Monday, January 28, 2013

Framing the City: Rodan Kane Hart, Faith 47 & Dala and understanding urbanity

Rodan Kane Hart's Exploded Kaleidescope

Urbanisation typically “denotes a thickening of fields”, writes Abdumaliq Simone, a London-based sociologist, referring to this layered mishmash of diverse elements, the complex groups of bodies, landscapes, objects and technologies, that define cities. It’s such a convoluted reality that individuals and institutions are unable to form a sustained interaction with elements, or actors in the city, or such has been the prevailing thinking, says Simone. The more “thick” a field is, he proposes, the more definitions and classifications it attracts, causing the city to “turn into an object like a language”.

It’s all about creating legible representations of space. Viewing them as purely functional, serving the needs of particular identities, lifestyles and properties has been one approach to grasping these thick social fields.
Yet, Simone proposes engaging with the city outside of these languages, definitions and approaches; it’s in the gaps between elements. In particular, he is interested in how people determine and change the nature of the spaces, constantly improvising in order to survive. This is the approach he embraces when he tries to come to terms with the underlying patterns of Joburg’s inner-city.

“Coming to terms” with Joburg’s inner-city has become somewhat of a fetish activity. Sociologists, architects, photographers, writers and artists are fixated with untangling some of the threads that define the thickening social fields of downtown Joburg. It is the very “thickness” itself that seems to prove the attraction.

Peculiarly enough, the gallery setting has become one of the main places where these (visual) explorations of South Africa’s urban life are being displayed. These spaces are almost antithetical to this concern: they appear like non-spaces. With their white walls and clinical interiors, they exist outside of the urban framework, are detached from its dynamics.
“The history of gallery spaces is completely suppressed,” observes Rodan Kane Hart, when I visit him at the Nirox gallery at Arts on Main before he is due to open Structures, his first solo exhibition. Hart isn’t referring to Nirox but galleries in general.

A set of double doors opening out onto the street roots this gallery in the urban landscape, though there is a clear separation between this pristine, vacant space and the seemingly chaotic, cluttered world outside.
Ideally, and perhaps eventually, Hart’s bold black steel sculptures will be displayed in public
spaces. Conceptually, this is his end-goal, though the allure of commercial success might shift the young twenty-something artist on another course.

His sculptures are largely simplistic forms; black painted steel rods configured into squares, triangles and more complex structures such as Exploded Kaleidoscope, an enlarged yet truncated section of a kaleidoscope on wheels. They are conceived as frames through which to view the city, though their design is derived from architectural motifs Hart identified, through photographs, drawings and observations of both Joburg – where he grew up – and Cape Town, where he now resides. They are mostly – except for Exploded Kaleidoscope – reduced forms that wouldn’t conceivably interfere too much with an urban vista, though in making space a visible unit open to distortion they might conceivably draw the viewer’s attention to the dynamics of space – the “thickness” of relations attached to it.