passage seem all the more imposing—the echo of shoe heel to wood bouncing off the walls. The rush of mechanical air from the opening and closing of the hermetically sealed glass doors of the gallery, announcing the movement of anyone coming or going, punctuates the walk through the space.
It would not be amiss to say that there is a sense of imposition in the viewing of the show, a treading on the ground of ‘the insiders’. This is most jarring when coming to the end of the viewing, where if you’re eager to view Kentridge’s 1999 piece Sleeping on Glass, you’ll need to be guided around a corner into an office space. It seems strategic that Kentridge is placed here, in the hopes that his name will be more likely to draw a viewer into this awkward dynamic. On the other hand it serves, probably inadvertently, as a reminder that these works can be owned, as the sense of seeing the Kentridge on someone’s personal wall interrupts the suspended disbelief of the exhibition.
It is this break in the illusion that became so important to me in this exhibition, in a larger sense— the ‘edge’ as opposed to the ‘silence’. This is made more acute when one realises there is no note of who curated the show, and the description, neatly printed on the hand-out, speaks more of individual artists (William Kentridge and Liza Lou), than the show itself. The line that lies between contemporary art as commodity or gallery as brand, and art for important commentary and gallery as a conceptual playground, becomes particularly hazy here.
However, that being said, perhaps that line does not mean that each side has to be as mutually exclusive as we imagine. ‘The Edge of Silence’ seems to really gain more depth and complexity from taking the ‘edge’ in (almost) as equal parts as the contemplative ‘silence’.