Monday, November 28, 2011

Thomas Pringle Award for Reviews

The English Academy of Southern Africa announced this week that the 2011 Thomas Pringle Award for Reviews goes to me for a portfolio of reviews I published in the paper during this year. The Thomas Pringle Awards recognise writers who have demonstrated extraordinary insights in their work. It is an annual award for work published in newspapers, periodicals and journals. They are awarded on a rotation basis for: a book, play, film or TV review; a literary article or substantial book review; an article on English education; a short story or one-act play; one or more poems.

The adjudicators of the award noted the following about my work:

“In reading Corrigall's reviews, one is struck by one outstanding quality - her acuity. Whether she is reading words on a page or looking at shapes and colours at an art or photography exhibition, Corrigall has a particularly rare capacity to see things sharply and keenly. Quite apart from Corrigall's sharpness of perception, however, there is also a pleasing lucidity in the way she writes about the different media she focuses on. Her reviews are commendable, therefore, not only for their insights, but also for the crisp and energetic manner in which these insights are expressed.”

 This is the second time that I have won the award. In 2009 I was awarded for a body of reviews published in 2008. So few journalistic or arts awards recognise excellence in art criticism or writing, though everyone acknowledges that quality writing in this sphere must be sustained. For that reason this award is important - it shows that our work is valued!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kudzanai Chiurai's State of the Nation

It is not unexpected that Kudzanai Chiurai’s exhibition is showing at two locales in Joburg’s inner city – one a makeshift gallery in a warehouse in Newtown, the other the Goodman Gallery’s Project Space at Arts on Main. His work has often exuded a gritty, downtown persona. Mostly it’s the graffiti-style vocabulary that has engendered this notion that his work is “of the streets”. In fact, his ties to street culture are so blatant one reviewer suggested that his art appeared incongruent in a conventional gallery setting.

His work’s connection to the urban environment, however, goes much deeper than superficial links with a pseudo-Jean-Michel Basquiat-like graffiti style. The composition of his paintings and photographs at State of the Nation reflect the palimpsest of an urban African environment populated by diverse signs and iconographies, which reflect the multitude of cultures, traditions and histories that all converge in these modern conurbations. They are places where first and third, African, European and, now, Chinese cultures collide and meld. The signs that populate Chiurai’s paintings – and photographs – should be in conflict with each other. In a painting titled Corinthians (2011) the word “Hollywood” is scrawled across a canvas on which also appears a naked female cadaver, the shadow of a plant, a skull balanced on a stick, a disused tyre and the phrase “time picture for your digital use”.

Despite the fact that these signs, phrases, names, appear mismatched and disjointed from their origins, they now exist as part of the fabric of the African urban experience both virtual and real. The skyline of a city is depicted in the background of Corinthians, alluding to the built environment but it is this incongruent mix of signs that root the painting in the urban African setting. In many ways his work evokes Jean Baudrilliard’s observation about modern reality consisting of simulated signs representing reality, such as a Hollywood sign serving as a shorthand for a place.

Chiurai’s work therefore serves as description of African urbanity. The signifiers of place are always clichéd; the Hollywood sign alludes to American imperialism and a leopard-shaped sofa evokes a generic symbol of Africa. Everything in his pictorial planes have been reduced to overstated forms – consequently what he presents is not the gritty reality of street life but a symbolic shorthand evoking a contested African identity that is expressed in the façades of the continent’s cities.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Embracing Disorder: Clive Van den Berg

The best point of entry into Clive van den Berg’s new exhibition is an oil painting called Man Flails with Maps II (2011). It features the figure of a naked man clutching what appears to be a large map. It is scrunched and he is shaking it so hard that the lines and colours on it are falling off into the air and on to the ground. This painting offers a vital clue to a collection of bold abstract paintings defined by a cacophony of colour and lines that seem quite meaningless – in fact, they are meaningless… but more of that later.

The man shaking the maps could be seen as Van den Berg, who, through a series of the abstract paintings, presents deconstructed maps. In these paintings the lines have been pulled apart and haphazardly arranged to engender incoherent landscapes. Van den Berg is not just deconstructing an object but a visual vocabulary rooted in a pseudo-scientific paradigm. Deconstructing and “decomposing” (a word Rosalind Morris uses in the catalogue), however, don’t quite sufficiently describe what Van den Berg is attempting here, as both terms allude to a methodical act motivated by a desire to understand (and challenge) the mechanics of a construct.

Van den Berg isn’t striving towards understanding but the opposite; he wants to unknow what he knows – and by proxy what we know about the land. To achieve this he needs to jettison the tools of understanding and ordering it.

He subverts the function of the map; instead of guiding the reader/viewer around a territory, these incoherent paintings ensure that we cannot find our way. We are paralysed by the languages that are meant to order space. You could argue, of course, that this is precisely what occurs with maps: that they separate us from the land – the language of map-making becomes a more reliable marker of space than the space itself. Put another way: the land misleads us and maps tell the truth.