The universe in a crack in the wall


LOOK into my scalp: ‘Whorl’ a photograph by Michael Meyersfeld. Photograph courtesy Gallery 2.

YOU MIGHT HEAR the name ‘Michael Meyersfeld’ and think of very carefully orchestrated and posed images that aim to satirise the complicated world in which we live. You might come into this exhibition, glance at the work on show and feel the need to take a step back and make sure that the name of the exhibiting artist is indeed Michael Meyersfeld. You’d be readily forgiven for such a mistake: the body on work at Gallery 2 represents a leap in a different visual and conceptual direction for this seasoned photographer.

And what you see here is a series of abstractions. They’re photographs, yes. They’re carefully decided upon and made with a deep sense of craft – as all of Meyersfeld’s work is, but they veer very clearly from the kind of narrative that he is known for. This body of some 30 works, printed at different sizes opens a brave new door for Meyersfeld’s oeuvre and visual language.

There’s the three sides of a rough cube, a brick perhaps, that evokes very early work by Stellenbosch-based Hentie van der Merwe. It’s about what happens between the interstices of space that makes it engage your eye and your imagination. But more than that, this collection of tiny incidents in the world out there, enlarged to dramatic proportions is earnest yet playful.

The images that contain a sense of landscape or a suspicion of narrative are less successful than the ones that play with texture in a way that overrides logic and convention. The device of showing the work printed at postcard size and displayed horizontally on a trestle table beneath frames of glass seems unnecessary and the titling of the works often forces currents into your reading of a given piece that jar.

But it is the purely abstract images that see Meyersfeld leaping to a new height. You look at an image of scaffolding – the kind of thing that is ubiquitous all over the city at the moment. In Meyersfeld’s darkroom, it becomes a rich network of textures that repeat patterns upon patterns and transform the sense of space monumentally. There’s a close up of the whorl around which human hair grows and an image of post office boxes.

The seductiveness of these works is about something considerably more than just images. They’re don’t pry into the molecular structure of things; Meyersfeld’s lens is not a microscope. Instead, they focus on elements that you see every day and give them a value that takes you by surprise. Having said that, these surprises don’t feed a one-liner reading. Surprised by what you see, you look deeper.

  • Accessing the Encoded by Michael Meyersfeld is at Gallery 2, 138 Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until July 28.

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