A bit of this, a bit of that

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

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.

Your name, my body

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.

Silent poems, confrontational prayer mats and girl talk

PowerPoint Presentation
THE power of the silent story: Stills from an untitled work by Reshma Chhiba. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Gallery.

AS YOU ENTER the gallery space at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Pretoria, there’s a work on the exhibition A Flood in My Hands that you may overlook in error. But when you do see it, you experience a great quickening of your nerves and soul, that embraces the heart of this exhibition.

Suspended from the gallery’s ceiling it’s a devastatingly subtle essay by Alka Dass in the form of a disused baking tray and pigment. It tells of female biological and cultural identity and a play on words that will make you quiver. It’s entitled Battery not included. Is this about menstrual blood? Is it about battery as in abuse? Is it an ironic comment on the things society dictates women must do to retain a sense of equilibrium, to fit in?

Either way, it’s a cornerstone to this exhibition, which by dint of its title seems to promise an engagement with female identity in a very direct and visceral sense. Don’t, however,  expect the kind of sensationalist blood paintings that women of 1970s in America made as feminist statements. This exhibition is about women, but it’s a lot more subtle than a splashing of menstrual blood and a tossing about of tampons. It’s also a lot more sophisticated.

As you enter the space proper, the work of Laylaa Jacobs grabs you in an unexpected way, and does not relent. Evoking a work exhibited more than ten years ago by Dutch-born artist Daphne Prevoo which featured a knitted red jersey with sleeves that bled into the gallery space, the work, entitled Armoured Fulla spills onto and fills the floor. It is redolent of the atavistic quality that is abstract yet alive, present in Nandipha Mntambo’s latest works. Comprising a prayer mat as support, the work contains a vomiting out of texture created with steel wool. It’s impeccable and unmanageable in the emotional impact it presents, and you find yourself glancing back at it as you peruse the rest of the exhibition, with slanty eyes, just to make sure it has not moved from when last you looked at it.

The works are not accompanied by interpretations, to the credit of curator Aysha Waja. While many of them are obviously dealing with the complexities of being a young Muslim or Hindu woman in a contemporary setting, the visual potency of many of the pieces shouts beyond religious dogma or ritual, and without explanatory texts to hold onto, you’re forced to really look, to allow your spirit to engage with the work on a level that has little to do with religion or prejudice.

It is in this way that you’re led to read Dass’s work on this exhibition as a contemplation of beauty rituals. You get to see Jacobs’s use of prayer mats as comment on prayer practice and at Anastasia Pather’s jewel-like little compositions which blend collage with image, reference with texture meticulously.

Simphiwe Buthelezi plays with a meshed support in her work, challenging the conventions of the paintbrush as she assaults the idea of texture. Her work A moon whispered let me love you, is strong and provocative because of the use of silence – the open grids of her canvas which give the composition a breath of life.

While unframed works pinned onto the wall with a bulldog clip and Chumisa Ndasika’s flow chart with a mirror at its core grapple with professionalism in this context, it is unequivocally, Reshma Chhiba’s Untitled two-channel video, originally made in 2003 which steals the heart of the show.

You’re not given to understand what the Hindu woman on the left of the work is gesticulating about. Neither do you know what the black woman on the right is saying. But you’re compelled to watch them again, and again in their passionate expressions.

There’s a synergy between this work by Chhiba and her kum-kum powder-imbued two dimensional works on this show, dealing with the Hindu goddess Kali in a pared-down and abstract way, referencing the potency of her 2003 exhibition.

All in all, while there are fine accents and beautiful choices made in A Flood in My Hands, there’s an area of disparity. The exhibition is premised on words and phrases by Turkish poet Seher Çakır (b. 1971) and Nayyirah Waheed, a young contemporary poet who is renowned for the magnificence of her words and her Instagram presence: Achingly beautiful lines and phrases which will resonate with your soul. They are, however, written on the gallery walls in a slapdash and crooked charcoal hand which blurs the magic in this exhibition: you want the words to sing to you with impeccable clarity. They should be written with a lyrical hand and an outstretched sense of calligraphy. This presentation brings what could be a profound statement about women, ritual, identity and gender, from a promising sophistication to something young and relatively unformed.

But given the core of Chhiba’s work, the writing on the wall is forgivable. “Sometimes the night wakes in the middle of me,” writes Waheed, “and I can do nothing but become the moon.” You will feel the same relentless choice.

