Craft

My tapestry’s underbelly and other aesthetic adventures

GinaWaldman

OLYMPIA, a take on Titian, with thread, gold and chutzpah: a tapestry by Gina Waldman. Photograph by Sarah de Pina.

WHEN THERE’S A polite, clean side to something, you can rest assured that there’s always a wild, irregular messy corollary. And often the latter is more revealing and more interesting. It breaks more rules, it is much less restrained. This is one of the delicious strengths in Gina Waldman’s current solo exhibition at Mesh, in Rosebank.

Armed with the discourse of high kitsch and the grammar of feminist thinking that reaches all the way to the schlocky 1980s and the earnest and playful 1950s, Waldman has for many years played with a heady mix of possibility in mediums that are anything but conventional. She’s dabbled in glitter, conversed with ‘swops’ and things that draw from her childhood. She’s cocked a snook at the greats, and challenged their uniqueness with multiple prints and shimmers of bright spangly stuff. In Cattivo Gusto, her current solo exhibition, she takes a step in a slightly different direction.

Promising to be in poor taste, if you go by the exhibition’s Italian title, the exhibition is premised primarily on the crafts of weaving and tapestry making. There’s an interesting foray into the culture of the ‘autograph book’ which were iconic for youngsters of the 1980s, but the bulk of this body of work is an essay on tapestry making. And while it may pull a tongue at the polite notion of taste, this exhibition is anything but ‘poor’.

Some years ago, conceptual artist Kim Lieberman made a body of work which examined the thinking and the aesthetic of the jigsaw puzzle and you get something similar here. Waldman turns her tapestries back to front: or perhaps she constructs them in this way. And here, as any knitter or tapestry-maker will know, you get the proverbial blood and guts of the work. You get to see the ways in which colours are messily woven and grotesquely knotted together to form a whole.

But there’s more. Similar to the approach of Toni-Ann Ballenden in her recent exhibition, Waldman has sewn not only image with image, but she’s sliced things apart and stitched them together again. Gold thread predominates, enrichening the surface of the pieces with a lurid sense of pizzazz, and the impression of the work ultimately teeters between a Jackson Pollockian kind of irreverence, the shimmering richness of the French Impressionists such as Claude Monet and a hefty resonances with the art historical images to which some of them refer explicitly.

The work and the approach is firmly Waldman’s however. And while these pieces will be on show for some time, the venue is perhaps the detail that forces this exhibition into a bit of difficulty. It’s mounted in a members-only posh office suite. When you come there to look at the images and find yourself seeming to be peering rudely at business people in glass-walled conference rooms, you feel a tad intrusive. Such is also the space that you are not sure how many works there are on display. They’re so visually seductive, you need to ferret out each last one and give it enough time for the gooseflesh on the back of your neck to rise, and the thrumming of gold against tapestry intestines to beat its song into your solar plexus.

It’s a complicated gallery visit, but one you won’t regret.

  • Cattivo Gusto by Gina Waldman is at Mesh, Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Johannesburg until May 17. 010 594 5545.
  • Billing itself as a ‘members only’ work and play space, Mesh is not open to the public during the week, unless by appointment.
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