SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch
22.04.2016 – 28.05.2016
In his exhibition titled ‘adrift’, Italian artist Giovanni Ozzola, mainly employs the themes of unknown spaces and exploration in his works, creating the sense of purposeless movement through unknown spaces. He makes use of a variety of mediums, a combination of photography, videography, installation art as well as copperplate etchings, to start a conversation between the audience and the visual symbolic of being adrift. Furthermore, he seems to creatively reference the journey of explorers long forgotten. SMAC Gallery offers the perfect space for Ozzola’s exhibition, drawing the audience in with its subtle balance and sketching a seemingly ‘unchartered’ route of exploration for the viewer, through its layout.
Upon entering the Stellenbosch SMAC Gallery, one is immediately drawn to the aesthetically balanced curating and layout of the exhibition space. Ozzola makes the utmost use of the white walls and light wooden floor combination, complementing the gentle and mostly neutral palate of his works. The layout of the gallery lends itself further to complimenting the theme of exploration evident in his works, with hidden spaces and small stairways leading up to single works of art. One becomes almost immersed in retracing the steps of past explorers, entering into the unknown and embodying the idea of being adrift oneself. The nautical theme is carried through in a video installation of an open sea landscape and the aged boat propellers and maps installed against the gallery walls. The video installation entitled Garage —sometimes you can see much more, shows a video sequence of a vast, calm ocean and distant horizon scene, framed by an industrial garage door. The rattling, mechanical movement of the rolling door shutter clashes with the opening of the horizon onto the sea. The shutter operates as a diaphragm between two dimensions and encapsulates these shifts from darkness to light.
When referring back to the title, the theme of exploring is somewhat challenged in terms of purpose and place. Why? Ozzola seems to be playing with the idea of the route of exploration, the spaces in between destinations, where one is somewhat removed from reality and placed in the void of the infinite, without sure direction or fate. Before you anchor, you are propelled with seemingly constant movement towards the next space, yet to be found. To some, no clear destination with no anchor in place, is a negative space, but what if being adrift is merely the uncharted exploration of something to come? Using antique maps, Ozzola further comments on the known versus the unknown, with maps providing guidance, yet they are undoubtedly the product of sailors and explorers who once had to brave uncharted land and water.
Ozzola has come to truly master the art of realist photography, with his photographs grabbing the attention of galleries around the world. In this exhibition, it is clear to see why. Ozzola produces picturesque images that oscillate between the immediacy of capturing the ephemeral and the carefully constructed artifice traditionally associated with painting. Ozzola chooses as subject, abandoned, somewhat ruined and unfamiliar buildings that resemble homes that were once lived in. He makes use of these buildings as man-made structures to frame the landscape, creating a door or a ‘portal’ to unknown horizons visible in the background of the images. Viewers can gaze through this aperture and out to the landscape it reveals. In terms of technique, Ozzola uses the aging of the physical structures to provides texture in his images. His editing further enhances the light and tonal details and with sharp focus and depth, these photographs are created to look very realistic. Clear focus is placed on the third dimension and this translates, through large scale printing, in the viewer being drawn in to the space. Technique, reason and idea are carefully balanced in his photographs, the result being that they encapsulate his theme and serve as a main attraction in his exhibition.
An installation piece entitled Sharp-Anamnesis (2016) consists of a single bell hanging on shipping ropes, tied to the exposed wooden beams in the ceiling. It forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, displayed in the main room of the gallery. It is engraved with the hopes, dreams and fears of residents once removed from the District Six area in Cape Town, hereby linking the theme to the history of South Africa. Ozzola, having lived and worked in Johannesburg and Cape Town the eight months prior to his first series of exhibitions here in South Africa, furthers his theme of exploring the infinite, tying it well with the forced displacement and uprooted history of the community that was once anchored in this area. His theme is thus given another layer, closer to home for the local audience and portraying ‘adrift’ as a concept not only tied to the ocean and wilful exploration, but also to the natural path that some individuals find themselves in at a certain time in their lives.
‘adrift’ is an overall contemplation of our place in the vastness of the universe and the concept of the infinite itself. The works are all subtly linked by light, the vast sacred and idealised idea of space and exploration of the passing and incomprehensible concept of time. The exhibition attests to Ozzola’s long standing interest in the depiction of light and infinite exploration of space, yet personalises it with a South-African identity.
Having experienced the carefully planned, yet subtle inner journey that Ozzola offers the viewer in this exhibition, I am left with the following thought: that perhaps seemingly purposeless movements, intrinsically part of the state of being adrift, could be interpreted as events that culminate in a possible exquisite and sublime discovery of the nature of the unknown.