  • A Flood in my Hands curated by Aysha Waja comprises work by Simphiwe Buthelezi, Reshma Chhiba, Alka Dass, Laylaa Jacobs, Chumisa Ndasika and Anastasia Pather and is at Fried Contemporary in Brooklyn, Pretoria until March 3. 012 346 0158 or visit www.friedcontemporary.com

Thirty years of gods, bulls and other beasties

WORTH worshipping? Johann Moolman’s Place of the Rain Bull, a work in stone and rusted mild steel. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

FIFTY YEARS, A hundred or more from now, what will archaeologists retrieve to establish who we were as a society and what made us tick? Shape-Shift, a retrospective exhibition by Johann Moolman contemplates that idea of obsolescence with a strong sense of history but not without a wry grin at the hubris of our society.

Moolman’s name, if you’ve been following visual art for awhile, hasn’t been headlined in local commercial galleries for some time, and this exhibition makes it feel the time is right for a revisit of these quirky, curious and beautiful pieces, made with a strong hand, potent craftsmanship and a capricious sense of possibility. The show comprises paintings, sculptures and relief works, but also altered found objects.

But while the work feels prolific, the space is limited, and as you walk into the gallery, you feel bombarded: the show seems to cram too much into too small a space.

As you move deeper into the space, however, this shifts. The gallery’s main space comprises one large room, one smaller room and a garden, into which the work spills. Curiously, the smaller room in the establishment doesn’t feel as cluttered as the large space – rather, the closely ranged pieces feel like a friendly crowd. They cluster with a sense of their own poetry and the installation is a comfortable one, resonating with the kind of curatorial ethos that was achieved in Wits Art Museum’s retrospective of the work of Peter Schütz last year.

There are two clear poles in the material – while some of it tends toward naturalism, some of it reaches toward a diagrammatic reflection of values and it is the latter which makes you smile and gives you a sense of awe. To its credit, the work is not curated with a numbingly rigorous sense of chronology and early works neighbour later ones, offering a fine and witty sense of repartee.

As you run your eyes up the length of a tall thin piece to discover a delightful head with simple horns, you realise this is much more than a simple stick. It’s a god. It’s a rain bull. It has presence. Run your eye down the work, and in some instances you will discover emblematic breasts, a pregnant belly or a penis jutting out of the work – delightful signs that give this creature a therianthropic nature: is this a man or a beast? Is it a girl or a boy? Is it a mix between the two?

It evokes the tall drums from Ghana, Ashante and Luba culture, which are gendered – as well as figures in African traditional pieces, as it touches on the succinctness of Brancusi’s sculptures.

And yes, this work flits between values cast by European modernism in relation to an African aesthetic and more self-conscious contemporary manoeuvres. But after all the vociferous debates surrounding this kind of approach, you need to be able to see the items for what they are. This rain bull’s head is clearly an evocatively shaped stone and yet mantled and horned as it is, it becomes something else. This shaped stick is a portal into another world, and that squat form is a symbol of sexuality. Tribute is paid to Henry Moore, to our human ancestors and to our traditions of ferreting histories.

It’s the kind of show that deserves a national museum space and a gallery season that warrants long contemplative hours of looking and thinking, but in the absence of all these wishful ideals, and even in the absence of a corridor of space between some of the works, it is still the kind of show that will touch you in a multitude of ways, and the tightly-packed crowd of close to 60 works becomes forgivable in the light of the thrill you get in being able to see a trajectory of 30 years of thoughtful incisive work.

  • Shape-Shift by Johann Moolman is at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) in Brooklyn, Pretoria until August 13. 012 346 0158 www.friedcontemporary.com

Intimate days of wine and roses

CHAMPAGNE and susurration: Karin Preller’s painting ‘Whispering’. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

INSTINCTIVELY, YOU CAN hear the gentle, almost innocuous concatenation of 1960s office party dialogue as you look at these paintings, with the delicate clink of glasses and the understated and polite chatter, the men in their tuxedos and cufflinks and the women in their cocktail best. You can almost smell their perfume as they whisper. This is Karin Preller’s latest body of exhibited work, and in many respects, while it rests firmly on her own traditions of foraging through personal photographic archives, which she has established over many years, it takes unprecedented leaps in refreshing and important directions for her oeuvre.

Intimately ensconced in what is known as the Collectors’ Room of the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, these seven pieces in blue tints and tones boast brushmarks which are looser than we’ve ever seen of Preller. What happens is the hard-boiledness and the irrepressible sense of perfection takes a side seat to something far more compelling, less containable and more indicative of the artist’s maturity.

