A philosopher and an award-winning novelist join forces to show what does or does not happen behind the ordinary appearance of things. In HIDING BEHIND SIMPLE THINGS and DRAWING IS the artist couple Andries Gouws and Ingrid Winterbach (Lettie Viljoen) search for what everyday, non-aesthetic things can say about remembering and forgetting.
In two separate presentations, apparently not stylistically or thematically related, the artists explore meaning.
Gouws finds the memory of experiences and feelings, images of human fragility, in the light that falls on objects. Winterbach finds meaning in the “process” of making art, suggested in lines, patterns and scribbled words.
Gouws shows photographically meticulous motifs and interiors focussing on “unattractive” corners and details. But he then bathes everything in a strange light. Why this mysterious, ethereal light evoking the aura of a 17th Century painting by Jan Vermeer – in these functional rooms? An incidental view of an inelegant cupboard in a room, a soap dish, a ceiling light, unsightly pipes for electrical wiring? Wrapped objects, a painting wrapped for an exhibition? Something wrapped and forgotten on a cupboard?
The artist prods the imagination with these techniques of obfuscation although they aren’t new in the history of art. What demands a fresh interpretation, however, is his marriage of two traditions: Vermeer’s way of magically transforming ordinary things through his use of light, combined with our time’s eye for the unpretty.
It is as if the artist wants to catch the viewer off guard by the documentary appearance of his objects. He seems to indicate that the objects are important merely as records of an unimaginative middle-class lifestyle where elegance and adornment count for little.
But involuntarily, the longer one looks, and begins to feel, the less mundane these things become. The word Madrid, combined with the soap dish and glass of water, evokes associations of a place where something important has been experienced. The wrapped objects begin to intrigue as wrapped lives waiting to be lived. On their way somewhere. Surrendered to waiting, waiting to be released from oblivion in order that “remembering” can lead to re-experiencing, and insight?
Although different in style and approach, Winterbach’s free pastel drawings on large, double sheets of paper, converse visually with Gouws. How far, she seems to ask, can an object remain an object before it starts disappearing into nothingness? Where does memory end? At a word that loses its spelling, wiped away by a hand or by time, or at a shape that retreats into shadows?
Place and context also carry meaning for Winterbach. By their absence, more than anything else thing and place are after all merely suggested in the abstract matrix of crossed lines that here and there become bricks. The webbed pattern provides a context for the intellect and intuition searching for links between pieces of words, fragments of form.
The tension between letter, word, form and smudge of colour grow out of the way the one engulfs the other. Sometimes the text has meaning, sometimes letters become calligraphic symbols. Words are distorted to form new combinations. For instance constained and itimately. Even the associated narrative element evoked by words is neutralized. The comic book format (with its implied “narrative line”) is watered down to perfunctory, comma-like gestural lines, separating the different compartments on the picture plane.
In this way the viewer is given more freedom to form links and find meaning. Reading Winterbach’s more abstract representations in conjunction with those of Gouws, one is struck by the concern of both artists with the significance of the ordinary. Gouws encapsulated by the divine light of logical forms. Winterbach wandering off by the light of the insight that comes from a willingness to go astray.
Paradoxically, as logical argument (remembering) is washed away in stains of colour and disappearing line (forgetting), intuition gains in communicative power.
THE EVERYDAY AS TRIGGER FOR TAKING FLIGHT
(Translation of: DIE GEWONE AS SNELLER VIR DIE VLUG – review in daily Beeld, 20 October, PLUS supplement, page 6. Thanks to Jean Theron for her prompt translation into English)
Hiding behind simple things Andries Gouws & Drawing is Ingrid Winterbach
University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Auckland Park
Reviewed by Bettie Lambrecht
Andries Gouws’s Soap dish with glass, Madrid
One of Ingrid Winterbach’s works (I am tired)