I once came across a quote by Steven Fry that read, “a true thing, poorly expressed, is a lie.” These words seemed to tumble around in the back of my mind as I made my way through the survey of Michael MacGarry’s films. Beginning with an animation made as a student in 1999, the exhibition traces his output as a filmmaker, and as a first time viewer of a number of the works, it was refreshing to see a progressing clarity of vision and form as MacGarry masters his craft. Filmmaking is central to MacGarry’s artistic output, and a number of the sculptures, which he exhibits at solo shows, often begin their lives as props for the films, or like his photographic series, take the films and their themes as their reference point.
Held in the basement of the Wits Art Museum, with the walls painted black and the room left dark, ten films are spread throughout the space, either projected onto the walls or on flat screen TV’s, with headphones and bean bags, allowing for a more intimate viewing experience.
A kaleidoscope of themes come together, both in the individual films as well as collectively, revealing some of the pressing issues of our day which have been the focus of MacGarry’s practice. Using the form of narrative cinema to combine notions of historic and current imperialism, modernity, migration, economic disparity and urbanization amongst others, MacGarry holds up a poignant mirror to some of the most prevalent issues across Africa today. Excuse me, while I disappear (2015), poetically depicts China’s overshadowing presence in Angola by weaving the narrative of a young municipal worker in and through the huge, largely unoccupied residential buildings constructed in Kilamba Kiaxi, a new city built by the Chinese outside Luanda. Moreover, in the midst of all this, there is a constant interrogation of the artist’s own position within these grand narratives. We see this self-reflexivity most predominately in films such as LHR – JNB (2002 -2010), Sea of Ash (2015) and culminating very personally in the most recently made, two-channel film installation titled Parang (2017), which focuses on the artist’s family history in the Far East.
Speaking to the artist, he said the title for the show came from a feature film he is currently working on and incorporates some of the recurring themes of representational violence seen in a variety of his work. The title, Show No Pain could also be somewhat revealing of the artist’s own practice; giving us as viewers a small insight into the demands and trials placed on an artist pursuing such a career, and the thick skin you have to grow to “make it in the art world.” For someone who’s CV boasts works shown at the Tate Modern and Gugenheim Bilbao amongst other prestigious international institutions, it is fitting that WAM would acknowledge a local artist in the middle of what promises to be a lifetime of progressive artistic production.