A bit of this, a bit of that

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TURKEY tales: He who plays the piper calls the tune. Drip blok by Sarel Petrus and Dylan Graham. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

TRY NOT TO be misled by the title of this exhibition. It isn’t the third iteration of a computer game about snakes. Or eyes. Once you’ve disposed of that preconception, you’ll feel a little freer to explore the collaborative pieces in this showcase to the work of Pretoria-based Found Collective, clearly in its third manifestation, which promises to allow the voices of disparate visual artists to sing together.

And disparate is kind of what you engage with. Not much information is available on the Found Collective, which comprises a whole range of artists, old and young, well known and relatively new on the scene. There’s an overwhelming sense of an inner circle here, which doesn’t offer much for the outsider or casual gallery visitor to hold onto.

Not all of the works on show fit with all the others, and the essence plays into the notion of a collective that is more about disparateness than it is about a well curated and hand-picked body of works. In some strange ways, this exhibition contains a little of the energy that jump-started aspects of European surrealism into life, by way of Exquisite Corpses – conventional parlour games translated by diverse hands into collaborative drawings of strange creatures.

But that’s just about the energy in the show: these are not all representations of creatures. Some are beautiful in terms of the unexpected segueing of artists’ input. Others, less so. While Lothar Bottcher and Christo Niemandt offer a meditation on a rearview mirror, called Project Project Re-view Mirror, the work tries to do too many things at once and results in being too obscure.

Shenaz Mahomed in collaboration with Cobus Haupt on the other hand, have created a work which blends formal figurative sculpture with filigree. And the result? Rather quirky and endearing while it teeters with solemnity. This little Aniconic female figure stands like a boyish and contemporary Joan of Arc on a chunk of wood, elegantly.

There are horses by Angus Taylor and Rina Stutzer protruding rudely from a Vusi Beauchamp painting and Sarel Petrus and Dylan Graham have together created Drip blok, a bronze-cast plucked-looking turkey poised on a table covered in drips and images of armed artillery men. The digital drawings reworked into something else by Alet Pretorius and Banele Khoza feel a little contrived and a tad overworked, the splotches of cast bronze peppering the wall by Guy du Toit and Lala Crafford, called Lig en lug aangehaal, considers something held in great earnestness with a quizzical eye. And then, there’s a magnificently made relief print, with blind embossed edges by Helen Lotter and Hannah Kempe called Lacuna.

All in all, it’s a useful showcase for the kind of thinking and technical skills that’s happening among the artists in this group, but as an exhibition in these linked spaces, it doesn’t sing with visual or conceptual harmony.

  • Snake Eyes 3.0 by Found Collective is at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street, Brooklyn Pretoria until June 16. Call 012 346 0158.
  • Participating artists: Maaike Bakker, Vusi Beauchamp, Lothar Bottcher, Bernard Brand, Bianca Brand, Tatenda Chidora, Lala Crafford, Jayne Crawshay-Hall, Guy du Toit, Pieter du Toit, Brendon Erasmus, Heidi Fourie, Dylan Graham, Cobus Haupt, Hannah Kempe, Banele Khoza, Allen Laing, Helen Lotter, Shenaz Mahomed, Setlamorago Mashilo, Franli Meintjies, Isabel Mertz, Christo Niemandt, Sarel Petrus, Alet Pretorius, Marika Pretorius, Nkhensani Rihlampfu, Johan Stegmann, Angus Taylor and Carly Whitaker.

 

What lies beneath

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RAISING other people’s nightmares: Frederik Eksteen’s painting, Hell/Institutional Critique. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

AS YOU ENTER this intimate little space, your heart and eyes are grabbed by a lion lying ponderously before you. It’s the central focus of a large scale painting called Cave Painting and as you move closer to the work so do other things in this piece begin to unfold and appear. This is one of the centrifugal points to the exhibition of recent work by Frederik Eksteen currently on show in the Collectors’ Room at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery in Pretoria.

