Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Silence calling from one continent to another, a group exhibition featuring artists whose works contain or consider corporeal forms in both direct and poetic manners.
The exhibition takes its title from a phrase included in William Kentridge’s large drawing Love Songs from the Last Century. A charcoal drawing of a Johannesburg landscape, it was made as the backdrop for a 360º film made and shown at the Centre for the Less Good Idea. Kentridge reworked the drawing for this exhibition. The text, ‘Silence calling from one continent to another’, is taken from Kentridge’s processional opera The Head & the Load, and refers to mutual incomprehension between Africa and Europe. The paradoxical nature of this phrase speaks to modes of communication, and the difficulty often encountered due to cultural differences, distance or geography.
Reflecting on the practice of drawing in his seminal book, Six Drawing Lessons, Kentridge notes; “Drawing has the potential to educate us about the most complex issues of our time” he offers further; “Charcoal and paper are not perfect substances. Charcoal can be erased easily, but not perfectly. The paper is tough and can be erased, redrawn, erased, and still hold its structure — but not without showing its damage. The erasure is never perfect.”
Drawing for Love Songs from the Last Century is a charcoal drawing of the Johannesburg landscape. The drawing was created alongside the 360-degree film Love Songs for the Last Century, which was made as one element of The Invisible Exhibition shown at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, in October 2017. The Invisible Exhibition was an exhibition in which 27 Johannesburg artists were invited to make works that could be experienced through augmented and virtual reality (VR) technologies.
The film is in fact an entirely analogue film but is viewed using a virtual reality headset. In making the film, a five-meter charcoal and pastel drawing of a landscape was curved into a cylinder with a 360-degree camera placed at the bottom of the cylinder. A variation of phrases was mounted on cardboard and once the camera was turned on, the texts were placed and moved while Kentridge ran around the cylinder dropping different words and elements into it. Long time musical collaborator Joanna Dudley participated in the experiment, singing and whistling. Black tissue paper confetti was added and the studio fan was pressed into service. Only after this filming process was a computer brought in, first to stitch the images of the camera together, to edit and finally to translate the imagery into VR.
The film is about regret —about phrases that hover at the edge of making sense. What makes it an utterly different experience from watching a single screen film is the viewer's participation, not in making the film, but in reading it — the need to swivel in the chair from one side to the other, to activate the conversation. The film also functions as a test of what a performance of actors might be, if they were placed around the viewer, such that the viewer has to shift their view to follow the action that happens around them.
Kapwani Kiwanga’s working method begins with research and analysis, particularly of archival records through which she engages different materials and their histories. Fabricated from an agricultural textile commonly referred to as “shade cloth”, Tripartite is an architectural intervention that considers the enhancement of nature to further capitalist systems. In this work, opacity is employed as a metaphor for what is made visible (and accepted) in relation to the exploitation of land.
Writing on Kiwanga’s practice, following her 2020 exhibition at the Kunsthaus Centre d'art Pasquart, associate curator Stefanie Gschwend notes; “In her work, we are faced with complex artistic methods of investigation into disciplinary measures and lines of movement which Kiwanga associates in subtle tones with surveillance and racialisation, all the while mingling present-day and colonial forms of observation.”
notes for recovery (touch) is a drawing that proposes a scheme of understanding wounding and healing through a system of change. The work follows Dennis’ system based approach through which material and metaphysical processes can be unpacked. In notes for recovery (touch) Dennis explores possible conditions of healing through Octavia E Butler’s aphorism that “all that you touch you change, all that you change, changes you.”
For Hlobo, the image of the work is often sketched and pierced directly onto the canvas. By working directly on the canvas, there is a sense of immediacy and freedom that allows the work to reveal itself more slowly and more fluidly. The act of piercing and stitching reflects on healing processes necessary within the South African context, he explains; “There is a sense of violence in mark-making. By making any mark you’re disturbing the balance that is already there and beginning to create chaos,” elaborating; “As South Africans, we are constantly looking at ourselves. The piercing and stitching do the same as the work of a surgeon, looking within so that you can begin to remove ailments and attempting to propose a process of healing.”
Ulwandle Lwephakade (loosely translated to the ocean of infinity) evokes the ocean through the emerging shades of blue but also draws attention to the openness with which it was created. The work is an exploration of the artist’s curiosities with what Hlobo calls “energy lines”, drawing them onto the canvas and allowing the artworks to bring themselves to life. “The was no form in mind when I made this work, it was allowed to be. By working from a feeling without being controlled, the ocean came to be and the possibilities became infinite,” explains Hlobo.
Marx uses the logic of collage to meticulously fragment and disassemble existing cartographies in order to carefully construct them into a constellation of propositional cartographies. His collages read as metaphors to negotiate space. Finding resonance in French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s proposition of the globe as “an entity characterized by boundless agglomeration and endless proliferation, rather than one of containment” Marx’s work considers current and historical realities of cartography and through inversion frustrates its structures. He takes composites and fragments of maps and reassembles them anew —thereby complicating the geospatial and spatiotemporal dimensions based on historically accepted conventions.
