1 000 things altered

2012-10-20 14:55

The exhibition of Pretoria-based artist Wim Botha’s new work at Stevenson Gallery in Braamfontein is tinged with eeriness.

It is as if one is following the artist on an illicit trip into a scene of something meant to take shape in secret.

The show is titled A Thousand Things and it unfolds like a backstage view of the act of Creation itself.

Hence visitors to the gallery find themselves implicated into a culpable foray by walking in on the alchemic process of art willing itself to imitate life.

The artist is like a shaman privy to secrets and is illicitly sharing them.

The journey into the exhibition unfolds in three phases.

The first is a series of framed drawings.

They include charcoal and pastel studies, and some ink and black paint wash on paper.

Here Botha looks at the image of a cat as portraiture.

He captures the faces or heads of irritated cats growling angrily.

Apart from the subject portrayed, these drawings are exquisite studies, bearing testament to the artist’s technical facility as a draughtsman.

The delicately rendered heads echo iconic Chinese calligraphy in the spatial arrangement and composition.

They lead into the first sculptural installation titled Solipsis.

The word refers to the idea of a third major paradigm that follows the first major paradigm, religion, and the second, science.

Solipsis holds that reality only exists in a singular binary system.

It consists of each individual’s consciousness and that of the universe. These operate in a Yin-Yang fashion to co-create each other.

Solipsis also refers to the philosophical view that existence of the self is the only reality that can be verified – that the world and all it contains is created by the observer’s mind as she passes through life.

So where French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes insists “I think, therefore I am”, the solipsist prefers “I think, therefore I am everything.”

Botha then follows through on this idea and sets up an open-ended reading of the binary meaning in his work.

The battle between light and dark, good and evil, and so on, have been coded as the basis of Botha’s Solipsis.

His constructivist installation is made of fluorescent light tubes and wooded structures that hold them together and polystyrene sculptures of eagles’ wings.

Together they are an illustration of a battle between a serpent and an eagle.

The snake is represented by the bright-burning white lights.

The two creatures are locked in a fight to the death that can only lead to their collective transformation.

This is a solipsis that sees the reptile and the bird morph into the dragon.

Visually, the fluorescent glare of the lights and the refractive whiteness of the polystyrene give the installation a halo-like brightness.

It can be read as a semiotic reference to the work’s flirtation with sacred and surreal themes.

It’s contrasted adequately by the accompanying installation of wooden sculptures that carry the title of the exhibition, A Thousand Things.

The mood in this part of the show feels darker.

There’s a duet of suspended bears locked in a fierce battle.

A cat finally catches a bird it has been hunting and the two will probably be transformed by the violent encounter.

Sets of vultures’ wings elevated on makeshift plinths, along with human skulls and incomplete sculpted wild cats, morph into each other too.

The process is frozen in wood as various beings take to their final mimetic form.

A Thousand Things becoming new thousand things.

»Wim Botha’s A Thousand Things runs until November 2

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