Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Studio Time: Pondering "productive procrastination" with Nerf/Kentridge /Soyinka/Sellars

Christian Nerf working inside Goethe on Main
pic by: Brett Rubin

One Sunday, during the popular Arts On Main market at Maboneng, some visitors wandered into Goethe-on-Main looking for food. This wasn’t altogether surprising. With a large cardboard handwritten sign hanging at the entrance boasting the show’s title, Things are Odd, it appeared like a makeshift shop – an extension of the market. In a way, Christian Nerf was delighted that this misinterpretation occurred; he revels in rewriting the function of a gallery and blurring the boundaries between art and life.

It’s not quite an anarchic impulse, but more about transforming a space to suit his idiosyncratic needs. For Nerf galleries, rooms in suburban homes, even seats on an airplane or long-distance buses have become home to his itinerant studios. He treats these diverse settings equally, thereby undercutting the gallery’s status. They are not venues to exhibit work but to make work, a place for an artist to inhabit, rather than occupy fleetingly.

“The idea of arriving here putting some things up on the wall and walking out and leaving it was unthinkable,” he says. The gallery should be a living, breathing space, a place of action rather than (detached) meditation. This facilitates interaction, between Nerf and visitors, a rarity in the rarefied art setting. Whether this has enriched his practice is uncertain, but it has made for some unexpected exchanges with people unfamiliar with contemporary art.
A close up of one of Nerf's attempt to "draw with obstacles"
pic by Brett Rubin

For the duration of his show, Nerf spent his days in the gallery, making work, experimenting and reading – I spot a copy of Susan Sontag’s seminal On Photography on a shelf. On the occasions he worked through the night, he slept on a thin mattress in the corner of the gallery. This makeshift bed appears to be part of what could be termed an installation of sorts, though, of course, it has no meaning other than rooting the space as a living space rather than just a gallery. But because it is a gallery, a table populated by tubes of paint, brushes, and a beer bottle, everything in it is subject to the kind of scrutiny that may be undeserving given they are everyday objects. But there are other kinds of objects in the space that look as ordinary but aren’t – if you inspect them closely or become aware of their history. Like a torn vest hanging from a nail.
It’s a remnant from a phase when Nerf went out and “shot” fashion objects, not with a camera but with a weapon that would destroy the surface. There are also more recognisable art objects such as large white papers with colourful painted lines. They are not finished works, more like preparations for something, or just experiments in of themselves.