Cave Painting is not a work about a lion. It’s about much more. The human form, subject to geometric plotting and cross-casting lies in palimpsests throughout this rich and interesting work in which the artist demonstrates a mature understanding of composition and what can be left blank on the canvas.

The other painting in this ensemble is perhaps even more astonishing and the curators of the show have cautiously hung it at a vantage point where you have to already be inside the space to see it properly. This is a horizontal painting called Hell/Institutional Critique, and snide and sad associations with institutions aside, it is a fleshy vortex which threatens your sense of physical stability. It’s a remarkable painting in which you will lose all sense of time as you gaze as its raw, uterine-like interstices.

Eksteen, whose work has been covered before in this website, here, is an artist who clearly doesn’t kowtow to trends, but he knows them and understands their roots. Along these lines, he has invested his career in developing an approach to his work which is unique as it is honed. The four other works exhibited in this showcase exhibition are in mixed media on paper, and here you see a sense of almost mythological whimsy where marks made, subject matter, medium and the idiosyncrasies of the approach work together with a kind of mad synchronicity that makes you aware of the slithery movement of a snake in a state of moulting, as it makes you unable to turn away from the organic forms, the lizard’s claws, that skirt with abstraction, seduced as you are by the sheer beauty of the marks made.

It’s a modestly sized exhibition, but one that is certainly worth the drive to Pretoria.

  • Recent work by Frederick Eksteen is at the Collectors’ Room, Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street, Brooklyn Pretoria until June 16. 012 346 0158.

Things we take when we go

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EFFERVESCENT words and the power of etching. Andrew Munnik’s He Goes. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

ONE OF THE central catastrophes of our world is the untold damage done to people who are forcibly dispossessed for whatever reason. People who are shoved from their land, pushed into hostile terrain. Chinese contemporary artist Ai WeiWei reflects on refugees in his enormous current advocacy film Humanflow. Much quieter, and considerably less dramatic, but no less to the point, is Andrew Munnik’s current body of work, on show at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

Entitled Strangers in a Strange Land, this modest collection of six intaglio prints and three large scale paintings touches all the issues central to the horror of loss – that is loss of identity through possessions, through association. In being so, they’re not invested with precious earnestness. Rather they’re quite quirky pieces that will make you smile a little as your gut is wrenched by the reality referred to.

But above all, Munnik makes curious use of the presence of words and letters, which take on the role of lines cross-hatching one another. As a result, texture is cast and presented in the body of an image, but look more carefully, and the words and letters pop out at you. It’s almost as though you are looking at a bag of memories that from far looks homogenous, but up close contains nostalgia and anguish, the things left behind, and those that are lost.

The paintings are less successful in their engagement with subtlety.  They’re less easy to fall into, from your heart onwards. Has this to do with the mix of repeated elements in Stay off the Grass, a contemplation of children in a ring-fenced space? Perhaps, but still it is the etchings that grab your eyes back each time, and capture an energy and an intensity that will make you think about possessions, about ownership and about the value of fitting in. You can’t read the text that swarms madly into and out of focus, but you understand it as text, and tease it apart for the value that the written word brings to the skill of holding on in a society where you might be excluded.

  • Strangers in a Strange Land by Andrew Munnik is in the Collectors’ Room at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, Pretoria, until April 7. 012 346 0158.

Your name, my body

Impermanence
COMING and going. Paul Emmanuel’s Maniere stone lithograph, Platform 5. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Gallery.

THE WORDS THAT describe you — your name — are among the things that unequivocally define you. It’s a proper noun in the world and something that when you are no longer there, will evoke you to strangers. It is upon this premise that much of Paul Emmanuel’s work on his current exhibition reflects. Entitled Impermanence, the pieces on show draw from several bodies of work created over the last decade or so; there are photographs of installations in the fields of France, Mozambique and Grahamstown, and samplings of series of works contemplating mortality.

