Two brilliant exhibitions re-view the same territory

Melvyn Minnaar, Cape Times, 29/10/2003
Two brilliant exhibitions re-view the same territory

Two brilliant exhibitions re-view the same territory

I can’t see the wood for the trees…by Liza Grobler at the João Ferreira Gallery and Moneo by Julia Teale at the Irma Stern Museum.

Well-worn, archeologically smooth stones are common to these two different, edge shows. Other metaphorical links are related to matters of meaning in contemporary artmaking and makes both exhibits well worth seeing. In her exact, sharp paintings observations of the desert-like African land – Julia Teale seems to debate that purpose through gentle associations of emotion, myth and history. Her uninhabited land and earthscapes push beyond the clichéd picturesque view and activate them as spaces of human condition.

In some these are, literally, remains: skeletons of people who had some contract with the geography, markings of habitation: fences and poles, roads to beyond. There are no people, only presence.

The three Studies of Intimacy are significant carriers of this empathy – also because they’ve been so acutely painted. In 1 and 3 the surviving succulent in the stony desert ground offers an intimate bloom. In variation 2 it’s the infinite bushy panorama that rings up that emotion. The visual symbols work. The rather obscure title- Moneo is Latin for “to remind or tell of” – explains itself: how the depicted landscape or scene can reveal meaning, tell a story and trigger the observant looker’s imagination. This is the doings too of artmaking.

One of her lingering painted images (not all the canvasses are engaging, some suffer from a kind of painterly heavy-handedness), is the splendid Stony Heart – a close-up of the rocky earth that slips into a kind of radiant abstraction. It is delightful and playful.

Liza Grobler’s stones are even more beguiling. She has dressed each of her real river rocks in sheer crocheted socks. They lie there on the gallery floor – together with a hotchpotch of other tactile oddities floating above and around and even one grunting in the room next door – to tempt visitors into an amusing surreal consideration.

I can’t see the wood for the trees, so I’m taking a line for a very long walk, the full title of her installation, is an invitation to the visitor to dwell in her “forest”. Constructed of discarded consumer materials and bits from nature, pebbles and fabric are densely reworked by the artist using homely crafts such as knitting, to jab the visitor’s imagination. Her amusing, child-like milieu and inventions questions visitors about meaning and impact – there is much more to tell and see, thus offering the same challenges as Moneo.