Marx views cartography as both dynamic/ transformative/ active while also being prescriptive and repressive. He seeks to untangle these relationships whose power can be negotiated through complex imaginaries. Cartographies are viewed as an avenue through which to understand larger systems of cities, spaces and places while also examining the influences they allot on human interactions. He notes; “By constructing and complicating spatial imaginaries I’m attempting to address the complicity of cartography in enabling thinking that favours distinct boundaries and linear narratives through exclusionary practices. These practices operate as a result of the radical oversimplification of geospatial and spatiotemporal complexity.”
David Goldblatt chronicled the structures, people and landscapes of his country from 1948 – through the apartheid regime and into the democratic era – until his death in June 2018. Goldblatt’s photography examines how South Africans have expressed their values through the structures, physical and ideological, that they have built. In 1989, Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg. In 1998 he was the first South African to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2001, a retrospective of his work, David Goldblatt Fifty-One Years began a tour of major international galleries and museums. He was one of the few South African artists to exhibit at both Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. He has held solo exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and the New Museum, both in New York.
Williamson’s new series of drawings, Postcards from Africa, continues the artist’s interest in the power of a small printed image to carry news of a specific moment in time to a far off audience, sometimes current, sometimes separated from the event by a century. Her early series of etchings The Modderdam Postcards (1978) was based on sketches made over seven days while witnessing the destruction by the apartheid state of an informal settlement near the airport in Cape Town. Postcards made from A Few South Africans (1983-86), mixed media portraits of heroic women active in the struggle for liberation, were distributed not only across the country, but the world. Most recently, the artist has turned her attention to vintage postcards of photographs taken by European colonisers in Africa in the first decades of the 20th century, who used the postcards as examples of the success of their missions, supposedly demonstrating the civilising effect of colonisation on the colonised, or presenting views of exotic Africa for the edification of folks back home.
Sourcing these postcards from museum archives or from the internet, Williamson reverts to classic drawing techniques. She dips her pen into a bottle of ink, building up images with layers of intricate cross-hatching, adding colour from a limited palette to reproduce the rural landscapes on the postcards, or capture the scenes of daily community life: harvesting, swimming, gathering wood.
The animation POLYHEDRA is a poetic interpretation of cosmogony and the order of things —stars, earth forms and that which is beyond-what-we-can-see. The film was created with a body of work including drawings on paper, drawings in space and sculptural objects. POLYHEDRA contains references to star mappings and the superimposition of mythological characters into the movements of celestial bodies through the sky. The animation also includes archival photographs and plates by 18th-century amateur photographer and volcanologist Tempest Anderson. Volcanic imagery ties in with Sunstrum’s idea of ‘seeing through’ the body of a volcano as a portal by which we might glimpse the inner workings of the earth. That those inner workings present themselves as powerfully destructive, simultaneously recalling notions of the beauty and sublime.
Sunstrum explains; “In creating this work, I began with the idea of ‘seeing through’ — seeing through the earth, seeing through bodies, seeing through to the stars. I was interested in finding a visual language that superimposes forms—geological forms, astronomical forms, and human forms in such a way that we might see through them and see the congruences between them. I was interested in early understandings of mathematics and geometry and how this knowledge used to be considered quite sacred knowledge. It was a knowledge that reflected a desire to know the building blocks of the cosmos—to know the codes and the equations that make up the universe.”
The Star + The Moon is one of the first animations Sunstrum created that referenced her interests in finding parallels between ancient mythologies and futuristic sciences. The work was created in response to the research of American theoretical physicist, James Sylvester Gates Jr. Sunstrum was interested in Gates' work in "Supersymmetry" theory and was particularly fascinated by his theories that link the geometric structures in ancient Adinkra symbology to the complex mathematical codes embedded within the structures of time and space. The animation features a panoramic landscape constructed by mirroring Sunstrum's collaged drawings. The appearance and disappearance of a lone traveller activates cosmological and astronomical phenomena within the fantastical landscapes.
Georgina Maxim's work functions as meditation, self-healing and self-recognition for the artist. Her practice reveals hours spent alone working through the monotony of the same thread, finding variation only in the next colour. Her threaded works are embodied with memory and gesture towards aspects of the artist’s personal experiences.
In The front follower, Maxim recalls a childhood memory through song, belief and belonging. The work captures the energy of song and dance that Maxim remembers fondly, simply stating; “So much energy, so much joy, so much laughter. May I recreate all these memories in this new body of work because indeed “if you want joy, you must work for it”.
Clive van den Berg is interested in the imagery which relates to ideas surrounding the “distemper” of our lived experience. For the artist, land serves as a powerful marker for these anxieties, which are contained in both the personal and the political. Van den Berg explains this further by separating the idea of land into two concepts: above and below ground. The artist states, “above ground in our country has been important in many ways, from commercial uses to migration. But below ground is where the heart of unresolved history lies. And we, as South Africans, try to create a modernist state and landscape, which denies that trauma and past”. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to possess the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, van den Berg confronts the tradition of South African landscape painting, by peeling “the surface off the land and mak[ing] the landscapes porous”.
