Response: a conversation of broken skulls, transparent pelvises and chance

Call and response: Bronwyn Lace's pelvis sculptures in contradistinction with Neels Coetzee's skull works cast in bronze. Photograph courtesy Circa Gallery

Call and response: Bronwyn Lace’s pelvis sculptures in contradistinction with Neels Coetzee’s skull works cast in bronze. Photograph courtesy Circa Gallery

Artist Bronwyn Lace enjoyed an important friendship with the late Neels Coetzee. She graduated from Wits University two years before she first encountered his work and knew him more as a friend and master of South African sculpture, in the latter part of his life, than as teacher. In so many respects, her artistic voice is the most ideal to form a dialogue with that of Coetzee’s, in this, an extension of the unmissable retrospective of his work, entitled The Crucible, curated by Koulla Xinisteris.

Like The Crucible, Response embraces a profound resonance with musical rhetoric and tradition. The construct of call and response – where two musicians or groups of musicians create dialogue by repeating musical phrases that are distinct but different from one another, reaches throughout the history of musicmaking. Lace’s work interfolds with that of Coetzee’s without upstaging it, in a visual phraseology that really does respond to it, respectfully enhancing your experience of the work of both artists.

Coetzee’s work engages very directly and poignantly with the crushing presence of death – through his skull sculptures, his maquettes of monuments to the tormented and the bones and metal detritus of AK-47 weapons. Conversely, Lace offers a subtle and detailed contemplation of the beginning of life: the pelvis. She presents a series of resin casts of the bones, and has worked into x-rays of a human pelvis with gold thread.

The most powerful of her works on this show, however are her “light sculptures”, pieces that take the sheer poetry of her crepuscular contemplation of the atmospheric phenomenon of God’s fingers, exhibited in this gallery some years ago, and tweaks it into a greater and deeper sense of subtlety. Collectively entitled Ascension, the three pieces silently, yet dramatically, speak of chance encounters, of the glancing of light against thread, of the bittersweetness of transience and the way in which death leaves us all in awe of what life may mean.

This is not a religious work in the conventional understanding of the idea, and yet, in the ways in which it flows and blooms, teases and upbraids the layout of Coetzee’s work, it touches deeply.

Most of the piece informing The Crucible remain in the gallery space, as and how they were since early September when this retrospective opened, including Coetzee’s achingly fine line drawings and lithographs. Lace’s pieces have been inserted into the space with an astute sense of space, of composition, of time and light. While the sense of grand finale that you were deeply aware of in Circa’s astonishing oval well, as you encountered the eponymous work itself, is modulated and slighted diluted by the strong light in Lace’s two Ascension pieces installed there, the sense of ritual balance is not lost.

  • Bronwyn Lace’s exhibition Response, curated by Koulls Xinisteris is in the two spaces of Circa gallery, Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, until October 31. Visit or call 011-788-4806.

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