A critical engagement with the politics of representation and the instability of images manifests physically through video, film installation, collage, painting and photography. Cape Town born, Johannesburg based transdisciplinarian artist Mikhael Subotzky’s Massive Nerve Corpus opens on the 18 May and runs till the 6 July at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. A display of amorous new paintings and expressions on paper, the exhibition turns its foci inwards at Subotzky’s association to white masculinity. Massive Nerve Corpus layers onto WYE (his fictional film installation) which explores the white male psyche as an anthropological subject.
Emerging alongside his internationally recognized photographic talents was his ‘sticky-tape transfers’ that he began showcasing in 2014. These works investigate the connection between the physical world and the representational structures of images. The creation process is an act of deconstruction as Subotzky pulls apart images, both found and self-authored, and uses archival tape to lift the pigment from the underlying photographic layer. Thereafter, bringing the pieces of tape and ink together to form collage works. This method of deconstruction reflects back to his earlier, ‘smashed works’ first shown in 2012 as a part of Retinal Shift. As the name alludes to, photographic images were placed and mounted beneath toughened security glass and thereafter, shattered. The fragility and pain of a smashed object (personal association) especially a framed photograph is near devastating. The viewer is unable to access the image; to fully absorb its content as the broken surface fractures the observers view, sheltering this raw fragility with which Subotzky deals.
Massive Nerve Corpus exemplifies an evolutionary tier in Subotzky’s practice as he similarly deconstructs the method of painting. Again, making use of either found images or images from his personal archive which are printed onto canvas or linen thereafter altering the water based pigments with the use of a sponge. This technique is sometimes employed as a means of combining imagery. After these initial processes, the surface chosen for artistic manipulation is stretched and painted onto in a straight-forward technique, applying layers of printed micropore tape between each layer of paint on occasion. Creating a near transparent layer the tape joins the painted piece and at times it appears to be restricting it. Ripping open the “corpus” of the body of privilege the work bonds the artist, the rendition and the observer in a shared vulnerability such as in ‘smashed works’. What Subotzky is doing is deconstructing whiteness; pointing to its strangeness and questioning its normalization.
I hope that my attempts to be vulnerable and self-reflexive in this space, in these words, and in the works themselves, will contribute in some small way to the deconstruction of white masculine power, rather than reinforcing it. All around me I see amazing black artists who have been reconfiguring the canon, and I really do believe that white artists need to step up too, to take whiteness apart, and by doing so to meet them in the making of something new. I don’t think we can fully understand the exercise of white masculine power without exploring its vulnerability, both in the body and in the instruments that we’ve developed to allay this vulnerability and exercise power.