blank projects, Cape Town
14.04.16 – 28.05.16
At first, Gerda Scheepers’ current exhibition at blank projects seems like it might be a questionable experiment in interior design, then maybe a theatre set, or a crime scene, or a collection of makeshift drying racks. Titled ‘Sitcom’, the show offers a series of caught and dissected moments – a deconstructed, segmented couch; parts of people peeled, flattened, stretched or limp; a hint of bodies interacting in two dimensions. The title has as frozen and tenuous a relationship with its contents as the artworks do to one another. They are suspended parts of an exploded diagram. It takes some time and effort to reconstitute something meaningful out of the carefully draped or pinned hyper-aesthetic, minimalist melancholy of the rooms. Everything is separate. Everything is lonely. Between the expanses of gallery wall and stretched white canvas, the flashes of colour, body and matter, are episodic. It is difficult to find the comedy in this situation.
Episode 1: The One With the Storyboard
On the far end of the gallery, facing the entrance, hangs Showing method, showing message, a sampling of shapes arranged on stretched fabric with the wooden stretcher visible beneath. This appears a map, a plan, or a proposal – a key for shapes to be found elsewhere. Is this an outline of intention, or the residue of actions already taken/artworks already made? Will characters emerge from the cut-outs, or have they already disappeared into them?
Then, of course, there is the couch. Not taken for granted as a staple prop or set feature, Scheepers lets this piece of furniture become loaded by taking it apart, denying it a backdrop and examining it in three dimensions. What the couch gains in mass and stature, the figures lose (as in (Sitcom) Arm, (Sitcom) Leg and Hello) – an eerie, inanimate TV trope swallowing parts of its own actors.
Episode 2: The One With the Crime Scene
These unhemmed body parts outline silhouettes like those marked after a murder. The cut-outs are incomplete, teasing. The sliver of a pelvis or torso draped over an arm of the couch suggests figures which can never be reassembled. They are resigned, like someone dead or away, or like someone’s shadow cut off, needing stitching on again (Sitcom [My Hands are cut off]). The absent comedy gives way to something more sinister, but still absent.
he sheaths of fabric hanging on the walls; The Manner, The Myth, The Shame; point to these missing pieces. Their titles are obfuscating and ominous. They are unevenly torn or uncomfortably stretched, but really, really trying to look neat, despite being hopelessly jagged, frayed or inappropriately sized (as in The Shame, where the fabric does not quite cover the frame of the canvas; or The Myth, with its edges tracing the negative space of other shapes). These shabby tapestries seem to already have been used to make something else (maybe those bits that are still missing).
Episode 3: The One With the Words, not the Pictures
Next, the poetry. In Scheepers’ press release, the titles of her works are together referred to as a poem, and formatted in verse. The word Sitcom occupies the first line – the title, of course, of the show as a whole. The first stanza groups works with abstract nouns. The sound of Checkers fridges at night in lower Glenwood comes next; a line/title which breaks the form. The following two stanzas list works with common nouns in their titles (with the exception of The Shame). There are also works exhibited in the show whose titles are missing from the poem.
I cannot find a work with a title that corresponds to the poem’s last line: I give this thing a blurry name. The convention of assigning names, of titling, is an act which separates items from each other, which categorises them and provides form. ‘Sitcom’ is a show of objects, figures and forms which have been pulled apart, torn, cut and stretched away from themselves and away from each other, and whose subsequent names and relationships are indeed made blurry and obscure.
Ultimately ‘Sitcom’ is cold and irregular. There is no studio audience track, no indication of when to laugh, clap, cry, wooo or awwwww. Scheepers provides just enough to make her signage clear – or, almost. Hesitant shapes and splices, caught between two worlds, are repeated and familiar, like a weekend omnibus. The usual format of a sitcom is condensed, simple, emotional, direct and light-hearted. Scheepers is, maybe, dealing with the consequences of this style of storytelling – troubling the implications of simple and uncritical laughter. It is also possible that she has never watched Friends.