SCINTILLA: An Alchemy Show
6 November - 11 December 2014
Participating artists: Lynette Bester, Justin Fiske, Jonathan Freemantle, Nicholas Hales, Rudi le Hane, Luke Kaplan, Nina Liebenberg, Jabulani Maseko, Mitchell Gilbert Messina, Bongani Njalo, Lauren Palte, Gaelen Pinnock, Gabrielle Raaff, Chad Rossouw, Buhlebezwe Siwani, Marlene Steyn, Simeon Nelson & Moffat Takadiwa (collaboration) and Jo Voysey.
Commune.1 is pleased to announce its end-of-year group show, 'Scintilla: An Alchemy Show'.
Practise-led and oriented towards intuitive connections, artists reveal an encounter with the creative impulse (the scintilla) in whichever form or guise it may take. Through the creative act, the artist-as-alchemist manifests aesthetic forms of discovery and magic. In 'Scintilla: An Alchemy Show', a selection of South African and international artists present inspired responses to this concept.
Starting with a general concept of art-as-alchemy, common themes emerge. The first, well-known association, is concerned with the aesthetic results produced by the actual transmutation of chemicals. These works are predominantly process-led and open to the ways that substances-in-play behave: as predictable or random. Jo Voysey paints with found medicinal remedies; each painting becomes an experiment born of an unpredictable chemical reaction. Lauren Palte dissolves oil paint in solvent which she then pours onto pieces of copper, brass or aluminium. The surface of the metal causes the paint to slide and stagnate at random, she then ‘pulls’ the image out of the wet paint. Jonathan Freemantle’s abstract paintings are born from his recent excavations for iron oxide ochre during his residency at Nirox. He grinds the pigment with linseed oil, beeswax medium and turpentine, applies the mixture, removes it and repeats in a process replicating soil and rock erosion.
The inspiration behind Justin Fiske’s negative-sized contact prints can be traced to a nostalgic road trip to Malawi in the early 1990s and an encounter with photographic alchemy in this unlikely context. Re-enacting his experience, Fiske’s photographic process consists of a single role of film, a carry-bag or a geyser cupboard and a desk lamp; all far from the safety and control offered by the darkroom environment or the convenience of digital technology. Contrastingly Luke Kaplan manipulates his hand-printed photographs of clouds in a darkroom to resemble spirits or mist figments. Kaplan’s practice is centred on the relationship between people and the natural world, and more specifically the transition between inner and outer ‘landscapes’. Gabrielle Raaff, although not working with chemicals, is similarly concerned with transforming the external landscape into the internal. Her watercolour renditions of landscapes at night are products of a relay between the loose wateriness of pigment and the artist’s subconscious.
The ‘Citadel Series’ is alchemic in its expert digital combination of elements. Like an alchemist mixing elemental compounds in a laboratory, Gaelen Pinnock compiles his raw ingredients of photographic imagery taken at the ports and docks of Cape Town so as to make a comment on control, security and the free-market economy. Lynette Bester’s project Midas and Me (2013-2014) began with 700 silkworms placed on cardboard circles. The fickle nature of both silkworms and their food supply resulted in a random amount of 58 golden yellow raw silk circles. This work is about the evolution of physical form and of consciousness. In place of chemicals Bester uses silkworms; in amongst the hatchings and life cycles of the silkworm she waits for her own baby to be born.
From chemical transmutation to spiritual transcendence, instead of the former process concerned with the transformation of matter, we shift into the realm of the transformation of soul and mind. Bongani Njalo’s installation investigates the shift in consciousness said to occur at the moment of death. He visually illustrates this concept through the creation of a threshold one can look through from multiple viewpoints. Njalo posits a challenge to the overriding Judeo-Christian belief that we ‘live’ a one-directional and coherent narrative, as does Marlene Steyn in her uroboric large-scale paintings. Steyn’s figures seem to exist in a state between incarnation and reincarnation. Hung like ancient secular tapestries, her subjects teeter on the edge of becoming; frozen in an endless cycle of transformation. Nicholas Hales’ drawing uses the house or building as a metaphor for the self and an investigation into the transpersonal aspects of the human psyche. Through meditation, Hales has experienced a vast infinite self, a dropping away of the marked and faded walls (to continue the house metaphor) that are formed by a person’s personal history. Jabulani Maseko’s video installation, Schizothymia (2014) spans over three screens so as to highlight the disjuncture that occurs between perception and reality. Through the editing process Maseko illustrates how perception is a shifting intangible thing that can directly mold one’s lived experience.
The afro-gothic temple All Our Ancestors (2014) works to subvert traditional Western notions and symbolism by drawing from European devotional architecture and the geometry, fractals and patterns found in Zimbabwean crafts and architecture. Simeon Nelson and Moffat Takadiwa have conceived of a syncretic sculptural work that is singularly alchemic in its combination of elements: monotheistic religions, spiritual plurality, collaborative practice and European and African traditions. Buhlebezwe Siwani’s performances deal with her personal journey as a sangoma and question aspects of southern African traditions, rituals and rites. She further considers the emotional, physical and mental strife that the body encounters in different environments, whilst believing herself to exist in a liminal space: between the living and an ancestral realm.
A third overarching theme that emerged in ‘Scintilla’ is the elevation of the everyday, or rather the metamorphosis of the normal. There is an explicit element of wizardry in Chad Rossouw’s faux artifacts. In Pale Horse (After the Klingon New Testament) (2014) Rossouw transmogrifies the biblical text: ‘And behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death’ into the fictional Science Fiction language of Klingon and then finally, into silver calligraphy. Attempt #3, as evinced by the title, is Rudi le Hane’s third attempt at the failure of flight. Using the idea of flight and employing ordinary materials, le Hane highlights the illusion of elevation or weightlessness. Standing in front of Attempt #3, on would be forgiven for thinking that the world has turned on its side or that gravity has decided to call it a day. In I was told it would wear itself out (2014) Mitchell Gilbert Messina’s plays with the idea of conceptual and formal transformation. A noiseless revolving power drill is rendered completely useless by its new role as performance artist.
Nina Liebenberg’s Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning (2014) is a cyanotype of the stars as observed from Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie's window on the night of his death (19 June 1937) at Adephi Terrace, London. The map pinpoints the 'second star to the right' as per Barrie’s instructions on finding Peter Pan’s Neverland. In this concise work, Liebenberg tinkers with the notion of the elixir of life. She shows the viewer a particular section of sky as seen in 1937 and thus for a moment, it is as if no time has passed. The viewer becomes the very same Barrie staring our into a starry night dreaming of a boy who refused to grow old.