Monday, January 3, 2011

Brett Murray's angry retort falls short

Anger often bypasses reason as it circulates around the mind, gathering energy to force an explosion. Hail to the Thief is just such an explosion. It is not that Brett Murray’s anger is unreasonable: like many South Africans he is enraged by the pervasive level of corruption that has permeated the ruling party. Certainly, it is an inescapable phenomenon of our times. One cannot open a newspaper without being confronted with another story detailing how government or ANC members have exploited their position to line their own pockets. That few individuals are ever held accountable has compounded the sense of outrage that so many justifiably experience.

This perhaps might explain why Murray says the same thing over and over again in this exhibition: he is paralysed by an overwhelming sense of disbelief and powerlessness. An ANC logo is emblazoned with the phrase “For Sale”. “Cash is King” is a slogan that appears below a stylised rendition of Zuma, rendered to resemble a famous poster of Vladmir Lenin, the first leader of the communist Soviet Union. “Join the Tender Party” is the phrase that emblazons a wooden sculpture that is designed to appear like a poster. Like the former artwork Murray draws its language from communist visual and textual rhetoric. In another work Murray borrows the title from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, Tender is the Night, except here the word “tender” is repeated over and over.

By repeatedly stating the phenomenon Murray evokes or replicates the habitual nature of the corrupt behaviour that all these morally twisted politicos and their collaborators engage in. Consequently this exhibition is almost as excessive as the behaviour it critiques. Certainly some of the visual forms that Murray uses, such as the oversized gold leaf and aluminium coat of arms that dominate walls around the gallery, suggest that he has assumed a mode of expression that mimics the opulent lifestyles which either drive such widespread corruption among the country’s new elite or is a manifestation of extreme wealth.