Barnard Gallery is pleased to present Future / Present, our first group show of 2016. Future / Present: a state of conjecture, imagining, and uncertainty. A mash-up, a face off, a mutual evaluation, a conversation. It suggests the ongoing, inevitable and inescapable process of change, maturation, and entropy; but also the possibilities for birth, rebirth and renovation. It indicates not only the relative unknowability of the shape of the future but also the constant shifting of the outlines of the present, of what it means to be now. It is a state of positioning, taking stock. Simultaneously evaluating the “here and now” while speculating on the “there and then” – and considering in what ways those evaluations and investigations respond to and answer each other.
The convergences and divergences of Future / Present occur both in our internal worlds of imaginings and reflections as well as the external world of increasingly unstable identities and economies. A space is created within these convergences wherein the clear delineation of time, causality and order is dissolved. It is a space both Arcadian and apocalyptic, both here and yonder, vividly imagined and viscerally real. It thus becomes an amoebic, opaque space into which we can inquire, through which we can experiment with alternate realities, fantastic locales and hidden depths. It is a space which allows for serious contemplation, playful experimentation, bold confrontation or quiet introspection. It is a fertile ground upon which new artistic practices may emerge and older ones may mature, evolve, or shift entirely. What can these practices tell us about the world we live in now, and what might they foreshadow of times to come?
Future / Present is a fitting concept with which to usher in the New Year. It asks how art might engage with, challenge and respond to the present moment as well as the seeming acceleration of time into the future. It investigates how young and established artists alike grapple with beginnings, endings, and continuations and celebrates the possibilities the diversity of their approaches opens up.
At the centre of the exhibition hangs Siwa Mgoboza’s magnetic work The Promised Land, which continues the Africadia series he began for his highly successful graduation exhibition at the Michealis School of Fine Art in 2015. Mgoboza’s Africadia is a future world, an ‘African Arcadia’, post post-colonialism, wherein processes of hybridization and fusion have worked to eliminate questions of race, sexuality and gender; resulting in a neutral space of unrestrained subjectivity and exuberant pride. This world is an escape, an imagined place in which the artist feels free to express those parts of himself which in reality are more often suppressed and restrained. The intense layering of fabrics and colours creates an optical illusion whereby the work seems to move, to pulsate, as if resonating with a song that has not yet been written or heard. Just as his cut outs rupture the authority of the picture plane, his work ruptures the authority and logic of the present moment and the exhaustingly complex identity politics which define and prescribe it. Thus ruptured, we are enraptured, unable to look away, ironically held fast in the present moment while marveling at this joyous vision of the future.
The imagined paradise is also a recurring theme in the work of Alexia Vogel, whose immersive canvases transport the viewer to a liminal space between the real and the invented, between here and yonder. They are worlds of sustained reverie, suspended sensation, disavowing the logic of time in order to reach a space and state more felt than perceived. Her imagery is reminiscent of the blurry, half formed pictures we construct of the future in our minds, our evanescent imaginings that at any moment dissolve or morph into another thought, another daydream.
If both Vogel and Mgoboza invite us into a paradisiacal arcadia, there is a subtle yet undeniable element of the dystopian in the brooding cityscapes of MJ Lourens. Lourens returns repeatedly to the time in between night and day, contrasting the seeming immovability of his urban and industrial structures with the constant flux of light and time. These industrial structures speak to notions of development and progress, the optimistic belief in a future strengthened and driven by industry; yet they also speak of decay and abandon, looming like some imagined futuristic city and permeated by feelings of unease and vulnerability. The longer one looks at a painting by Lourens, the less familiar the city scene feels. Where and when is this city, really?
The surrealism hinted at in Lourens’ work finds a full blown presence in Gitte Moller’s technicolour, hallucinatory oil and collage panels. Inspired by such varied sources as medieval painting, Mexican retablos (prayer paintings) and Photoshop pictograms, Moller creates self contained worlds replete with symbolism and juxtapositions, dictated by an internal logic and elaborate palimpsest of narratives. Behind the seemingly sugary surface runs an undercurrent of the uncanny and the disturbing, recalling images from Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and medieval illustrations of the underworld. Moller describes this pervasive sense of disquiet amidst the playful imagery as “a bit like a scary movie where you never get to see the monster, or watching a butterfly trapped in a glass case.”
The dystopian finds an assertive presence in the work of Hanien Conradie. Her works are concerned specifically with the threatened biodiversity of the Cape Floral Region and more generally with the ways in the relationships between the individual, the social, and the natural remain unresolved in contemporary society, in line with theories of deep ecology. Imagining the disturbing possibility of the extinction of both plant and human life, her works combine traditional oil paint with ash from burnt plant matter or earth from dried out riverbanks, allowing the natural to raise a voice in protest. “Earth,” writes Conradie, “- as a marker of death and burial, as well as the holder of potential new life – becomes a material which links the past, the present, and the future.” It is in meditating on this potential that Conradie’s vision of the future yet retains some hope, considering the new life forms that could emerge after devastation.
The searching gaze that Conradie casts into the future is paralleled in the recurring themes of fieldwork, observation and discovery in Sarah Biggs’ complex and layered oil paintings. Abstract patches of colour create a heady immersion in an imagined jungle or vast vista, an almost liquid space of undefined limits and uncertain grounding. Similarly, Ryan Hewett’s images of historic leaders and art historical figures make use of an arresting painterly physicality to bring questions of time, history, and collective memory onto the very surface on the canvas.
These varied works, with their diverse approaches and concerns, instill a stirring mixture of hope and foreboding, excitement and unease. This mixture is indeed characteristic of any imagining of the future or evaluation of the present. The result is a palpable dynamism and energy thrumming in the gallery space, an electric air resonating from the explorations taking place, explorations which are both deeply personal and profoundly universal.