Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kagiso Pat Mautloa; The Goodman Gallery

There is no obvious human presence in much of Mautloa’s art at this exhibition. As the title of the exhibition suggests, it conjures the attendance of an insidious and unknowable entity that has corrupted everyday objects, forcing them to betray their function. In this way he inadvertently summons an environment governed by a noxious force that is powerful enough to permeate solid inanimate objects, steadily eating away at their structure until presumably nothing is left. His preoccupation with discarded objects brings to mind Kay Hassan’s recent exhibition Urbanation, which depicts enormous piles of disused items. Hassan and Mautloa are clearly, interested the parallel societies that exist in this country; those that carelessly consume and discard objects, and the community that survive on this disused detritus. Though there is a socio-political undertone to Mautloa’s art he also summons more universal themes such as the transcendental nature of objects and our ability to imbue objects with new meanings. This is why he has chosen to present objects at the end of their lifecycle; when they can no longer fulfil the purpose for which they were designed. For it is at this point that an object’s abstract possibilities can be realised.

Aside from a frying pan and a violin case, most of the discarded items that Mautloa combines in his artworks are tools of labour with the spade being a reoccurring motif. He doesn’t summon quotidian representations of the spade; keen to convey the coarse personality or character of this pedestrian object he employs actual spades. Much of these items are unnaturally worn and disintegrated. Presumably the artist has worked at degrading the objects. This is because Mautloa is interested in the effects an environment has on objects over time and their life-cycle. In some cases the spades that Mautloa presents in his art are so disintegrated they have almost ceased being spades. The wryly titled, Spade (2008) is so degraded by rust that it could no longer function as a spade. This spade is embedded within the confines of a mixed media painting that contains other worn objects, suggesting that it is not just the spade that has been degraded by this environment but any material that exists in the environs. In this way Mautloa indirectly conjures up the milieu from which these objects are derived. It is within this harsh locale that such a robust object like a spade, which is designed to infringe upon nature and battle the elements, is destroyed - albeit gradually. If this is the fate of the inanimate objects what of the delicate living beings who also inhabit this destination, who are more susceptible to natural conditions? Mautloa’s art suggests that the denizens of this tough environment have learned to adapt. This is especially evidenced in the sculptures, which show how different disused objects have been fused into new entities with quite a different function. Works Sculpture 3 (2008) for instance sees a rake fused with other steel objects to create an item that rises above its purpose to become an object of beauty. Portrait (2008) sees a frying pan, bolt and fork simulate the features of a human face. Mentor (2008) consists of one large bicycle wheel conjoined to a smaller wheel with the aid of a leather strap. Here disused objects are inculcated with a metaphorical function that reflects human endeavours. This renders insignificant objects momentous. Ordinary tools of labour become prized objects of beauty. It is an empowering process, whereby objects lose their objective purpose, becoming a vehicle for subjective expression.

Mautloa’s work demonstrates a curiosity about the status of an object once it no longer fulfils its function. This is partly driven by a philosophical quest that questions the process of invention. It is also motivated by Mautloa’s interest in the nature and conditions under which “renewal” takes place. Both of these issues are of particular concern to the South African artist; not just the process of creativity but the movement towards social and moral renewal that has dominated the post-apartheid era.

My Art Story (2008) which features an empty violin case, a painted surface covered by graffiti, alluding to a history of protest, and a makeshift art-making tool, fashioned from three different objects, speaks of the poverty, and compromises that survival demands but also of the way in which disparate entities have been forged together to engender functionality. In this way the dysfunctional objects with no purpose become valuable functional tools of creation.

The quality of the artworks at this exhibition is not always consistent, Round and About the City is a trite artwork presenting a montage of Joburg that looks like it was designed to appeal to a conservative corporate collector. Mautloa’s mixed media portraits also fail to enthral. However, this does not distract from this exhibition’s value and the magnificence of paintings such as Looking Back.

· Other Presences is showing at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg until September 13

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