Jennifer Lovemore-Reed exhibition

Remnants, Relics and Reasons by Jennifer Lovemore-Reed forms the second part of her artistic dialogy. Last year, Lovemore-Reed presented the performance piece Bag-lady, Clown, Sycophant at the Erdmann Contemporary.

This performance is said to have been inspired by the immense fear that the artist felt regarding public performance and her decision that confronting this fear would overshadow all of her other frustrations. The follow-up exhibition sets out to document the entire creative process and performance.The exhibition comprises a massive mind-map of the work, all the props from the performance, a video interview with the artist before the performance, a video of the performance, a video interview with the artist after the performance and the half-dressed artist sitting on a pedestal with her mouth taped shut, the latter performance work titled Silent Artist. The props are personal relics such as clothes, artist materials, photos, memorabilia and toiletries from the artist’s past and encompass her relationship, creative life and daily routine.

Aside from three video pieces, shown simultaneously to create illuminating composites, the exhibition is deathly boring. But this is the point, according to Kathryn Smith who opened the exhibition: once analysed or highlighted, the artistic process is incredibly banal, including the artist’s daily medication, financial records and toenail clippings. Prepared to shatter the mirage of an artistic persona, the exhibition is, to use Smith’s word, “brave”.

In her opening talk, Smith went on to compare Lovemore-Reed’s exhibition to the legal case between MassMoCA and Swiss artist Christoph Buchel in which, after funding ran out and the artist withdrew from the project, a court ruled that the gallery could show the incomplete work. This seemingly tentative connection concluded with the question of what say the artist has in the final realisation of an artwork and the way creative suspense is stripped by secularising the artistic process.

However, for the artist, this is not a fictional exhibition. After all, it was inspired by real-world burning, not an intellectual construction. For the artist, there is meaning and intense emotions in every single object in Remnants, Relics and Reasons and tackling the fear of performance in the first exhibition would point to significant character growth. Indeed, the exhibition could be perceived as a voyeur’s curatorial delight or washing your knickers in public if it weren’t for the staid world-weariness of the artistic space. This is when Silent Artist, which seems incidental to the exhibition, highlights the invalidation with which one views art.

Art South Africa, 1 December 2007

Trasi Henen exhibition

The stark contexture of the paintings in Trasi Henen’s Delicate Life Pursuer belies the exhibition title. Life is squashed out of the paintings by her layered structural conglomerations. The exhibition continues the theme of “fractured and alienated suburban spaces”, raised in Henen’s previous exhibitions, Suburbia Fantastical (2003) and Passer By 2005). However, contrary to these exhibitions, which still allowed for mythical space and a human subject, there is complete anonymity and absolute alienation in these paintings. Only impossible spaces are even alluded to, but hidden by dense superstructures.

Clustering architectural forms into absurd intertwinings that deny mathematical or physical laws, Henen creates claustrophobic monuments that seem to crowd any fragile human subject out of the canvas. Walls, pillars, balustrades, windows, scaffolding, roofs, stairs, balconies, bricks and palisade seem to weave into each other rather than hinge off each other. Shadows, layered oil work and meticulous rectilinear brushwork create a tapestry of positive and negative space that frames two- and three-dimensional planes. The theatrical fourth wall is often accentuated by a slashed brushstroke, which seems to cut the canvas surface, the painting itself crawling out onto the gallery wall.Upside down houses that are right way up, wrecks that are castles, facades that have depth and mansions floating on a string – one gets lost trying to trace an escape from these edificial webs, like a nightmare of endless doors. It is as though MC Escher’s prints of the marching minions on the circular stairs were a balloon that has been deflated. Even Henen’s few human figures resemble these faceless marching droids.

The one clear human figure on this show appears in Qufhbnmk; an enlargement from a magazine photo, he is also defaced by a mask formed by architectural elements. Forming the back of the man’s head on the opposite side of the partition is another enlargement: a long mop of blonde hair – it clearly does not match up. However, along with a video work from one of her earlier exhibitions, these works are incongruous with the rest of the exhibition.Anecdotally, this is the first exhibition that Henen has created and exhibited in the Western Cape since relocating from Johannesburg earlier this year. The severe architectural claustrophobia of her paintings might be considered incongruent with the stereotypical perceptions of Cape Town’s airy geography. Indeed, Delicate Life Pursuer resists any anecdotal, social-political or contemporary reading, despite seeming to echo the suburban fear, anxiety and alienation so very topical in South Africa. Instead, without a view of the subject, the object of fear, alienation and hate is erased too. Rather than a subjective assertion of, “I am alienated from…” the works assert “I am alienated” – unlike the typical South African rhetoric that always includes an other.

Akin to Jean Baudrillard’s “violence of indifference”, the overarching universal has failed, creating disarmed, impotent singularities. It is not about South Africa at all. Instead, alienation is itself a stance activated by the very fragmentation and isolation constructed by her sometimes clinical, sometimes violent brushstrokes. There is no trace of sentimental longing towards the mythical elements of Henen’s earlier work.Of course, Baudrillard is dead and it’s about time that someone wrote a new requiem to modern day living. One mostly hopes that an artist will bring a new ring or a glimmer of hope. However, I fear that all Henen manages is to trap a body’s worth of the suburban alienation in each of her knitted buildings.

Published by Art South Africa, 1 December 2007