While the works are dim in their tonality and present a slice of life that can at times feel harsh, the energy and subtlety of the work gives it the gravitas to stand on its own, and yet, as in The Unofficial Party, where a young woman in her shift dress sits on a verandah chair and smokes, a playful pathway into the untrammeled sexiness of the era, the fabric of the time, is honed.

And similarly, there’s a painting which takes a detail of another work, called Function 1960s and blows it up. Here, the two women side by side, become almost gestural shapes. But what they seem to lose in their polished sense of identity, they gain in terms of the subtlety and the directness of the painting itself. You look upon the relationship of startling hints of venetian yellow against the deep teal of the work, and the swathe of colour which describes the dress of the woman on the right, and you think directly of the work of German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, sans the crude and harsh colours.

Less emotionally bleak than her previous body of work, Preller’s Extracts, which also includes three strong slice-of-life drawings in charcoal on paper, is an immensely vital development for her as a painter. Looking at these pieces, it feels as though Preller’s whole career of working with photographs, memories and the cloying intractable nature of paint was pointing toward this kind of direction.

  • Extracts, an exhibition of new work by Karin Preller is on show in the Collectors’ Room at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) Brooklyn, Pretoria, until July 23. 012 346 0158 or www.friedcontemporary.com

Be mesmerised by this vortex of desolation

YOU can run but you can’t hide: Frikkie Eksteen’s work in oil and mixed media on canvas, entitled Evacuation. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery

AS YOU APPROACH what may seem at the outset a haphazard mass of calligraphic paint marks, piling paint smears upon paint smears, the fine hairs at the back of your neck may stand up. This is a landscape. Those tiny little ant-like forms emerging from it are people, and beneath all that noise, all that discombobulation, there’s a fine line describing the form and dimensions of a human head. This is Frikkie Eksteen’s chilling exhibition Second State, a series of 15 pieces and a video work that reflect a frank and dramatic sense of dystopia but it’s one that doesn’t come with a fictional background or a happy ending.

American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson was one of the first scientists, in the 1960s, to condemn our modern society for its lackadaisical stance with regard to saving the planet. Her voice went largely unheeded, and in many respects was vilified, indeed, chemical and agribusiness specialists in the United States dismissed her as a ‘fanatic’, but her words speak chillingly of the situation our world is rapidly teetering towards.

South African sociologist Jacklyn Cock framed the horror of how society takes natural resources for granted in her devastating book The War Against Ourselves (2007) [reviewed here], in which she splays open the folly and pride of our society that will destroy what we have because of greed, stupidity and ignorance.

Cock celebrates Carson and her ‘biocentric vision’ as the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Cock also ponders what Carson would have made of our world, some 50 years after her death, where even our gods are different to what they were then.

When you allow your eyes, followed by your head and your heart to be dissolved in Eksteen’s penetrating, apocalyptic vision, you may think of those environmental scientists, thinkers and groundbreakers. You may think of ‘green’ initiatives and their supporters who throw their weight behind saving certain species from extinction or using paper bags and glass instead of plastic. You might think of empty coffee pods and exfoliating skin products that are slowly clogging up our systems with their unrecyclable presences.

But Eksteen’s paintings are not articulately about any of these details in our society. They’re about the horrifying bleak aftermath. You look at his Hollow Men series or his work Gathering at the Monument and while you’re consumed by the layering of bits of form on a bare, white impenetrable field, you’re knocked into oblivion by the utter sense of desolation it embraces.

Technically, the work represents the reworking of previous pieces, on Eksteen’s part. An interesting reflection on the notion of recycling, but more than this: the pieces become rich palimpsests of reflections that in cases like The Natural History: Vol 11 p 117 and 119, he has worked over an inkjet print on archival paper, enabling the two lone figures to stand out against the background text with devastating aloneness. But more than this, there’s a clash and clamour of mediums, of computer-based design with palette-knife applied impasto. Of elements that on one level are worlds apart.

It’s a powerful exhibition, isolating and emphasising the harsh eloquence of this seasoned painter, and well worth the trip to Pretoria. But the exhibition closes this weekend, and it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Second State, an exhibition of work by Frikkie Eksteen is on show at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) Brooklyn, Pretoria until July 9. 012 346 0158 or visit www.friedcontemporary.com