At Hand: A Group Show

At Hand, on at Ithuba Art Gallery, is a tribute to the art of bricolage. The exhibition features works by seven young Johannesburg artists and a collective supported by the Ithuba Arts Fund, working on a diverse collection of projects – a mixed bag of mediums, styles, approaches.

Alphabet Zoo comprises printmakers Minekulu Ngoyi and Isaac Zivale. Under this moniker the duo have pioneered a street culture zine that invites collaboration and engagement with other young artists, designers and illustrators. Their modus operandi– chance, ingenuity and play in the practice of making – personifies the bricoleur. The zines are set up as a mobile library with small photocopied versions free to take home.

Same Mdluli’s collection of floral paintings is grotesquely sumptuous from up close, and naïvely delicate from afar. Soft pinks and flesh tones belie a violence to the flower studies. From up close, the petals morph into meaty slabs and the faint embossed background details into laceration marks reminiscent of body scarification. This tension between beauty and repulsion, we are told in the artist’s statement, is an allegory for the last two decades of South Africa’s transition into democracy – decay, disintegration, and perhaps, just a little renewal.

Fragments of Self is the title of the collection of black and white photographs by Sanele Moya. The photographs are shot on 35mm film medium format, and depict abandoned spaces and blurred cityscapes. Richly textured and evocatively moody, the photographs are snapshots of a wanderer traversing the city, searching for a sense of place. The works are personal – Moya’s pursuit of cohesion, yet simultaneously capture the collective restlessness of Johannesburg.

Yael Feldman’s paintings continue the urban theme, but her forms dissolve into abstraction just short of taking shape. They hint at familiar structures and patterns – buildings, street grids, window frames – but deliberately unfinished brush marks deny the forms a solid identity. Feldman is interested in the form of painting, the rectangle of white canvas that is both the site of possibility and the physical limitation of the medium.

Dominating the gallery floor space is Michelle Harris Johnston’s purple amoeba-like sculpture. The soft fabric tendrils beg to be squeezed and explored like undersea creatures in an aquarium touch pool. Out of a corner of the space a metallic blue ‘thing’, which an accompanying photograph reveals to be a wearable suit, oozes. As an artist working across mediums, Harris Johnston is interested in the ways in which an ephemeral experience, or live art performance, exists and derives meaning alongside commodified art objects. The two installations and the photograph create a triptych disrupting this idea: the large purple work is not for sale (it’s been de-commodified) and the performer who wears the blue suit is not present.

In one of the small side rooms off the main gallery is Matthew Kay’s Synapse, a collection of black and white photographs. He describes the project as “an investigation of the less obvious connection between things”. The images are indeed disparate and show no palpable theme, yet are obviously particular and personal. The smallness of the space compounds this intimacy, creating the feeling of a self-contained world. The subject matter in the photographs is meticulously random and the black and white imbues a sense of memory. Looking at the images feels like following along behind Kay, but with a time delay that has made everything unfamiliar. There’s an element of David Lynch lurking in these moody images.

In the second side room is I Like Openings by Megan Mace. The installation consists of a well-lit cabinet containing pleather tomes. Conspicuously placed on a plinth are sets of white gloves: this installation’s for touching. With gloves on hands, the gold embossed titles of the tomes are revealed – Kalashnikovv Gallery, Wits Art Museum, Stevenson, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery, etc. Inside are press clippings and documentation – ephemerata of the contemporary gallery. But these weighty volumes are mostly empty and it is not obvious whether the blank pages are negatively or positively construed. Mace’s interests lie in the performative nature of spectacle and everyday actions.

The seven projects that comprise At Hand are disparate from one another yet complete in and of themselves. Without feeling bitty, the bricolage exhibition celebrates each of the artists’ work individually.

 

[This exhibition showed at the end of 2014]

 

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