Black: The Antithesis of the fraudulent sensuality of culture’s facade. An experiment in voluntary asceticism

Black: the antithesis of the fraudulent sensuality of culture’s facade. An experiment in voluntary asceticism.

Liza Grobler, Mary Wafer, Hentie van der Merwe, Zander Blom, Kathryn Smith, Michael Taylor and Nomthunzi Mashalaba at blank projects

By Katharine Jacobs 05 August – 25 August. (Published on Artthrob August 2009)

For blank’s last show in their Buitengracht Street space, the walls have been painted black.  Ditto the floors and ceiling, and what with the blistering spotlights burning down from above, it’s a rather uncomfortable space to find oneself in. Standing on the floor in one corner a doll-sized figure captures the mood: she’s wreathed in layers of black and brown tights, unable to see out, yet seems to be gazing up at a sickle moon through a little jail window, drawn on the black wall with white chalk. This playful chalk drawing effectively turns the whole gallery into a jail; a touch of magical realism not unlike that of Robin Rhode.

For the show, curators Jonathan Garnham and Pierre Fouché challenged artists to undertake a vow of ‘voluntary asceticism’, producing work in black only. Being contrary by nature however, several of the artists took this as something of a challenge and Liza Grobler’s Little White Lies is not the only work which shows signs of mutiny.

Nomthunzi Mashalaba’s Play along Nomthunzi suggests a childlike resistance not only to being told what to do, but also being pigeonholed by race. The work is housed in a beautiful bulbous glass globe, once a measuring device of some sort which Mashalaba found a laboratory throwing out. Inside, curled tightly like little balls of wool, are black, red, blue and multi-coloured pieces of fabric. Mashalaba’s works in fabric have previously critiqued the process colonial provenance of ‘shweshwe’ fabric and the like, and the confinement of these hard, tense little balls inside the glass measuring device seems to allude to a kind of passive resistance to colonising impulses.

The winner though, for the most elegant answer to the show’s theme – and idea I’m most annoyed about not having myself – goes to painter and illustrator, Michael Taylor. Taylor has taken discarded black photocopies, and folded and scored them so that the toner has rubbed off.  The linear markings are minimal, yet spot-on, suggesting seascapes – or, in the image which comprises the flyer for this exhibition, but which sadly isn’t on show – Vegas spotlights.

As a free citizen, I escape Garnham’s gaol, and find the gallerist chatting outside. I ask how many coats of paint it’s going to take to make the gallery white again. ‘I’m not looking forward to that’, he chuckles, ‘but it’s the last show in this space for blank’ – the gallery will be relocating to one of two potential spaces in September – ‘so we would have had to renovate anyway.’ This is an ending then, for this stage of blank’s life, but not an ending for the gallery, which promises to continue its experimental agenda in its new premises.