South African Cultural Observatory

Ruann Coleman’s “Certain Lengths” & Wallen Mapondera’s “Tsananguro/Clarifications”

BY Dr Danny Shorkend 03.07.17

TWO strong solo exhibitions are presented at Smac Gallery. Coleman’s sculptural work is particularly philosophical while Mapondera’s work excites in terms of a certain depth in narrative content. It is clearly in the difference of approaches that one need not see a link between the two shows, yet one must ask oneself why this co-existence. The former artist, uses found materials together with sculptural approaches, while the latter is a combination of traditional painting and curious quasi-sculptural painterly objects suspended in space. Indeed, the awareness of space and by implication time, is implicit in both these shows. On closer reflection, one might say that the artists’ – in distinct ways – may be interested in how matter may come to mean something.  How does the organisation of matter, in this case an art object come to be imbued with meaning or act as an auxiliary to conscious experience? The answer to that question perhaps lies in the curious nexus between culture and nature.

Coleman’s work incorporates a multitude of different forms and materials, some found, some directly from nature and others geometric, leaning against one another and objects teetering on the verge of thought and objecthood. He has incorporated measuring tapes and in one piece titled Faktura – a drawing on oxidised steel - one notices a kind of mathematical formulation or problem that is in the process of resolution. Civilization, for want of a better word, is often nothing more than the abstract understanding of nature, in order to use, manipulate, excavate and appropriate. In this sense nature is turned into culture and is then glorified as the order or system of dominance. Yet perhaps the artist questions pure empiricism as a measuring yard stick; perhaps one cannot measure, perhaps the finite has a deep non-quantifiable at its root, so to speak? I suggest the artist alludes to this through his constant upsetting of the natural. For example, the measuring tape is often cut up and reordered. Besides the exact value of things are only relative to the initial frame of reference – the highly arbitrary unit of measurement. In a sense then, there is no Platonic mystery attached to numbers. On the other hand, the sense that all material things can be quantified is a highly useful method for categorisation. Yet such a picture is fragmented and that is why Coleman returns to nature as he uses a large trunk-like form that interacts with the gallery as it seemingly protrudes from the wall and then reacts with the observing consciousness. Nature and culture need to be balanced, neither subservient to the other.

 

Mapoondera possibly answers that call as his paintings include enigmatic figures, dogs, cows, bulls and highly textured surfaces at times. His Kumba Kwababa Vangu works’ are the most interesting. Created out of cardboard boxes, these works appear blanket-like and invoke a sense of inter-connectedness and warmth. Such empathetic modalities involve a feeling for how the artist has connected old matter into new matter and then reignited a new awareness. I would suggest that this entails an acknowledgement of how sustainable one can be or rather how effective one can be with the intent to both satisfy the desire to know nature in ways other than simply empirical verification, but also as instances of value and meaning. This is not to say art and science as culture in contradistinction to nature is hierarchically accorded a place “on top” of the so-called other or nature. Indeed, it is rather to suggest that art along with science may reach a point where the very mystery of nature is experienced. Thus the “uncertainty principle” gleaned from quantum research applies more philosophically or broadly as a concept that defines the very impenetrability of nature, its’ continuous growth and evolution of which humankind is but a product and not only understood as co-creators or users thereof.

I found the exhibitions to be thought-provoking and at the same time extends aesthetic experience and stylistic convention. They both challenge the viewer to inquire into the nature of materials, thus transforming it into culture and then…one reaches the other side: nature. 

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