22.09 - 19.11.2022
Dorothee Kreutzfeldt is my favourite painter. She was also my mentor in art school when I hated painting because I found the medium to be too insular. I suppose I have always favoured a leak: any event in which the insides find their way out and insist on being held by the world. Kreutzfeldt’s paintings were my introduction to the leak. I remember seeing her architectural intervention, research project and exhibition ‘Millennium Bar’ with then collaborator Bettina Malcomess, under the moniker ‘Dead Heat’ at Goethe Project Space, Johannesburg 2013. The ‘Millennium Bar’ comprised of discarded architectural objects, including furniture and wooden fittings from a demolished synagogue in Jeppestown. The artists would reconfigure the objects depending on the space they occupied. Kreutzfeldt’s paintings in these settings followed a similar logic. Single lines escaped painted scenes of architectural structures and traveled the expanse of two walls; a rectangle of faint yellow held form inside of what appeared to be an upside-down or inside-out church pew, perched high up on the wall. The pew and paint block formed a word to me – a gradual vocabulary towards the enunciations of my own artistic practice.
When I think of Kreutzfeldt’s work, I imagine microcosmic scenes of time bent over broken architecture, orange cones, plastic garden furniture, empty swimming pools and delicious monsters. Malcomess and Kreutzfeldt co-wrote the book, ’Not no place: Johannesburg. Fragments of Spaces and Times’ in 2013. They signed my copy at their opening at The Rand Club on Marshall Street, Johannesburg. I only started reading the book now, however. Most likely because I am also from Johannesburg and still in the process of glancing at the city from my review mirror. Nonetheless, I am very pleased that Not No Place exists. I think of it as a portrait of a city as a leak. On the structure – or rather, lack of a singular structure – of their book, the authors note:
Our working process has been defined by a delaying, or deferral, of structure. By working with multiple approaches to the city, by continuing to collect, document and read, it is only in hindsight, in the editing and combining of material, that the book’s coordinates emerge. Often those coordinates remain unstable as one’s experience of the city shifts or refuses a ‘reading.’
In her 2017 solo exhibition at Blank, Extensions to the Lot Line, Kreutzfeldt’s body of work gave image to the city as a leak. A lot line is the boundary of a designated parcel of land. In these works, Kreutzfeldt considered the body in relation to land through the objects and rituals used to navigate it. For example, in the exhibition text, she advised,“To break the granite you first make a fire on the surface, then you pour cold water.” The painting, equal to the measure of 2 (2017) shows a black fire on its side. The clean red line of a circle can be seen extending from the tip of the flames, the rest of its form implied by a circle of darkness in the heart of the fire. Kreutzfeldt’s paintings are rather impossible to describe all at once. Their composition, too, could be described as a ‘deferral of structure.’
Kreutzfeldt and Malcomess offer the Afrikaans word ‘uitvalgrond’ as one of the coordinates for navigating their book, which is written non-chronologically and without a narrative order. Uitvalgrond translates to surplus ground: “uitval means fall out: ground which literally falls outside.” The authors denote uitvalgrond to the areas in-between the man-made developments, shopping malls, highways, mining dumps, housing clusters and parking lots. They cautiously refer to uItvalgrond as a type of ‘landscape’ of the city: small pockets of land which are often informally repurposed for trading, church gatherings, pedestrian walkways, camps for homeless communities and informal taxi ranks. In viewing the installation shots for Extensions to the Lot Line, one notices that some of the canvases extend into the gallery itself: a white wall ends at a lip of plywood down the length of the wall. In this moment, one might consider the uitvalgrond of Kreutzfeldt’s paintings to be this excess space, which is ultimately still constituted in the painting as a whole. A leak. An extension to the lot line.
In October 2022, Kreutzfeldt opened her first solo exhibition at Blank since Extensions to the Lot Line, titled: The Secret Harpist. It is dedicated to her late friend, Pathik, who once made a playlist for the artist by the same title. While this body of work reflects her former painterly language, it also brings the subject of the work closer to the painter herself: into her garden. Contained canvases set to the height of doors show ethereal scenes of wild movement in a thick of tree branches. Soft pink pastel and spray painted accents curl with tendrils, outline ghost branches and form flower heads. A turquoise and powder blue tangle of branches whip back and forth across the scene. The insistence of wind as a protagonist can be read in the the lashing movement of each tree branch. Some branches enter the frame as snakes. Mustard yellow takes on the form of gaping flower, a spray of light or the underside of a leaf, depending on where one is standing in relation to the work.
The paintings are renderings of a tree in Kreutzfeldt’s garden, which she photographed at nightfall, only. She projected the images onto canvas and traced, erased and re-projected, giving the sense of multiplicity of movement, light and affect in the final works. Kreutzfeldt opens the exhibition text with a poem, an intimate expression of her inner world, which documents the daily lives of seemingly many people in one narrative, including the line: “wonders about the weight of Sundays. why some days feel light.” I like the image of Kreutzfeldt’s day-time thoughts and night-time acts. The yellow mustard of the canvas and other insinuations of light make me think of street lights filtered through tree branches, an image I remember well from my bedroom window in Johannesburg. The city is allegedly the biggest man-made forest in the world. That used to excite me. On return, it depresses me, as I make note of the landscaping, pruning and carefully-planted rows of often non-indigenous tree residents on almost every suburban sidewalk.
Kreutzfeldt offers the image of the tree that appears to be raging over the time lapse of its rendering, rooted at “the distinct coordinates of a place tied to its fraught heritage, daily intensities and sense of a precarious future.” Trees self-sooth with resin, and I wonder whether the leak in Kreutzfeldt’s new body of work is not already self-contained within the night tree, anchored to someone else’s history but, nonetheless, held by the soil.