SMITH, Cape Town
13.10.2016 – 19.11.2016
Under the current political climate of student protests and a general sense of the instability for the future of South Africa’s local university institutions it is significant that the young artist Jeanne Gaigher, herself a graduate from Stellenbosch University, offers an intimate view of her world as an artist. This exhibition acts as a palate cleanser amongst the current shows, many of which have been deeply political. ‘Weig’ currently showing at the Smith gallery offers a tantalising view of the artist’s experiences in ways which show the mundane through a poetic, sensitive veil.
‘Weig’, an Afrikaans word meaning ‘vacillate’, describes the artist’s process in creating her series as she lives between the present moment and memories of the past. This show, comprising of paintings and painted-upon photographs, showcases a range of images from her personal archive using a synergy of colour in ways which communicate the power of memory and the importance of personal reflection. Wieg describes the means in which the artist works, choosing which elements of the paintings to highlight and which to subdue.
One of Gaigher’s techniques involves painting on canvas and then using scrim, a fabric mostly used for cleaning etching plates, to stretch over and hang in front of the marks made on the original canvas. This technique creates various levels of depth as the parts where the scrim has been painted on or left blank one can see or be blocked from seeing the marks made on the bottom canvas. The effect of this technique is similar to the photographs which she paints on and then scans, enlarges and frames. Key to this show is grasping the symbolism to the technique of using layers, and the changing perceptions which concealing or emphasising colours and patterns can have on our understanding of images. Gaigher’s technique comprising of brush marks and scrim become her personal response to her experience, as if the photographs are used as aids to recall the past and then guide her creative mark making.
Theorist Svetlana Boym speaks of nostalgia as the modern condition of humankind. She speaks of the emotion as a longing for a lost place and time where the rhythms of our daily dreams were slower. In this exhibition there seems to be a concern with how to represent the past in forms which are nonrepresentational, which do not present any of the material objects that society has associated meaning to. By abstracting the forms Gaigher seems to question the role of materiality in representing the intangible.
The way the show is set up dictates a specific order of viewing the pieces, one feels as though one is a tourist, visiting for a day the world of the artist as one is confronted by various artworks, dangling, and directing the way we move through the exhibition space. The hanging canvas in the entrance to the gallery allows the viewer mobility to see all sides of the canvas. Internet Café, an acrylic on block-out and scrim is an abstract painting. The scratchy dark brush strokes cover most of the canvas with moments of colour peeping through, like the deep-orange patch of colour in the centre which emerges from the otherwise darkened canvas. In creating these various layers and varying hues the artist shows her ultimate power in deciding what to share with the audience.
Purple Eyeshadow hangs vertically like a doorway into another section of the exhibition. The dangling artwork is not purple but mostly salmon pink with intertwining colours. The door like structure and feminine title emphasises interior spaces and the home which is part of the show. These spaces are inherently female, built up by constructions of the female in mass-culture. Gaigher’s interior space however is confronted by the exterior, the pressure of how to enact identity in public and produce works to fit under the title for a show. In her iterations of living room set I and II her abstract modes of representation disorientate what it means to be domestic, what it means to find comfort in the familiar.
Cabbage hangs in the centre of the back room of the gallery. One’s eye is drawn in by the articulation of space and brush strokes which gently curve and move in and out of each other. The brush marks are immediate, expressive and are used to translate the artist’s feeling rather than any particular message. Whilst looking at this hanging canvas, out of the corner of one’s eye, one catches a glimpse of the artworks one has already passed and realises the poetry of colour as all the artworks seem to complement and enforce the intimacy of the show. Put another way, the experience is like reading a young enthusiastic writer’s autobiography and as one is mid-way through reading the book one puts it down to reminisce over all the experiences the writer has told which have lead up to this point.
Instead of facing the light streaming in from the large window behind it Cabbage faces the back wall of the space and almost encloses the artworks hanging in this back section. The lack of light makes it hard to see which marks are on the original canvas and which have been painted of the scrim. This enforces the idea that proximity does not always equate clarity, the further one stands from the painting the clearer the patterns become. Although memory is fragile and becomes harder to maintain over time, there is a power which distance can have as it may allow for added reflection and through this process of remembering we can find new meaning for the moments past.
In this back section and throughout the exhibition the Giclée prints on archival paper are framed in shiny glass with smooth textures whilst the acrylic and ink on scrim are multi-layered and rough. Through the different textures she questions how memory operates, how memory transcends objects and the role time plays in the way we remember or retell moments from the past.
Freeing up her work from any clear-cut iconographic structure Gaigher allows her own aesthetic to dominate the show. She gives the audience room to imagine the scenes represented and relate to the paintings from their own experiences.