Copper and conductivity. A different reality. A portal. The key. A spiritual awakening. The medium as key. Copper laden pathways to another realm of existence. An entanglement of pipe. Flat portrayals of sculpture. Sewing and soldering meet under a single domain. A colour palette that screeches cleanness, crispness. Pastels, whites, raw shades. Religious paraphernalia.
Nicholas Hlobo’s latest public offering Isango with the Stevenson, Johannesburg exhibits painting, sculpture and installation works. Central themes and concerns of his practice seep through old and new bodies of work alike. His holistic outlook is present in Sewing Saw, a previous gallery show echoing the validity and importance of undoing (breaking down) in the praxis of making. Here Hlobo’s execution is that of self-inventory; in destruction, the artist wishes to identify layers that have perhaps gone unnoticed in creation.
‘Isango’ translates to portal, gate or passageway and with the exhibition the artist’s conceptualization process is broadened into branching notions blending into prior frameworks. “I’m stepping through the door/And I’m floating in a most peculiar way …”, the words of Major Tom (David Bowie’s fictional narrator in “Space Oddity”, 1969) acts as a vector in Hlobo’s speculations.
As alluded to previously, copper as medium becomes a key due to its conductive qualities – a way to open up the passageway between varying states of existence. Sculptures built from this element induce a strong impact visually due to its heavy display within the show and was first seen in Unthamo (Maitland Institute in Cape Town) and expanded on in Unyukelo (SCAD Museum in Savannah, Georgia).
Receptacles and pathways become channels (pipes) to experience air, earth, fire and water. His sculptural pieces: Iqhawe elingenagama iv (2018), Iqhawe elingenagama v (2018) and Isinqe (2018) take from religious iconography and makes use of candleholders, plumbing supplies, door handles and wind instruments among other things which are regarded as intermediaries between what is bodily, mystic and atmospheric.
The paintings featured in the show become reflections of the sculpture designs that Hlobo describes as both “frayed hula-hoops” and “imperfect crowns”. Upon examination the viewer can esteem that the paintings are to some degree modelled after the copper installations. The artist explains that this exercise is a continuum of his exploration with energy lines in flat surfaces. “I’m still stitching, but the material I’m using is an alloy which you heat, so I’m stitching with metal rather than stitching with ribbon”.
What permeates is an underlying tension between the painted and sculptural works formed by a sharp contrast in visual execution. Though the paintings are connected to the sculptures a break exists firstly in style, with the sculptures appearing more instinctive and the paintings more formal with what can easily be identified as meticulous execution. The second mismatch exists in tonal values. Resulting in works that share the same space but to an uninformed viewer might not be so obviously connected.
Disjuncture again appears is the artist’s intent. By stating “Perhaps we’ve ascended to this doorway. Perhaps now I’m about to move, I’m about to alight. We’re stepping through a door”, it is clear that Isango is embellished with deep seated meaning and personal truth. It is not just a mere experimentation/speculative project but, in breaking open the various entry points of the show Hlobo’s agency to move on into another state of being reveals itself. Perhaps his “imperfect crowns” become a symbol/key to royalty and or otherworldliness simultaneously – a king of a different state of consciousness. As David Bowie belts in “Heroes”, “I, I will be King…. And you, you will be Queen…”.
Isango marks Hlobo’s seventh show with the gallery and the second in the Johannesburg gallery space following Tyaphaka as well as other works (2013). The exhibition is taking place at the Stevenson, Johannesburg from 27 October 2018 – 18 January 2019.