blank projects, Cape Town
12.03.2016 – 09.04.2016
Jonah Sack’s ‘Obstruction’ at blank projects is comprised of two stylistically disparate bodies of work: dowel rod sculptures that mimic the aesthetic of mining and wistfully rendered oil paintings on wood.
These media coexist tenuously, linked by mining-related titles. While the paintings have a sensitive touch, the sculptures are shaky stand-ins for industry. Among the works, Allegory of Mining, Throat of the Land and Architection indicate an inquiry into the withdrawal of resources from the ATM of the landscape.
Alas, this interrogation comes off as cosmetic. The sculptures are flimsy look-almost-alikes, borrowing an aesthetic but not a function.
These maquettes imitate the powerhouses of industry but are frail and make-shift … but perhaps that is their message. A statement about the goliath mining industry, finally faltering, or about our over-reliance on infrastructure that could bend or snap in an instant (à la Eskom).
This is the moment –lips locked on the rim of my third coffee cup, eyes reflected blue from the screen and brow deeply furrowed– when I think to myself: ‘I’m not writing the artist statement.’
So, like a prospector sifting for nuggets of gold, I began scouring the gallery handout. It (for this time it is but a single sheet – so unlike you blank projects!) mentions that the sculptures resemble pylons, and that they reference the architecture of the artist’s relative, Monty Sack, and his contemporary, Eduardo Villa.
I see another compelling parallel in the work of the constructivists. Sack’s work seems to be both a nod and a finger to constructivist monuments, such as Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. He certainly draws on the modern abstract blueprint, but toys with it in a way that is unaffected by, well, Russian jingoism and a love of big machines with big, moving, metal parts. Sack’s breezy woodwork is more industrial revulsion and less industrial revolution.
His almost diagrammatic creations look like they might be a missing portion of a kinetic sculpture by the likes of Theo Janson or Arthur Ganson. But they are stationary, in limbo on elaborate Monument-Valley-esque plinths.
They also appear pleasingly runic. At first glance I interpreted the wooden-rod constructions of Frieze as texts that had been obscured or abstracted. Had Sack created a superscript in an obscure language? The works’ interplay mimicking grammar? The geometrical, graphical sculptures resting together against the walls forming sentences? Not my call.
The exhibition seemed ultimately opaque. In a critical capacity, I see my role as attempting to draw links between the artworks presented to me and other sources (some visual others not) and to give something of a voice to the experience of the exhibition. This is a difficult task when I am not compelled and even more so when the theoretical rationale of the artwork is so ambiguous. And so it felt like another mystery.
My spirit was flagging.
However, for me there was sunshine in his oil paintings. These either hung or floated on stilts and there was a simple lack of darkness in them. I happily watched almost-figurative pedestrian scenes happening in a surreal mind-fog. I delighted in wood-grain peeking from behind what appeared to be Simon Stone underpaintings.
Sack uses a palette that is soft and matte. If I were the person tasked with naming Dulux paints (that would be fun) I would fondly name his colours things like: ‘moldy lemonade float’, ‘dusty meringue’ and ‘maroon geology wedding’.
His use of paint is relaxed. He dilutes usually-pasty oil to a turpentine-wash that absorbs into the plywood. In Marching Column this technique is employed to created a ‘6.45pm sky azure’, ‘hypothermic bather’ and ‘blueberry macaroon’ garment that tickles the eyes. There’s a softness of touch in the paintings and although they are as lacking in rigorous conceptual scaffolding as the physical scaffolding with which they occupy the space, they hold the gaze. The hand of the artist isn’t over-invested but the process looks engaging and playful. Which is how I feel about the show: playful but under-committed.