Remember-Dismember (2015) is a single channel video playing on a loop in the gallery. It encapsulates the untellable, inscrutable nature of a name as it considers the vulnerability of the body as a receptacle for the names of those who are no longer here. Segueing with his thinking in The Lost Men, this video work sees Emmanuel intimately holding on to the anonymous young men who died in trenches, ignominiously rendered fodder by the war machines.

Indeed, on so many levels, Emmanuel becomes as a Wilfred Owen over a hundred years after the First World War. Only his poetry is in gesture rather than descriptive words. And he takes the names of the young men who fell in various wars and embosses them painfully into his flesh, which he photographs, and prints onto sheets of fabric, allowing them to billow in the wind, forcing the gesture from the realms of visual art into performative spontaneity on the arms of nature.

But that’s not all. This exhibition touches on several streams of Emmanuel’s thought processes, including works from his breathtaking stone lithograph series of 2011, dealing with different stages in life. Platform 5 is a particularly poignant case in point, as is Table Number 12. The work is painstakingly fine yet bewilderingly wide in its reach. It’s beguilingly simple in focus and dizzyingly deep at the same time.

In Platform 5, people come and go anonymously through turnstiles in a railway station. In Table Number 12, an elderly man puts on his jacket. On a level, these are ordinary images. On another, they reach through the span of what it means to be alive, vulnerable and mortal in this world, thus irrevocably linking The Lost Men images to these that contemplate how transient it all is.

While it’s always a treat to immerse yourself in Emmanuel’s distinctive line work and intensely refined focus, this exhibition touches on the notion of retrospective even though it is not comprehensive and the space dwarfs the work. These bold and subtle gestures need the infinity of hundred-year-old battle fields, now grown green and fertile, as platform to the banners and flags of soldiers’ names forced into the soft flesh, the yielding skin of the living artist. The exhibition in all its sense of preciousness and intimacy becomes as a cipher to the breadth and depth of Emmanuel’s focus on the tactile anonymity of war and the scars it leaves in society, implacably.

  • Impermanence by Paul Emmanuel is at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, Pretoria, until April 7. 012 346 0158.

Who’s your daddy?

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IMPOSTOR with appalling teeth: Meet Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek).

WHAT DO YOU do when your hot-shot entrepreneurial daughter who is earnestly climbing the corporate ladder in Europe freezes you out of her life? Do you do the social thing and try to wine and dine her and buy her gifts, or do you go all out to worm your way into her confidence, using every trick in the book and inventing some brand new tricks, yourself?

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is a man with an ill-fitting denture. He’s a music teacher and the owner of an extremely elderly dog. And eccentricity is the tune by which he conjures his life. Only it’s such deadpan eccentricity that it takes you a while to get attuned to it. But once you do, the rhythm and resonance of this work will soar with you and haunt you. Further to that, it might well make you wake up in the night laughing and sobbing at some of the work’s nuances, weeks after you’ve seen it.

Winfried’s daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller) fits into the millennial German stereotype graciously. She’s an A-type personality tightly controlling her frenetic Bucharest-based life, complete as it is with the obsessive pressure of wining and dining important people, juggling technology and time. Her dad’s curious as to where and how she lets her hair down. And with whom. But nay, Ines, with her tight business suit and her every-hair-in-place German precision wants nothing of the presence of her awkward, emotional, curious daddy-o.

Bordering on the kind of manipulative cruelty you see in films such as Joseph Mankiewicz’s (1972) Sleuth, with Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier, Toni Erdmann reveals really bizarre antics of Winfried to gain his daughter’s attention and win her affection but also a place in her life.

