Fabulously disoriented by the humble toothpick


TEXTURE that gives you an inviolable urge to touch: A detail of one of Chris Soal’s toothpick works. Photograph courtesy No End Gallery.

SOMETHING DEEPLY VISCERAL happens to you when you’re standing in front of one of Chris Soal’s wall pieces on his debut solo, Orbits of Relating. It’s like being in the presence of a field of wheat or a sea anemone that blows this way and that, affecting your sense of direction and making you want to plunge headlong into the texture created.

It’s an extraordinary exhibition, in this cute little gallery space that has been around for just two years. But the work on show here are neither cute nor little in concept or actualisation. They offer an essay on objects that are so insignificant in your general navigation with the world, that they’re almost invisible: the toothpicks and the beer caps that come into and slip out of our lives with almost no shadow or impact.

Soal has amassed an untellably huge collection of these things and has magicked them into grandeur. The works might evoke what Lee-At Meyerov had done with used tea bags, or the artistic integrity that Walter Oltmann has infiltrated into industrial wire. Indeed, the concept of redefining the commonplace particularly in a sculptural medium is not brand new, and rests on the history of the readymade in different ways, but Soal works with these tiny sticks with an impeccable sense of focus, yielding texture and flow that is fluid in its impact.

While there are polyurethane glue drawings on paper that feel more gestural than impactful, and chunks of raw wood that seem to be exploding with outcroppings and tumours of toothpicks, it is Soal’s work Our Deepest Longing that is the exhibition’s piece de resistance of the exhibition. But still, it begs to be 100 times the size. It’s a steel rope made of a blending of beer tops and toothpicks; working with burnt and unburnt surfaces, Soal has created a woven object which begs comparison with abstract pieces that are a cipher for horror in an infinitesimal way. Think of Nandipha Mntambo’s Echidna or the work of Nicholas Hlobo in terms of its embracing something huge and fearsome but never crudely describing it as such.

When you emerge from Orbits of Relating, you feel a little like Lewis Carroll’s little fictional Victorian girl, Alice – there’s a part of you that is completely and deliciously lost among all those directioned toothpicks, describing a landscape of connections. It’s a very fine debut exhibition indeed, and will leave you a little haunted by the sensory experience, and also with your eyes opened to more of Soal’s work.

  • Orbits of Relating by Chris Soal is at No End contemporary gallery, 60 Fourth Avenue, Linden, Johannesburg, until June 23 2018. 073-616- 3073.

Leave a Reply