Kalashnikovv Gallery is proud to present one of the most thought provoking and downright deviant exhibitions of the year. A collision between latex, performance, photography and gender identity. Curated by Roelof Van Wyk
“Spirit” by Antonia Steyn and Gill Rall
26 October 2017
The Joker/ Dotard/ Reality TV Star has become the Cheetos King of the Divided States of Paranoimerica, while another man-child, half Rocket Man/half Daddy’s Dictator Baby, is throwing hydrogen darts at the White House’s White Supremacist Twitter Twat. A slippery flip-flop between brute force and stupidity keeps us glued to our world of glowing screens. A looming battle between evil and evil seems to want to rip the globe apart, and everyone ends up a loser.
If these cartoon villains don’t start the end of the world, then Harvey, Irma, Jose, Mary or on any weekday, a Mexican earthquake, could wreak the great apocalypse on us first. But it’s this posturing of masculinity, the ongoing performance of men being watched, of men knowing that they are being watched while in conflict, a conflict that arises from our historical moment. Whose vision of the world will eventually win out? Mark Singer wrote in reflecting on the narcissistic property mogul; this was “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
Where is Superman’s superhuman abilities and sense of righteousness when we need him most?
In this pessimistic moment, we ask ourselves, what makes us human? Are we inherently kindhearted and caring? Or just selfish and mean-spirited? Or do we have a spirited consciousness that lifts us into a higher star of being? I’d like to believe the spirit of Superman lives in all of us. Weren’t we supposed to identify with the superhero with superhuman qualities from Krypton, an ordinary spectacle-wearing Joe, who wrote humdrum newspaper columns by day and saved the city and its ordinary citizens, spectacularly under cover of the night? Hey, don’t we all want to be saved by Superman, have Superman’s abilities or perhaps get latexed-up into a Superman character yourself? But Superman is but a lonely alien life-form in a tight-fitting latex suit who regularly saves humankind, just in time. ‘Superman’ is simply an identity to make him ‘human,’ to make him agreeable to the stinking, fighting, barely surviving human race hurtling to The Bitter End, or at least to The End of the Natural World as We Know It, as unworldly deep sea creatures and waves of blue bottled Man O’War Cnidaria wash up in unprecedented numbers on rotting seashores.
Can we talk about Superman’s suit, please? There’s something that I have always been too shy to ask, maybe being a little bit ashamed by my own sexy thoughts; what exactly is between him and the weatherproof ‘gum-elastic’ material, accidentally invented by Mr Charles Goodyear, ‘The Invincible Rubber Man,’ marrying material and mind. Mr Goodyear regularly wore rubber from head to toe; hats, vests, ties and shoes in order to demonstrate its useful qualities.Unsurprisingly, with such commitment and dedication to fashion, success came in the production of rubberised riffled shirtfronts so desired by the dandies’ of the time who elevated aesthetics to a living religion. Charles Baudelaire: “Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality.”
“There is probably no other inert substance,” Goodyear said, “which so excites the mind.”
So, what excites the mind of a retired white heterosexual male, and auto-mechanic, from Edenvale, Johannesburg on any given weekday? Well, you should be able to guess by now. A rubberised latex suit. An exquisite, meticulously self-made ‘Rubber Doll,’ which transforms Gill Rall’s 77-year-old body into his alter ego, Spirit.Rall is part of a global subculture and growing community of so-called ‘female maskers’ who wear latex or silicone masks, torsos and body suits to make them look like the female of the species. With mostly immobile or ‘doll-like’ faces, these costumes seem to be closer to female mannequins than real women. These transformations take place mostly in the private, domestic setting of Rall’s home, safely out of sight of a moralistic and conservative society that would not necessarily understand or be able to accept this kind of orientation, or otherworldly way, of being in the world.This is about to change with an exhibition at the Kalashnikov Gallery in Johannesburg. A startlingly beautiful set of photographs taken by Antonia Steyn over a period of four years, will also open with a single transformative sensory deprivation performance by Rall. A selection of the valved, belted, zippered and studded costumes will also be on display.Looking at the photographs, I wish, some days, that I could just slip into one of Rall’s Spiritsuits and disappear into another world. Even if just for the morning until the kids get home from school, like Lucy Jordan. Getting out of the suit in time might be a challenge, especially if one gets a surprise visit, as you need a warm bath to peel the latex suit off your powder coated body.
(Ha! Powder. That’s what Superman wears between him and his red suit with extra padding, sewn by his earth mother.)
The fluidity of Rall’s transformations between worlds, identities and gender is a kind of hopeful gesture for our times. What if we all had the superhuman ability to flow between worlds unbounded by identity politics? Or capital P, Politics? Spirit is the Superman we all need. And, by the way, the ’S’ on Superman’s suit stands for “hope” in Kryptonian.
Kalashnikovv Gallery 153 Smit Service Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg