The Kendell Code

At Kendell Geers’ press walkabout for his show Third World Disorder at Goodman Cape, he spoke about becoming more superstitious as he grows older. Superstition is an appropriate metaphor for art making. A black cat isn’t a black cat, but an omen. Similarly, a sculpture isn’t a sculpture, but a way to save the world, or an investigation into society, or an alchemical reaction. Superstition is both an irrational interpretation of a sign and narrowing of the signs’ meanings. A black cat will always be an omen, never a sweet pet to be loved and given milk.

In Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the superstitious meaning of the world is guarded by an illuminati, and it takes a maverick outsider (but with special talents in understanding signs) in the service of truth to expose the singular meaning. Too bad it is a lovable fiction: in reality, in art meaning is nebulous. The relationship between a hexagram, the number six, the sixth letter of the alphabet and the F word is tenuous at best, but possibly just plain illegible.

This was an observation from hearing Geers talk and I wonder how I would have seen the show if I had gone in blind. That is the problem with looking at works by Geers: the force of his personality precedes him, which really makes it difficult to separate criticism from vitriol. Perhaps Stevie Wonder says it best: Superstition

Sad Work. Andrzej Nowicki at What if the World…

I hadn’t been to the new What if the World… space before, and I was impressed. It’s a very professional looking space, with a nice hint of the industrial (there’s a cool winch and pulley thing attached to a steel girder). Only problem is that 11 ‘o’ clock openings do not suit, even if it does get the Market crowd in. I was there to take a look at Andrzej Nowicki’s The Gloaming, a show of oils and watercolours. I really enjoyed the oils, they had a dark Neo Rauch feel to them, infused with a surreal espionage aesthetic. Never creepy, just sad and empty people going about their strange businesses and exchanges. I wasn’t as convinced by the watercolours, which, in losing the monumental size of the oils, sank into being a bit more trendy Japanesey Internet Cartoonsy. Not that it makes them any less charming; they are saved by nice brushwork, and some surprising moments.
All in all, Nowicki is a painter to watch. I heard that the show sold out (although being What if the World… I wouldn’t trust that the prices were anything near decent).

The Incoherent, Idiotic Descent into Nihilism. Ed Young (sort of) at Blank Projects

I think an image that’ll stay with me for life is Ed Young, getting shouted by the curator’s mother. The poor guy couldn’t get a word in edgeways. But the fucker probably did deserve the berating.
So here’s the story: Carrie Timlin and Lily Luz are planning a series of one-night events at Blank. They are undergraduate students, and I think this is amazing initiative.
Carrie Timlin and Lily Luz didn’t do many of the things expected from a curator. Like organise press, design an appealing flyer and buy booze. And didn’t communicate fully with either the artist or gallerist. Not as amazing. Especially if you are using an artist’s name such as Ed Young to bring attention to your project.

10:30 am. Ed Young gets irritated, and decides to not pitch up to the show. He turns off his phone.

5:25 pm. Robert Sloon gets a call from Jonathan Garnham (the gallerist), asking if he had seen Ed. Robert tells Jonathan he just left him at the Kimberly Hotel.

6:00 pm. Jonathan arrives at the bar, with rope. They drink beer. Ed Young is tied up. Ed is physically removed, and dragged into a car.

7:30 pm. Robert Sloon arrives to the exhibition to see general chaos. Carrie’s mum is yelling at Ed. A surprising amount of people are milling around drinking beer and wine. Jonathan has stuck up the bill from the bar on the wall, so there is at least something to look at.

8:00 pm. The surrogate art work is burned.

8:30 pm. The thinning, but rowdy crowd trashes the gallery. Broken glass litters the floor. Wine stains the walls. Robert Sloon goes home to play with cat.

What more can be said?
Crap Show. Funny Story.

Roles and Roles and Roles. Monique Pelser at Bell-Roberts Contemporary

monique pelser, south african art, south african artistImage captured off Bell-Roberts Home Page
I missed the opening this week, being in a bad mood, so I dropped by the Bell-Roberts this morning for a quick look at Monique Pelser’s Roles. A good friend and well-known layabout told me last night, “I was left waiting so long for my appointment with the Bell-Roberts that I actually had to spend more than a cursory minute with the photos, which made me realize they are very good.” So I endeavored to do the same. I realised two things: 1. There could have been some serious editing, and 2. many of the prints’ Fujicrystal Archival Paper had buckled in the frame. Other than that, the work was very engaging. The concept was that the artist would wear the clothes of people in various industries, and they in turn would wear hers, and take her photograph (Only thing that worried me was the truth of this: if you look closely most of the clothes look huge on her, how did the massive fireman/mechanic/etc fit into her clothes?). She plays the roles to perfection, keeping a similar expression throughout, but still managing to express a range of emotions, often seeming to fit the particular career she has chosen to play.
Only thing I’d wished for was maybe a deeper negotiation with what identity means, something more in line with Marina Abramovic’s Role-Exchange (1975), in which she swapped places with an Amsterdam prostitute for a four hour period. The prostitute (who’s only stipulation was to remain anonymous) attended the exhibition at De Appel opening while Abramovic sat in her Red Light display-window.

I think Pelser’s photo’s were very intriguing, but maybe it could have been a bit braver: in all the photos she never loses the identity of artist.

All I’ve Ever Wanted Is an Ijusi Pillow. Ijusi at Bell-Roberts CUBE

I believe I’ve called for the sterilisation of advertisers on more than one occasion, but I really like Ijusi. I think it’s great, funny, witty design, with a good message, and best of all almost free of the spectre of money that haunts most design. I don’t know if Garth Walker, the creator of Ijusi, made a dent in design in SA, I still see too much crap out there, like that stupid, badly designed ArtHeat blog. But at least these things make you believe that design can be a force for good.

Easy On The Eye. Various Shows at the AVA

paper and me, AVA, South African art, South African artistsMy feelings about paper are something I don’t hide. Printmaking classes at art school left scars, that are continually abraded by the horror of the pretty box identity work that is the mainstay of young lost undergraduates and horrible artists. The idea of cutouts makes me cold sweat, and the words moleskine, fabriano, 2B and putty rubber make it freeze onto my body. Awful, mean, tactile material. Shudder.

So I walked into the AVA with some apprehension this afternoon. I missed the opening owing to a mixture of being mildly ill and discovering all six seasons of Sex and the City on DVD (it happens to the best of us). I must admit though instead of horror Liza Grobler’s Nine Chicks and a Dick series left me pleasantly amused. The lines had whimsy, and the surreal (can one still use that word?) approach to drawing wasn’t overblown, didn’t leave a bad taste, and was funny. Only problem was there were 9 pictures of chicks, one portrait of a dick all making good conceptual senses, and then a strange and ugly drawing of an eye, and some balls of barb wire sculptures. One must ask why. Still better than the shite that normally adorns paper.

The next room was also nice. This show called Paper and Me was a group show about some artists relation to paper. Some was gross, and I can’t even remember it, just a blur of little torn out things and some decorative crap that’d look good above my TV when I advance to all four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. But some of it was ok. Lynette Bester had a series called Bitter Sweet that was paper pulp moulded into the shape of tree bark, funny in the same way that that Sushi restaurant with the fish tank tables was funny. Just slightly less macabre. Marna Hatting made some nice mysterious drawings. There was someone else who made some cut and paste things, called Waiting for Information which was interesting in a cut and paste cutesy way. can’t remember the artist because (see paragraph one) I wasn’t carrying a notebook.

Kirsty Gallery Director asked me to promote the New Media room, which has had a dearth of submissions since it opened. She says with all the moaning about video art recently somebody should be getting off their arses.

Oh, and there were some paintings upstairs.

A Book Review

One Million and Fourty four years, Kathryn Smith, Ed Young, Ruth Sacks, Doug Gimberg, Christian Nerf, book, art, South AfricaSorry for the slowness of posts this week I’m not only a useless artist wanker, but also have a real job, which occasionally gets in the way, along with the odd hangover that debilitates my desire to write. I’ve been meaning to put up a review of One Million and Fourty Four Years (and Sixty Three Days) for a little while, but my copy fell apart at the spine, and I was too depressed to continue (at least the ISBN was easy to find: 978-0-620-38259-5). I hear rumour that a whole bunch of the books were sent back to the printer to be rebound in hardcover, so if you bought a crappy-spined copy like me, sorry, you were too eager, and you know what they say about the early worm.
However, and all that aside, Kathryn Smith did a good job of putting the content together, with a lot of interesting input from a variety of interesting people. Essentially, the book puts forward the question: Is the avant-garde still a viable/tenable notion in the current contemporary moment? You can read Zachary Yorke’s review on Artthrob here as he is more capable of wading through a Colin Richards piece than I am. Some of my favourites were the more visual submissions, such as Gustavo Artigas’ Spontaneous Human Combustion 1 where the artist burst into flames during a talk about Mexican artists and the avant-garde (see his website here, it’s worth a look. You can also see a video of the SHC piece and some other awesome works) and Kristofer Paetau’s Artforum Accident where the artist vomits at an art fair (his site here). The local Avant Car Guard sent some pictures which were also pretty funny. The text pieces were in a variety of styles, some short and aggressive, some long and dry, and some plain fascinating. My personal favourite was Stacy Hardy’s Everyone Hates Me Because I’m Nerdy and White,stacy hardy an unsettling journey featuring Ed Young (partially fictionalised) and a blowjob. Other pieces that took a more academic or more formal stance were also enlightening, such as the contributions by Robert Storr, Bettina Malcomess, Liam Gillick, Sean o’Toole and others. I think the book is vital reading, not only because of it’s diverse content, but also because it is an example of where books on art in South Africa should be going… not just monographs and surveys of South African art, but rather questions being asked and answered on valuable topics, that include a South African focus but refuse to be so insular.

Books available at Baobab Books, Clarke’s Books both on Long Street, Cape Town. SMAC gallery in Stellenbosch has copies too, and I imagine you could order from them if Long Street is off your tramping grounds.

Top Notch. Andrew Putter’s 20 Smells

20 Smells, andrew putter, Bowling Club, reviewI went to the latest offering from the Bowling Club (that collective that is holding “cultural events” once a month), this one hosted and presented by Andrew Putter, and I was blown away. It was a lecture on the science, culture and history of smells, along with a box of samples (some pleasant, some very, very mean). I think it’s quite well known that smell has a direct link to memory and emotion, but I never before realized the breadth and depth of the industry that exploits that. And I guess that makes for a very good lecture, both interesting and illuminating. Keep your eyes open for more offerings from the collective.

Oh No, Lino. Vuyile Voyiya at the AVA

Pictured above, we can see the starving Zimbabwean artist, Dan Halter, stalking an unsuspecting canape waiter. Most of us polite gallery-goers were shocked to see such voracious consumption, two handed, but were impressed with the quality of the scraps we could salvage. Two thumbs up to Kirsty Cockerill and the AVA for providing sustenance at these upmarket functions.

Later, I went and looked at the art inside. Then I started to down my wine at a fantastic rate. I don’t have a problem with lino, per se. It’s just, I believe, a fine line one must walk to pull it off, especially as it is a medium that has a large weight of heavy associations. Suffice to say that this was no John Muafengejo. Nor was it Wim Botha.

There was some paintings upstairs too.

0.0. Alan Alborough at Joao Ferreira

alan alborough, joao ferreira, south african artImage by Henning Ludeke
I’m not sure what’s happening at Joao Ferreira at the mo, but non-alcoholic beer, even at a minimal-style show, is a bit beyond the pale. It gives you the hangover without the fun of being drunk. Kinda like the exhibition itself: All of the process, all of the mystery of meaning, but none of the fun. Maybe I’m too young, but this modern approach to art leaves me feeling a little bloated.
That said, however, there is a certain kind of beauty of white paper in a white space, that is goosebumpy. Albeit those goosebumps are in nice precise rows.