Monday, July 19, 2010

Thursday Night Art Crawl

In typical Joburg fashion there were three gallery openings all starting at 6pm on the same Thursday evening; the Brait-Everard Read Award show at Circa, a group show, entitled In Other Words at the Goodman and New African Photography at Gallery Momo. Art gluttons such as myself didn’t settle on attending one of the openings but had rather ambitiously set their sights on attending all three within the space of two hours. As I drove towards Parktown North, however, I saw that Eskom, in its usual untimely fashion, had put a spanner in the works. The suburb was in complete darkness and when I passed by Gallery Momo I saw people holding candles up to artworks – so I drove with the hope that Circa might have electricity. They did.

Circa’s exterior is impressive but it is not really a functional piece of architecture; the exhibition spaces feel cramped – particularly the space downstairs - and the space upstairs, which is meant to function as the primary exhibition area, feels like an entrance space that should lead onto something grander. Nevertheless because the venue does offer two disconnected spaces it is ideal for showcasing two bodies of work that are not interrelated, such as the work of the winners of this year’s Brait Everard Read Award: Carmen Sober and Gabrielle Goliath. 

I rarely miss viewing the Brait-Everard Read Award exhibition – the work is usually challenging and fresh. And this year’s winners didn’t disappoint, well, not completely. Both Goliath and Sober are pushing the limits of photography by destabilising the accuracy or veracity of the documentary mode as a purveyor of any fixed truths. Granted, not a new idea but they approached this objective quite differently. Goliath’s exhibition was an extension of her preoccupation with identity politics. Multiple portraits of young coloured women in identical outfits rendered in a sort of Pieter Hugo style (pervasive light illuminating the subject’s face) all functioned as portraits of someone called “Bernice.” Adjacent to this line of portraits was video footage revealing the “real” identities of these women, thus propelling a search for the actual Bernice, a name the artist also assumed. I wasn’t particularly enthralled – mostly because I felt that it was simply a reversal of the modus operandi she employed in Ek is 'n Kimberley Coloured.