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.