Other bricks in the wall

2007-02-01 00:00

Off The Wall 2 - described as a visual arts performance exhibition - “whacks down a grimy gauntlet to challenge the exhausted genre of gallery art”.

That's according to the exhibition's curator Andrew Mason, who was putting the finishing touches to one of his own pieces in readiness for the Monday opening at artSPACE in Durban's Umgeni Road.

“We feel that the art gallery thing is quite exhausted and not relevant to the general public, and particularly to youngsters. Yet these youngsters are passionate and involved in their own art forms,” he said.

Surprisingly enough, art forms that would never ordinarily fit the art gallery format “have held up well.” artSPACE is also the perfect setting as its almost warehouse feel matches the less conventional art forms on display. In fact, artSPACE was created by artist Karen Bradtke in a former surfboard factory in an area populated by light industry, allowing for other important synergies.

Mason's official description of the exhibition says it best: “Off The Wall 2 features exciting new visual art hybrids that combine commix, graphics, hip hop, blogging and animation - a retina-searing onslaught on the neo-bourgeois sensibilities of the post colonial mainstream.

“This is a street-level explosion of irrepressible talent gleaned from warehouse spaces and city walls, commix and sketchbooks, webzines and blogs, skateboards and street poles.”

He said this is the second in the Off The Wall series and was done in response to a request from Bradtke. It was about looking at different art genres that are both popular and current.

The work of more than 20 artists, including cartoonist Zapiro, Rico (of Madam and Eve fame), Ewok, Jason Bronkhorst, Themba Siwela, Tyron Love, Wesley van Eeden, Alastair Findlay, Andrew Mogridge, Mogorosi Motshumi, is shocking, amusing, entertaining, brutally honest and scathing. It is also mesmerising in its sheer technical brilliance and the depth of creativity exhibited by both respected and young emerging artists.

“There is a lot talent out there and we are trying to demonstrate to more authoritarian structures that this is creativity and not vandalism so they can make places available to these artists,” Mason said.

However, he still wrestles with deeper issues. For him, the big question is whether graffiti showed in a gallery is still graffiti? Is responsible graffiti - a concept promoted via the workshop that opened the exhibition last weekend - an oxymoron?

However, overall, he said the objective was to challenge the stereotype of the graffiti artist as the “hoodie wearing, drug-crazed vandal” and showcase graffiti as a vibrant art form that appeals to trendy young talents.

Even within the most anti-establishment art forms, there are surprises. Enigmatic graffiti guru Senyol is one of the most dominant artists with 20 pieces on display. His delicate pen sketches are something of a contradiction.

Much of the work on exhibition comes out of the sketchbook project that Mason launched in November. Artists were encouraged to record and publish their explorations from their sketchbooks. Images from at least 30 artists were loaded on to a blog (www.sketchbookproject.blogspot.com). Within six months there were 500 images. This project continues and is also on show at Off The Wall 2.

Mason has turned his original sketch book into a 140 page comic autobiography. At least 20 of these original sketchbooks are on display, including one from Zapiro. Mason said this sketchbook showed how his ideas developed from the “humblest scribbles to the finished work”.

The sketchbooks on display can be perused more closely under supervision. They are a rare and exciting glimpse of art that is often thought of an off-the-cuff rebellion. Even the finished works hanging on the gallery walls take time to digest.

Off The Wall 2 runs until May 26. Some of the more interesting aspects of the exhibition include a Cheap Stuff Wall with works priced to sell at R300 and less.

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