Farming: That’s the fashion!


OVINE dishes: A plate by Michelle Legg. Photograph by Robyn Sassen.

WHY IS IT an instructive exercise to look at the work of artists related to one another? Does it have to do with heredity and perceptions of where the so-called art gene lies? Or maybe you’re looking for where the works cleave together, and see that they come from the same root? You need only look at commentary around the work of brother and sister European composers Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, or father and son South African sculptors Johannes and Collen Maswanganyi. Following in a similar vein is this humble, yet curious exhibition by mother and daughter, Michelle and Sandra Legg.

Unlike the Maswanganyis or the Mendelssohns, the Leggs work in different mediums, and the exhibition currently on show at the Association of the Arts in Pretoria presents the mum, Michelle, as potter of the month, and Sandra, the daughter, in the space known as the Chaton Gallery.

The give and take between Sandra’s digitally manipulated photographs and Michelle’s work with ceramic possibilities attests to the wisdom and sense of levity on the part of the curator of the show. There is a trusting interface, but the voice of neither woman is compromised, revealing a schism between generations that is at once clear and bracing.

The commonality is the notion of a farm. Land underlies everything we are and everything we say – and even more so, land in South Africa, which has been riven and scorched by values and politics, as it has been stolen and broken in different ways. It’s our bottom line commodity.

And Michelle Legg extrapolates on these ideas with a sense of domestic levity. There are sheep and pigs and chickens adorning ceramic plates in a faux serious manner, spheres of giant bacteria bursting out all over with possibility, and a generally broad sense of maverick playfulness injected into the objects, which challenge functionality with a lightness that make you realise these are ornamental, but come from thoughtful roots.


GHOSTLY  barn: The Long Road Home, a digitally manipulated photograph by Sandra Legg. Photograph courtesy Henry George Gallery.

Her daughter, Sandra, looks at the land from a much darker place. You don’t want to laugh when you look deep into the interstices of her manipulated images. You don’t even want to whisper. Courting surreal values and meshing them with digital possibilities, her landscapes – for that, is essentially what these images are – bring in gargoyles and dreamscapes that are designed to unsettle, playing with logic and the sinister very directly.

These two artists’ voices sing together with a resonance that sometimes jars, but ultimately the two sides of what farm life can be and is, is explored with muscular independence, on the part of both mother and daughter.

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