Future world

2011-06-17 12:44

You can’t really say that you’ve been to “see” Michael MacGarry’s exhibition, Entertainment, ­because it feels more like you have intruded into the parlour of Onan the magnificent.

Onan is the figure visitors encounter first in sculpture form at the foyer of the Stevenson Gallery in Braamfontein, Joburg, and later as the voiceover on the video ­installation, The Race of Man.

The figure, a bronze ram’s head with white patina and prosthetic eyes, is the god-like overlord in MacGarry’s fantastic world – a world that forms the grand ­context in which this whole body of work is situated. So the paintings, sculptures and photographs that make up the show are ­artefacts from Onan’s world.

In the video, this world comes together in a digital game called The Monoform.

In it, as the accompanying text explains, players are required to “beat their opponents to advance through the ­levels; and to complete The ­Monoform to exit the game, ­players must consume their ­opposites. Resistance is failure”.

After witnessing one player ­winning through the levels, we see him shoot and suck the brains out of his opponent to fulfil this ­requirement.

This obvious reference to ­cannibalism is apparently part of the artist’s focus on “the Western, Modernist-era imperative to ­penetrate the interior; erect large buildings; encounter ancient, ­autonomous civilisations and kill them”.

The feature that ought to be ­refreshing about this exhibition is the variety of media represented, though it is a relatively small show. It’s as if the artist felt a need to display his technical ability with each piece of work.

Especially strong are his two large oil-on-canvas paintings. One is titled Abuja, Nigeria, 2034; and the second is called Chinese Iron Ore Frigates off the Coast of Dar es Salaam, 2048.

These are essentially landscapes, with an imagined cityscape of Abuja’s twilight skyline presented in a fictional, super-developed ­condition which takes on an urban identity similar to that found in science fiction.

The futuristic scene of Chinese warships off the coast of Dar es Salaam is equally fantastic. The Chinese frigates here look like ­alien warships hovering over and ­patrolling the golden sunset of that East-African coastal city.

The work is also a comment on the future of relations between China and Africa – the evolution of ­China’s current economic ­voyages into Africa, morphing into military occupation.

Those who are familiar with MacGarry’s work – last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Fine Art – will recognise this as a continuation of his central concern. For some time now, he has been investigating the ongoing ­implications of Western imperialism on the African continent.

Specifically looking at the ­mechanics of “control and vested interest that inform the journey of culturally symbolic languages and products from the so-called ‘centre’ to the ‘periphery’ (and vice-versa) via established global trade routes that define and manipulate the ­peripheral context through an ­insidious process of selection”.

Now this investigative narrative is evolving thematically to include a new imperial player, China.

Included in this exhibition, too, is a limited-edition artist’s book titled The Republic of Luanda. It’s a photographic and conceptual result of research trips to the Angolan capital done over a two-year ­period.

Here the artist looks at Luanda as the largest net exporter of crude oil in Africa, and the largest capital and infrastructure development partner to China on the ­African continent.

» Entertainment will be on at the ­Stevenson Gallery, 62 Juta Street,­Braamfontein, Joburg, until July 1 

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