Monday, January 30, 2012

Diane Victor does death - and life - so well

When Diane Victor first started making smoke drawings, it was to direct attention to victims of violent crime. The medium was ideal for this purpose; the transparent brown residue the smoke imprinted on the paper articulated the spectral presence of the disembodied heads of deceased victims. The burning candles which she used to scorch the paper’s surface evoked rituals to remember the dead.

More pragmatic concerns may have also informed her use of this unconventional medium. In 2006 she was a finalist for the now-defunct Sasol Wax Art Awards, which demanded that artists use wax in creating art for the competition exhibition. Working with wax may have been a crippling limitation for most of the artists, but it seems to have set Victor’s aesthetic on a new path.

It is easy to see why someone so concerned with mark-making was attracted to using smoke; it leaves such a compelling mark, or stain – “stain” best describes the kind of imprint this ephemeral tool creates. Stains also summon the residue left by something that is no longer present, which articulates the loss and traceability of human life. The “stains” that the smoke creates, particularly in the hands of Victor, also capture the three-dimensionality, not only of a physical being, but the various states of minds and conditions that make the human subject so mercurial.

Because definitive marks or lines are impossible with smoke, there is a subtlety to them that is very compelling. It’s as if they have arrived on the page independently of the hand of the artist – that the artist has simply guided an invisible organic presence like someone guiding a séance. That burning candles are part of that ritual probably contributes to this notion.

But what is most remarkable about this medium is the way it captures the multiplicity of the live subject, which, inherently, denies a single, definitive view. This challenge has always concerned artists. Victor may have stumbled on a solution with smoke drawing. Because the flame is in constant motion the marks are bubbled, appear to glide and overlap in ways that deny any kind of static representation of a subject. So ironically, while the medium once ably expressed the absence/presence of the deceased, it also, in the hands of Victor, ably evokes the living or at least this quality of aliveness.