blank projects, Cape Town
31.05 – 30.06.2018
To begin with the objects arranged on the floor: the first a large, uncertain form, shaped from tarp and rope and metal poles, which together lie in a heap, the fabric deflated like a windless sail. The second also shaped from tarp; now rolled up and tightly wrapped with taut lengths of cord. Above these two objects, hung about the walls, are paintings and small, framed drawings in pen and ink. The walls themselves are painted too, with light, off-white washes that trace a series of curved lines. Given how pale they are, how transparent, the lines risk going unnoticed at first; mistaken for shadows, or dark marks left on a sun-bleached wall.
Blake Daniels and Dorothee Kreutzfeldt’s exhibition ‘City Without a Sun’ notates the artists’ preoccupation with a collapsing church tent that existed for some time outside their shared studio in Johannesburg. Theirs is a loose collaboration; an intimate dialogue that considers, if only obliquely, the spaces and stories proposed by the tent and by the presence of its worshippers just beyond their window.
Although the tent appears in the show’s accompanying text, and is recalled by the artists at their walkabout, it is referred to in only a one title – Daniels’ Tent Painting II (The Second Greatest Flood) – and distinctly represented in only one painting, Kreutzfeldt’s Floor Blessing. Here, the tent appears as an unstable and insubstantial structure, a white canopy described in thin black lines, set against an aquamarine ground at the painting’s highest point. Below this tent, rhythmic lines echo the gallery’s parquet floor, so that the two spaces – here and there, the exhibition and its subject – coincide on canvas.
Daniels and Kreutzfeldt’s pictorial languages are largely dissimilar, as are their mediums; Kreutzfeldt working with acrylics and ink, Daniels with oils and pencil. Yet despite the painters’ distinct sensibilities – where Kreutzfeldt’s compositions are largely abstract, Daniels’ are figurative – their works, seen together, share strange affinities. Their paintings are similar in scale, and echo one another’s tones and gestures; as if the formal preoccupations of each artist has seeped into the work of the other. The trails of smoke in Daniels’ Ahem, Ahem repeat in Kreutzfeldt’s hanging tree, the looping curves of her afterparty (offerings) reflected in his Tent Painting II. Extending this relationship, their shared forms continue beyond the canvas and onto the gallery walls, reflected in the faint mural that rises from the skirting.
In subject too, the artists’ works are different, despite their shared preoccupation with the tent. Where Kreutzfeldt’s paintings focus outward, engaging with the tent’s form and the spatial associations it implies, Daniels’ turn inward to the surreal worlds he constructs from memories and imagined scenes, narrating surreal stories staged beneath the tent’s shifting frame; stories of deceit and lust, ritual and religion. Where Kreutzfeldt considers the concrete, Daniels considers the metaphor. But then, perhaps counter-intuitively, Kreutzfeldt’s paintings appear fragmented and splintered, more evocative and dreamlike that Daniels’ claustrophobic tableaus.
Returning now to those two forms on the gallery floor: both part of single a tent. Not the tent, but a tent; a prop rather than an artifact, less an artwork and more a proposition. A collapsing tent is a compelling subject, for what is a tent if it is no longer erect? What remains when it is dismantled and removed, in the empty space where it once stood? And what happens to the memories that took place beneath its canvas? Do they stay in that place, or are they carried along with the dirt that stains the groundsheet?
This is an exhibition about a tent, but about so much more besides. It is a conversation about spaces, both real and imagined, exterior and interior. A conversation about boundaries and borders, containment and concealment. A conversation between two friends working alongside each other in a shared studio, talking above the sound of gospel sung in the makeshift church just outside the door.
The tent offers both the starting point to this painterly exchange, and an enduring metaphor throughout. As such, its physical presence in the gallery becomes the fulcrum to the exhibition; gathering the artists’ disparate strands of thought, their many tangents and tales, beneath its sagging tarpaulin. But there is a thin line between theme and concept, and the tent in the gallery is an ambiguous presence. It unifies the works exhibited with the anecdote it represents, but also curtails their intrigue as the single defining subject. While the image of the tent fragments in Kreutzfeldt’s paintings and furnishes Daniels’ with dark visions; the tent itself – those two objects – lies dejected on the gallery floor, unsure it belongs here at all: packed up and ready to leave, or still waiting to be installed.