Group exhibitions very often provide platforms for interpretation of art within a broader conversation. Whilst solo exhibitions situate an artist’s work within a concentrated practice and the questions that a particular way of working provokes, group exhibitions allow for a more contextual approach; which artists are working in what ways and how does this locate itself in the wider conversation of art making and culture?
The New Parthenon, which opened at Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town on the 20th of July and runs till the 26th of August, takes as its initial starting point the essay film, which has its roots as far back as film began to be a medium explored and interrogated by artists. Rather than simply tracing the history of the essay film or locating contemporary essay film works against their historical ancestors, new variables are added to the conversation through installations that incorporate objects as well as elements of photography, ephemera and performance. The relationships between the material and dematerial, image and object are at the core of the exhibition, and even extrapolate outwards through the use of the internet as the exhibition is also accessible as a tumblr page.
A number of established and emerging artists are shown alongside one another, drawing links across a variety of practices that take multiple formal approaches to diverse subject matter. As the catalogue states, “The movement between film and object speaks to the dual nature of practices that work with both the tangible and intangible aspects of images.” It would almost be impossible to discuss all the works on show in this article and do them justice, so I’ll hone in on one specific work which I think begins to speak to the relationship between image and object, especially with regards to the form which film takes in a physical world. Bogosi Sekhukhuni’s Soul Contract Revocations; Dream Diary Season 2, Matilda, consists of three screens playing video mounted on a colorfully framed headboard. The videos depict the artist as orator or role-player against a swirling background of colour. The hallucinatory imagery and the placement on the headboard suggest a sort of dream state, a deeper more fluid state of mind, traversing the space between the conscious and unconscious realms. The intentional use of material and colour by the artist combine as both the form and the content intertwine to communicate something beyond words, a message preceding clear knowledge. The spiritual and the physical coexist and cannot merely be isolated one from the other. Bogosi’s own practice could be considered as an exploration of the ways in which the digital and the image manifest itself in the physical world. Signs and banners make use of digitally manipulated imagery prevalent to internet culture and advertising. The artist’s own Tumblr page serves as a research platform, a digital archive that could be compared to an artist’s visual diary.
The relationship between image and object is one that has been a point of exploration and contestation for many artists working in the past and present, and will no doubt continue into the future. Whilst film, photography, digital media, and the dematerialization of the art object seemed to spell doom for the physical object, years after the introduction of these debates, objects continue to be made. I find it particularly compelling that Thierry Oussou’s, La Poésie, a chair and stick installation was installed alongside video installations by Penny Siopis, Michelle Monareng, and Simon Gush. The challenge facing artists today is to interrogate these questions with new eyes; working thoughtfully through the tensions inherent in art-making, as through these struggles it may be possible for new understandings of our complex humanity to arise, beings consisting of mind, body and spirit.