DEAD BUNNIES HOP INTO GREAT UNKNOWN
WE DON’T know where we are, or where we are headed. You probably had some idea of this limbo state of affairs that defines our current condition, not only locally, but globally in this age of accelerated technological development and political and religious extremism.
These changes have delivered humanity at a crossroads or perhaps on the cusp of transitions we have yet to fully understand.
This is the overwhelming sentiment or reality that hits you as you move through the hundred-odd artworks on the Sacred and Profane exhibition produced by the Dead Bunny Society for the Lizamore & Associates Gallery. The great unknown tends to be represented via black. This is the key colour for this moody gothic exhibition, which in the sheer number of works and diversity of mediums, artists and approaches sucks you into the limbo space variously crafted by an art collective that consists of Dirk Bahmann, Wayne Matthews, Ronel de Jager, Neil Nieuwoudt and Mandy Johnston.
Black is such an impenetrable colour and somehow colonises objects and things so thoroughly, nullifying details. This is probably why it is associated with death and, in the context of contemporary conditions, an obliteration of the past and the opening up of an unknown future.
This reverberates via artworks with a charcoaled, burnt veneer concealing dated documents. Perusing this exhibition is somewhat like encountering a place after a fire, where there are remnants of life left behind. This is particularly the case with Wayne Matthews Good Morning
Faustus series which presents blackened surfaces concealing sepia images. A thick, impenetrable black background also dominates works by Dirk Bahmann and Neil Nieuwoudt in the Above and Below series and the circular staircases in a collaborative work by Bahmann and Matthews.
You have to study the matt black surface closely to detect the staircase engraved into it. This detached staircase serves as an apt emblem for this no man’s land – this space between the past and the future. This ties in with the title of the show; the Sacred and the Profane. It offers multiple meanings. It could refer to artworks, which are sacred in relation to other ordinary (profane) things or a terrain or set of ideological conditions in which the sacred is produced, or can be, or what occurs in the absence of a grounding religion, which need not be thought of as linked to a god, but to a fixed set of beliefs.
The theme advanced in this exhibition is fittingly pursued by a collective dubbed The Dead Bunny Society, which more or less through its name asks us to ponder life after cuteness. By this they could mean facing realities without sugar coating.
Religion has functioned as a bulwark, offering certainty in times of strife. This probably explains the rise of religious fundamentalism in the face of fluid genders and minorities, the oppressed rattling the boat.
Rootlessness is a sentiment the detached staircase evokes but it is also explored more effectively in Into the
Abyss I, which depicts a disruption or subversion of architectural forms connected to religion. A gothic spire is detached from a building and becomes an independent, self-contained object.
Its design is exaggerated via a duplication process so that it tapers into spires at both ends. In this way the pointed end isn’t only reaching to the heavens, closer to God – but downwards too, towards hell. Suspended in blackness, the object is less caught between worlds and is stuck in this unknown space, between the past and future.
A number of things appear to be occurring in the design that reflects on the status quo. For example the duplication and exaggeration of this traditional religious architectural form implies this desire to cling to this ideology and its essence.
This brings the ultra conservative backlash that has been occurring around the world to mind. It also evokes this nostalgic, though false return to a history, period and traditions that young people yearn for though they have no memory of. This contradiction has underpinned the artisanal hipster vibe.
This sense of erasure, obliteration, which coincides with entering an unknown territory appears to coincide with the breaking down and reconfiguring of language. This features in handmade leather “books” by Niewoudt, which offer pages of torn and partial ephemera – remnants of this old world, evolving into a new language of sorts.
The collapse of language is dealt with by Stephan Erasmus in Hollow Word, a scripto-visual work where letters of the alphabet are layered over each other to form abstract images. In Back and Forth, letters are obscured via graphic geometric designs. The prevailing idea is that set patterns have been disrupted.
Ronel de Jager provides a reprieve from the oppressive black and white as well as a counter point via her circular paintings of “viruses”, which offer pleasing, textured and organic paintings of organisms. This introduces the “natural” unseen world into this dark limbo.
This exhibition is outstanding. Not only does it plug into our Zeitgeist, but the volume of artworks and their high quality makes for rich viewing and thinking. – Corrigall & Co ● Sacred and Profane shows at the Lizamore & Associates Gallery in Joburg until August 26.