20,01,2016 – 06,03,2016
The aesthetic trends in Svea Josephy’s recent show ‘Satellite Cities: Naming Worlds’, are immediately visible in the gallery space of Wits Art Museum which has points from where the viewer can see the body of work as a whole. This feels important for noticing visual similarities between the works, so upon reading the titles, the viewer can share in Josephy’s vision. She pairs images of completely different locations around the world that share the same name.
The colours in the works are sometimes bright and contrasting, like a Hockney swimming pool. Concrete and brick against bright blue skies. At other times the colour seems to highlight the monotony of the landscape. The colour reads like a narrative that allows you to understand these spaces and place yourself within them. These places seem like alternate dimensions, vastly different but a similarity, as if sharing a historical departure point. But sometimes these images from two places so far from one another seem like they were taken within a kilometer radius of each other, as if they share a current reality.
Initially one imagines Svea Josephy’s work to be in the tradition of South African documentary photography. However, the titles of her images reveal that these images are not all of local areas but of international spaces that share names. There are dichotomies of space and time in these juxtaposed images. The places are disparate from one another ideologically, spatially, linguistically, but their juxtaposition makes it easy to draw parallels historically, as well as visually, the names imposing a familiarity over two such separate spaces that may otherwise have had little to do with one another. Often the areas depicted in these photographs are paralleled sites of violence, a name borrowed after an event that affiliated the two spaces. The taxonomy at play in her titles is vital to understanding her work. Names provide a mechanism for structure, for mapping the world in our minds. Names mirror the objects of our experience. Many of these spaces are named after another because of the violent parallels. Josephy connects these spaces through photography.
The implicit violence is supported with the explicit violence of the rot in some of these images. There is a pervasive phenomenon, an obsession in art aptly dubbed ruin porn, the fetishization of our demise through the reproduction of a post-apocalyptic aesthetic, of abandoned, empty or decaying spaces. The decay implies something about the politics in which these spaces exist across history. Humans are absent in many of these images, their presence implied in the emptiness. It provokes a dialogue about the human effect on their environment, and vice versa. These images are a stark contrast to commercial architectural photography. Josephy’s images imply a great number of inhabitants in a small space, a contrast to the images in magazines where a small number of people are implicit in large spaces, a mark of privilege. Her images reveal suffering and hardship, of waste and decay, of shared spaces and close contact. She challenges a discipline of privilege – architecture as a mode of class reproduction. Architecture informs the way we live and experience the world around us, how habitations can influence our everyday consciousness. Our understanding of the world and our place in it are key to engaging with these images. Human habitats form a large part of what constitutes our constructed universe, informing the understanding of the way our surroundings act on us and how we act on them.
Architecture often aligns visually with utopias, dystopias, idealism, oppression. There are visual trends pertaining to particular ideals that are evident when comparing the architecture that results from particular political periods in history. The monumental is reserved for the powerful, large spaces like stadiums, government buildings, museums, banks. The small, cramped spaces of government housing, hostels reserved for the working masses. The aesthetic of concrete. A spatial representation of power.
Materials are contrasted against each other constantly in Josephy’s work. A row of plastic containers for water compared to the shape of housing developments. One West Bank pitched against another. Buildings. Human containers. The corrugated iron browns and greys of a cramped township, contrasted with an empty, brightly colourful beach resort. Josephy’s images are stylized and aestheticized, where even the use of colour reveals reproduction of privilege or struggle. Her work, as the catalogue says, ‘reminds us of the incompleteness of space after the utopian moment has passed,’ essentially a space we all live in. Josephy explores the visuals and names of our built environment as a signifier for human interconnectivity and disparity. The marks we make on the land, shared consciousness and human history visualized.