It takes an infected toenail, a spontaneously naked birthday party, an alarming cheese grater, not to mention an unbelievably enormous Bulgarian cultural costume, sex with a green petit four and an invented character called Toni Erdmann, too ugly and socially awkward to believe possible. Almost clocking in at three hours, this is a long film, but it will keep you riveted as it keeps you surprised. Shortlisted for the best foreign film in 2017’s Oscars and with a slew of nominations and awards in its wake, it’s a wild story punctuated with hairpin bends in its plot, but it is its superb craftsmanship, incredibly fine performances and sophisticated storytelling that will grip you the most.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful paean about the complicated relationship between a man and his adult daughter, replete with all its irritating and uncomfortable moments that any grown woman with an elderly father will relate to.

  • Toni Erdmann (2016) is directed by Maren Ade and stars Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek and Michael Wittenborn. It is 162 minutes in length and is in German with English subtitles. It is being screened as part of the European Film Festival in Johannesburg on May 7 and 13 at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank, Pretoria on May 7 and 14 at Cinema Nouveau in Brooklyn, Cape Town on May 7 and 13 at Cinema Nouveau at the V&A and Durban on May 14 at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway. Visit eurofilmfest.co.za and www.cinemanouveau.co.za for more details.

Forever’s flaws in a world fraught by change

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THAT cat: Isabelle Huppert is Nathalie Chazeaux making sense of an inherited cat.

Reviewed By Nomali Minenhle Cele

WHEN YOU ARE introduced to her, Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) is a happy enough woman. She’s driven at her teaching job and secure in her marriage, her grown children are happy and healthy. She’s respected in her profession as a philosopher. The quiet cogs of her life churn on and she is satisfied.

Quite early into the film, however, the foundations of her life begin to shake. The future of the once-lucrative textbook she wrote is uncertain (she has to pay for that beautiful Paris flat somehow, surely). The world is changing. Her marriage is not as secure as she believes.

Nathalie’s relationship with her mother is troubled. Both women are at the stage of life where questions such as “when are you giving me grandchildren?” are replaced by 3am phone calls because mother is having an anxiety attack. Before she is committed to an old age home, the older woman lives in a flat, which she never leaves, surrounded by photographs of herself in her youth. She was a beauty, however, what time has taken is nothing compared to what a divergent brain takes. Or what death takes.

With a level head, Nathalie has to lament a marriage, and a seaside home. She also has to mourn the loss of her mother. And then there’s the question of making sense of the cat her mother leaves.

Huppert is a joy to watch. Her jokes, even in subtitles, are biting. Her observations on life, love and relationships are interesting, her Nathalie is warm. But she’s far from being every woman. Only women who look like that and have her level of education/social standing — but mostly, LOOK like that — get to have their singular story “Gets divorced, bordering-on-toxic mother dies, inherits cat, has a year of awakening and change” told. The fictional French white woman lives differently.

Nathalie’s relationship with her students, particularly Fabien (Roman Kolinka), is used as one of the primary lenses in this film, which also feeds off the developments in her private life. Fabien is proof that ideas can change. Nathalie knows this because one of the things she says to her husband when he says he’s leaving is: “I thought you would love me forever.” Forever, she discovers, is relative and she, even though she had always thought herself very happy and fulfilled in her marriage, confesses during a drive with Fabien that she welcomes the variety in music.

Broadly considered the darling of French film in 2016, this Things To Come is a rewarding and beautifully made film.

  • Things To Come (2016) is directed by Mia Hansen-Love and stars Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon and Roman Kolinka. It is 102 minutes in length and is in French, German and English, with English subtitles. It is being screened as part of the European Film Festival in Johannesburg on May 5 and 14 at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank, Pretoria on May 5 and 14 at Cinema Nouveau in Brooklyn, Cape Town on May 5 and 14 at Cinema Nouveau at the V&A and Durban on May 5 at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway. Visit eurofilmfest.co.za and www.cinemanouveau.co.za for more details.
  • Nomali Minenhle Cele is a culture critic and writer from Soweto, and founder of the  zine Uju. Invoke her at her blog Nomali From Soweto.