Be mesmerised by this vortex of desolation

SecondState

YOU can run but you can’t hide: Frikkie Eksteen’s work in oil and mixed media on canvas, entitled Evacuation. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery

AS YOU APPROACH what may seem at the outset a haphazard mass of calligraphic paint marks, piling paint smears upon paint smears, the fine hairs at the back of your neck may stand up. This is a landscape. Those tiny little ant-like forms emerging from it are people, and beneath all that noise, all that discombobulation, there’s a fine line describing the form and dimensions of a human head. This is Frikkie Eksteen’s chilling exhibition Second State, a series of 15 pieces and a video work that reflect a frank and dramatic sense of dystopia but it’s one that doesn’t come with a fictional background or a happy ending.

American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson was one of the first scientists, in the 1960s, to condemn our modern society for its lackadaisical stance with regard to saving the planet. Her voice went largely unheeded, and in many respects was vilified, indeed, chemical and agribusiness specialists in the United States dismissed her as a ‘fanatic’, but her words speak chillingly of the situation our world is rapidly teetering towards.

South African sociologist Jacklyn Cock framed the horror of how society takes natural resources for granted in her devastating book The War Against Ourselves (2007) [reviewed here], in which she splays open the folly and pride of our society that will destroy what we have because of greed, stupidity and ignorance.

Cock celebrates Carson and her ‘biocentric vision’ as the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Cock also ponders what Carson would have made of our world, some 50 years after her death, where even our gods are different to what they were then.

When you allow your eyes, followed by your head and your heart to be dissolved in Eksteen’s penetrating, apocalyptic vision, you may think of those environmental scientists, thinkers and groundbreakers. You may think of ‘green’ initiatives and their supporters who throw their weight behind saving certain species from extinction or using paper bags and glass instead of plastic. You might think of empty coffee pods and exfoliating skin products that are slowly clogging up our systems with their unrecyclable presences.

But Eksteen’s paintings are not articulately about any of these details in our society. They’re about the horrifying bleak aftermath. You look at his Hollow Men series or his work Gathering at the Monument and while you’re consumed by the layering of bits of form on a bare, white impenetrable field, you’re knocked into oblivion by the utter sense of desolation it embraces.

Technically, the work represents the reworking of previous pieces, on Eksteen’s part. An interesting reflection on the notion of recycling, but more than this: the pieces become rich palimpsests of reflections that in cases like The Natural History: Vol 11 p 117 and 119, he has worked over an inkjet print on archival paper, enabling the two lone figures to stand out against the background text with devastating aloneness. But more than this, there’s a clash and clamour of mediums, of computer-based design with palette-knife applied impasto. Of elements that on one level are worlds apart.

It’s a powerful exhibition, isolating and emphasising the harsh eloquence of this seasoned painter, and well worth the trip to Pretoria. But the exhibition closes this weekend, and it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Second State, an exhibition of work by Frikkie Eksteen is on show at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) Brooklyn, Pretoria until July 9. 012 346 0158 or visit http://www.friedcontemporary.com
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