Compilation of works in artful relationship

RICH VARIETY: Mbongeni Buthelezi's untitled work in plastic on plastic, above,  and Clare Menck's oil on wood painting 'Father and Daughter in River (portrait of Johan Louw)' form part of the Breaking Surface exhibition -
RICH VARIETY: Mbongeni Buthelezi’s untitled work in plastic on plastic 

BREAKING SURFACE, an exhibition of works by various artists at Galerie Noko in Russell Road, Port Elizabeth, until next Saturday. Reviewed by Emma Minkley.

IN Breaking Surface, curator Usen Obot juxtaposes such enigmas as Manfred Zylla, Cleone Cull, Neville Petersen and Paul Greenway with more traditional painters Clare Menck, Marinda Swartz, Mbongeni Buthelezi, and Greg Schultz.

Photographers Melanie Cleary, Lindeka Qampi and Nic Bothma present a take on the South African documentary photography tradition, in this context often cleverly positioned in relation to different treatments of similar subject matter.

Cleary’s series of swimmers at public pools is displayed in relation to Menck’s snapshot-like composition situating swimming as a social, often intimate activity, one that addresses important questions in terms of how we inhabit and experience “place”.

Schultz’s work too has an extensive history of exploring the Eastern Cape landscape and the importance that water, both fresh and salt, has on this space.

Qampi’s Street Fashion Series, as in posits individual style as an art form in itself, one capable of questioning or subverting stereotypes.

The theme of place and presence is explored in Greenway’s oeuvre.

His series, the title possibly a play on the detached practice of leaving artworks untitled or in a sense “anonymous”, is made up of block-mounted photographic prints arranged in grid formations depicting broken segments of gravestones.

These arrangements could be seen to act as the maps or plans for a graveyard if read in relation to a further work, and are arranged in such a way that one begins to read one’s own history into the fragmented epitaphs. Greenway’s work, which reminds me of the mnemonic work of artist Christian Boltanski, speaks of organic debris or evidence of the past, which is made present in works like a series of monochromatic photographs of grassy turf, seemingly indicating the sites of unmarked graves.

Petersen’s pastel-toned series of aerial photographs of mining landscapes plays with scale, the images transforming into petridishes of micro-organisms swimming in a primordial soup.

Cull’s mixed media drawing or which seems to depict a metallic vessel that simultaneously reveals and reflects, takes one to a similar place.

Zylla’s curious gauche works, from his series, are at once scathing and humorous, and seem to exist somewhere between playful sketchbook imaginings and neurotic cartoon imagery, seething with visceral, often jarring scenes reminiscent of the likes of Raymond Pettibon.

Breaking Surface ruptures the meniscus of Eastern Cape art gallery convention with this interesting compilation of works, and the relationships it sets up between them.

  • Emma Minkley is an artist and lecturer at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
 Clare Menck's oil on wood painting 'Father and Daughter in River (portrait of Johan Louw)' form part of the Breaking Surface exhibition -
Clare Menck’s oil on wood painting ‘Father and Daughter in River (portrait of Johan Louw)’ form part of the Breaking Surface exhibition –

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