Postcards from Africa series considers a critical moment in history and wrestles with the complex history of colonial expansion and conquest captured through the postcard industry. It also continues Williamson’s investigation into the history of slavery, dispossession and displacement, beginning with her 1997 installation, Messages from the Moat, which was a detailed record of the buying and selling of enslaved people in the Cape of Good Hope, and continued with Messages from the Atlantic Passage (2017) which referenced old shipping records to focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In each drawing within the series, signs of habitation remain visible —dwellings, boats, a pile of coconuts, baskets — but the people who appeared on the original postcard no longer appear. The absence of the people from the landscape presents an uncomfortable tension from which a series of questions emerge — where are the people who used to live here? What happened to them? These questions point to the complexity of subverting the colonial gaze —how does one challenge the gaze while also taking care not to perpetuate violence through recirculation of images that re-invoke their original racist and oppressive context?
In WYE Study 19, Mikhael Subotzky splices together three film stills from the film WYE. Commissioned and exhibited by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (Sydney) in 2016, WYE was, in part, an examination of the colonial body in the landscape and the relationship between the gaze of that body on the landscape as related to the fragility of that body in the landscape. The overarching structural and conceptual framework of Subotzky’s film installation derives from the letter Y (the phonetically-spelt Old English ‘wye’ of the title) whose shape has traditionally lent itself to a variety of practical applications, from railroad construction to mechanical and electrical engineering. Adapting it for artistic purposes, Subotzky envisages an imaginary cartographic triangle enveloping the United Kingdom, and two of its former colonies, South Africa and Australia, its exterior sides etched by the migration of people over centuries. In drafting a Y shape into the middle of this triangle and elevating it into a third dimension, the artist admits the imaginary space for a new fictional narrative in which these three countries converge across time and space. A narrative structure for WYE is thus harnessed which spans three temporalities – historical, contemporary and futuristic – and three disparate colonial experiences: English, Australian and South African.
Pillay's work is informed by ideas of family, migration, nostalgia, personal and collective memory. Working primarily in painting and drawing, her practice has evolved from a process of archiving where she draws from personal and found images.
Pillay notes; "These paintings are of people I know, strangers, familiar spaces, places I’ve never been, my own experiences and other people’s memories. These works began with a process of archiving — personal family archives, borrowed ones, assembled ones, temporary ones. Is the act of remembrance futile? Are we bound to forget? I am interested in the idea of material memory and memory objects. The material of the photograph, slowly undergoing a process of degradation, contrary to the very purpose of its creation.”
This animation was made as a meditation on how drawing and other simple imaginative gestures can open the possibility of time and space travel. Sunstrum began the animation by looking at French illusionist George Melies’ classic early film, ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (1902). In the opening scenes of Melies’ film, we see a university lecture hall filled with professors and scientists debating quite passionately about the possibility of travelling to the moon. The room is quite visibly divided between the nay-sayers and the believers. Finally, in a moment of exasperation, one scientist marches up to a chalkboard and draws a dashed line in chalk between a drawing of the earth and a drawing of the moon, and with this insistent drawn line, he somehow manages to settle the debate and the trip is set.
It is this drawn line, created defiantly, that Sunstrum makes reference to in her animation. The two figures that are peddling together were appropriated from found footage depicting a water irrigation system used in West Africa. The people-powered pump can transport large amounts of water from one area of the earth to another. The stilt-walking "star planter" is taken from footage of a man from the Dogon ethnic group, walking and is a nod to Dogon cosmological history and its mysterious references to the original 'star people,' as well as their connection to star Sirius B.
Working across sculpture, photography, video and drawing, Wafer explores the politics and poetics of place and mapping. Rooted in South Africa’s social, cultural and political geography, his work engages issues of land and territory, particularly themes of location, dislocation, possession and dispossession.
Termiteria is a set of black and white photographs of mound structures and insect dwellings. The work is reflective of Wafer’s interest in land as a political entity that bears the marks of history. Engaging in a minimalist language, Wafer uses the formal elements of size, scale, orientation and texture to point to aspects of both physical and psychological presence. Reflecting on his practice in relation to form, Wafer notes;
“While the works generally use a language of formal reduction my intention is that they engage with the specificity of individual experience. The works articulate with my own relation to specific places and times which have particular resonance as constituents of my inner imaginative and cognitive landscape.”
Untitled II is a hand-woven and hand-dyed carpet produced with collaborators in India. The work visually and materially translates fragments of Mehraban’s paintings into richly textured tapestries. The work reveals detailed marks layered onto the surface of the carpet. Mehrabian's practice traces personal histories, particularly the 1979 revolution in Iran, which was a populist and nationalist movement consisting of diverse groups who united to overthrow the monarchy. Mehraban reflects on this history of protest in relation to her native country, Iran, as well as in relation to South Africa, where she lives and works.
In a 2019 Interview, Mehraban notes; “I’m constantly traversing between past and present to create new narratives. The final works are not fixed and are in a state of flux/change. My process of making involves collecting both ephemeral (memories, stories, oral history) and physical materials (newspapers, archives, carpets, family photographs), and then placing them together. The end product is open to interpretation as I do not want to narrate a certain event and it is more about a sensory experience.”