The Association For Visual Arts (AVA) at the Metropolitan Gallery, 35 Church Street, Cape Town, presents three solo exhibitions. In the main gallery Fritha Langerman presents a mixed media installation accompanied by a limited edition book of prints, entitled Black Boxes; in the long gallery Judy Moolenschot will exhibit an interactive installation Control Room, while upstairs in the Artsstrip, Charl Graebe will present Message in a Bottle, mixed media works made in resin.
In the main gallery, Black Boxes by Fritha Langerman is a floor piece consisting of 99 shoebox size units accompanied by a limited edition book of prints. It is intended that a new book be created for each venue in which the show is exhibited - in so doing the exhibition becomes organic.
The mixed media work deals with issues around modes of cultural representation, specifically those of anthropological display and language in South Africa. The work is premised on the viewpoint that culture is mutable whereas cultural classification is an inorganic and divisive process. Cultural commodification and curio production reinforce these artificial boundaries and the work makes visual reference to this, both in the display of the exhibit and in the production of the individual units.
The work is divided into 9 series (provinces) of 11 units each (languages) that refer to geographical and linguistic divisions within the country. It uses government departments as a system for the classification of objects: objects for housing, agriculture, labour, communication, water, education, health, transport and defence.
The exteriors are all individually treated with objects / patterns referencing the various object groupings. The interiors of each grouping contain editioned objects: paper weapons constructed from recent government department speeches. The medium of waxed and stained paper is in contradiction to the weapon forms and carries meaning in its permeability and lack of inherent strength. The boxes are consistently labelled using the 11 languages for each category, which alludes to the arbitrary and imprecise relationship between language, object and meaning.
Misclassification, inaccurate translation and misunderstanding are inevitable consequences of cultural ordering and are inherent within the project. The definition of the title of the show provides the most apposite synopsis - a generic device with known characteristics but unspecified means of operation, with internal mechanisms mysterious to the user.
Fritha Langerman (born Cape Town 1970) holds a BAFA with distinction (1991) and a Master of Fine Art with distinction (1995), both from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town (UCT). She is currently a lecturer in the Print and Media section of the University of Cape Town, after having worked as a part-time Printmaking lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch.
Langerman began participating in local group exhibitions in 1992, including various Volkskas and ABSA Atelier Awards shows and in Stellenbosch staff exhibitions. Selected other shows are: Cross Section in Bellville (1996), Exhibition of South African Women Artists at SASOL Museum (1997), Process and Practice in Contemporary South African Printmaking at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (1997), Recent Acquisitions South African National Gallery (SANG) (1997), Body Politic portfolio AVA (1997), International Women’s Day Exhibition Robben Island (1997), Sensitivities Area Gallery (1998), Bloedlyn KKNK and AVA (1998), Postcards From South Africa Axis Gallery New York (1999), Address-Redress Oliewenhuis Museum (2000), International Print Exhibition Macau Museum of Art (2000), Watch 2-person show US Gallery Stellenbosch (2001), Variable Contrasts Michaelis Gallery UCT (2002). She has also exhibited abroad in Under the Mountain in Canberra, Australia (1993), in an International Exhibition of Art Colleges in Hiroshima, Japan (1995), and in Project Conflux Luxembourg, Paris, Dijon, Commentary, (as well as in Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein) (1999, 2000). This will be her second solo exhibition at AVA, the first being Code in 1998.
Langerman gained the ABSA Atelier Merit Award in 1999. Her work has been published in: On the Surface: The Art and Technique of Relief Printmaking 1996, the Michaelis Yearbook 1998, What’s Bred In The Stone 1998 and the Michaelis Yearbook 2001. Her work is represented in the public and corporate art collections of: Katrine Harries Print Collection UCT, SANG, Yale Art of the Book Collection, Stellenbosch University, SASOL Museum, MTN Print Collection, ABSA and UCT.
Judy Moolenschot, in the long gallery, recently received her BAFA from UNISA. She also has a Primary School Teacher’s Diploma with Art as a major. On an extra-mural level she has completed courses in the conservation of African beadwork at SANG (1997), etching with Judy Woodborne (1993) and screenprinting with Jean Nel (1974).
In 1996 she received first prize for the best oil/acrylic work in the 1996 New Signatures exhibition in the Cape. She has taught Art at the Frank Joubert Art Centre in 1995/6. Currently, she teaches Art to adults from her private studio.
Moolenschot began exhibiting in the mid 1990s on various group shows at AVA, the Bellville Arts Association, Chelsea Gallery, Dorp Street Gallery and Rust en Vreugd, amongst others. This is her first one-person exhibition. Her work has been published in the Directory of South African Contemporary Art: vol 1 and in South African Art News: vol 1.
Of her solo exhibition, Control Room, Moolenschot says: My work, whether traditional or conceptual, has, over the past six to eight years, become progressively more densely layered. These layers refer metaphorically to hidden meanings in everything that happens in an artwork.
This current work began as an investigation into the history of an old house where I have a teaching studio. I discovered that it had once been the Margaret McGregor Children’s Convalescent Home – one of the many created in the early days of the Union when wealthy benefactors established these places that were then named after them.
The work ultimately is about the researching, reporting, manipulation and display of History. The light-boxes are hybrids of archive, file, museum diorama, security monitor, X-ray viewer, et al. They store, protect, conceal, reveal and institutionalize information. The transparent images are layered, creating rich, slightly obscure, three-dimensional tableaux that challenge the viewer to look most carefully, both physically and analytically. Dark brown wooden shelves and file boxes with brass fittings also refer to Past.
Historical ‘facts’ have always been used to glorify, validate and uphold the policies, practices and ideologies of the current ‘Controllers’, such as the very wealthy, and, specifically, governments. All these histories have, in their time, been carefully and deliberately ‘treated’ so as to sanitize, purge, heal, cover, soothe Past and Present.
The smell of substances such as Friar’s Balsam, Iodine, Camphorated Oil, Calamine Lotion and Phrenol are evocative of our collective childhood memories and therefore also have strong nostalgic significance. The small dishes containing such substances also refer to the control of History
The installation also has an interactive component in which viewers have the opportunity to choose slides to make their own tableau. They follow rules and make their choice at a voting counter. However, the artist/controller retains ultimate control by offering carefully selected images and ‘negotiated’ information and then requiring that the selections be recorded in The Register.
Charl Graebe, upstairs in the Artsstrip, says of his exhibition, Message in a Bottle:
Communication and art are both aspects of the human need to transcend into spiritual enlightenment. Reminiscent of the boxed objects of the Surrealist/ Dada artist Berger, and the glass art of Max Ernst, Charl Graebe presents a contemporary spiritual angle on collage. Objects floating in resin become tokens of communication, time and space.
Where the Dada esthetic encompassed nihilism and non-communication, the Message in a Bottle exhibition is about messages of hope, attempts that never quite reach their shores the way they were intended. This open-ended approach allows viewers to deconstruct their own messages, making them both voyeurs and authors.
Sculptural resin blocks become objects in themselves, containing symbolic objects, letters and glass shatters, and fragments of a hand written poem to a lover. Letters float as if in water, with references to time (roman numerals) and direction (North, South, East and West). In these sculptures time, space, words and emotions are de-bottled, spilling open into the public domain of dialogue and empathy.