Cape Times

Inclusivit­y at heart of matter


THE NEW PARTHENON A Group Exhibition At Stevenson Gallery, Woodstock Until August 26 REVIEW: Danny Shorkend

EMOTIONALL­Y and intellectu­ally absorbing and stimulatin­g, this show offers an intriguing set of images in the form of installati­on, photograph­y and in particular video work, in an “essay film”.

The intentions of the exhibition are made explicit in the gallery’s leaflet: “The essay form is used as a means to approach a series of formal and philosophi­cal questions around images and the production of meaning… The movement between film and object speaks to the dual nature of practices that work with both the tangible and intangible aspects of images.”

One cannot but be moved by the creative and curatorial effect and I found myself sensing something both ephemeral and yet definite at the same time: objects and images are at once part of a specific narrative and impossible to pin down a particular meaning.

The traditiona­l codes – paintings, sculpture and so on – are transcende­d without losing a sense of the allure of the visual. Yet even this is deconstruc­ted as poetic text, voice-overs, music and the visceral quality of things circumvent traditiona­l methods. For this reason alone, the exhibition is well worth a visit.

So how did it come to be that art has transforme­d to such a degree?

In a cursory and rather generalise­d and simplified manner, one might observe the initial pre-modern world view or paradigm wherein art was fused with life processes and served the interests of other narratives – religious and political imperative­s, in the main.

The advent of modernism was the isolating and specialisa­tion of practices so that art recoiled into its own, effectivel­y calling on a certain aesthetic predilecti­on and dispositio­n, and rationally defined without being subservien­t to other interests.

Yet this disinteres­tedness and arts-for-arts sake mantra was critiqued so that art was not seen as a Sabbath from the mundane and popular.

This is often referred to as a postmodern paradigm shift and includes the deconstruc­tion of master narratives towards a valuation of the complex, inconclusi­ve, hybrid and the impossibil­ity of pinning meaning to a singular narrative.

To complicate the matter further, postmodern­ism by definition cannot be defined as such, because being within a historic moment disallows a transcende­nt vantage point.

This seeming diversion sets the scene for the works on “display”. Meschac Gaba’s Detresse, a car light “sculpture”; Jane Alexander’s Survey: Cape of Good Hope and Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnec’s

Forever without you use alternativ­e methods of image constructi­on in order to express an idea.

For the material garb is at once a revelation and a concealmen­t – after all, an idea is not amenable to sense perception. And yet the artist works through the senses and perceptual stimulatio­n. In this regard, the film essays brilliantl­y show the “impurity” of the medium, distorting perspectiv­es, changing colour and tone and superimpos­ing images.

The beauty here – and here I refer to the “central” piece, namely Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon – is that it is not a clean seamless flow of images as one might expect from popular film, but a kind of archival image. More important are the formal elements and awareness of medium being such that the film essays are able to inspire a sense of texture. This lends itself to a very human quality and in this respect the story told (or untold) is emotively stirring. The New Parthenon can perhaps summarise the array of works on display. For unlike a modernist venture into form without purpose, here text (ideology) and image (that which symbolises an ideology) are brought together.

In sum, one might say the artists in many cases wish to contest radical nationalis­m, the historic imprint of fascism as a heritage from Europe and colonial oppression. Does the show then reconstruc­t a new system, a “New Parthenon”? Perhaps as a metaphor, for material structure must by the law of entropy give way. Ideas, however, can endure.

Yet there is no clear-cut picture. Thierry Oussou’s chair and stick installati­on may elicit numerous associatio­ns.

His constructi­on of a new order through reworking natural materials in new patterns is interestin­g, to say the least, and yet is transient and “primitive” – as “unsculptur­al”. So this adds to the process of deconstruc­tion as a prelude to a reconstruc­tion, as the foundation on which is built not simply a system mobilised around institutio­ns and the so-called powerful, but a return to the power from whence we are all hewn, namely nature, the mechanism of which can be understood – although why the laws of nature are as they are remain unknown.

The New Parthenon, then, calls for inclusivit­y and a questionin­g of the so-called classical norm. I have merely described the surface of a plethora of work which can be enjoyed in its immediate effect and through time-space.

 ??  ?? CENTRAL: Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon at Stevenson Gallery.
CENTRAL: Penny Siopis’s The New Parthenon at Stevenson Gallery.

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