Exhibition of Interest
Research, concept, materiality and abstraction
An opportunity to broaden the way we contemplate the artists’ practices by highlighting various stages of their process over the last ten years, this week’s ______Of Interest consider’s blank’s impact on contemporary African art through their group exhibition lO.
It had been a while since Jonathan Garnham engaged with South Africa and its contemporary art scene. “When I came back after living in Berlin in the 90s and experiencing many cultural spaces, I saw that there was very little here, in South Africa. Few spaces for artists to do things, to exhibit, to experiment,” said Garnham in a conversation with art platform, La belle revue. Then in 2005, two years after his return, Garnham established blank projects. A small space, somewhere around eighteen square meters, Garnham thought it a good way to push boundaries and create new discourse in South Africa with friends and contemporaries.
Commercial since 2012, blank has cemented its place as a gallery that places prominence on concept, materiality and abstraction in the international contemporary African art scene. To mark this, blank is presenting a group exhibition titled lO.
Observed in Gregory Olympio, Igshaan Adams, Jared Ginsburg and Kemang Wa Lehulere’s practices, the gallery’s muted colour palette of hushed pinks, delicate browns and quiet grays reference the low saturation or chroma found in our everyday. A marker of modernity, progressive thought, efficiency and the contemporary, blank’s chroma also speaks to the day’s dance, where critical thinkers two-step between humility and humiliation.
Featured in the exhibition and an example of this is Listen by Adams. An obscure self-portrait, Listen was informed by found floral wallpaper that Adams burned an image of his face onto using a heat gun. Remembering the process that led him to make the work, Adams says, “I tried to hide myself as much as possible in the paper’s pattern; almost like camouflage. At the heart of the work is a desire to almost disappear into the environment, be invisible while paying attention, observing and listening.” With the threat of cancel culture looming over our heads, embracing a muted palette adds to the materiality of a time marked by the repentance, self-induced guilt, incessant self-critique and constant regulation required to maintain relevance.
Sincerely curious, practices platformed at blank are rooted in asking materials and mediums who they are and what they want to do. Championing chance, agency and contingency, artists like Sabelo Mlangeni, Lerato Shadi, and donna Kukama prioritise listening and working in collaboration with their mediums. Active participants in our lives, at blank there is room to read materials and objects as charged. Bearers of information, often delivering cues that help to affirm and fortify norms, at blank artists challenge objects by taking on the task of using them to make and present subversive emotive work .
Take Shadi’s Matsogo. A video work, Matsogo documents a pair of hands as they crumble a piece of cake before reforming it into a wedge that thrives to look like the original slice. An investigation of value through two objects (the hands and the cake) Matsogo invites audiences to think about how past encounters and disruption to forms inform worth. Materialised as cake, the work’s reach speaks to the human body, cities, cultures and practices that, as a result of past violences, are considered less than.
A free-entry for all, open six-days-a-week platform to showcase and support artists, galleries promote cultural awareness and facilitate patronage while driving economic growth in the industry. Like other living and breathing entities, galleries develop, grow, change and adapt to the demands, challenges and opportunities of the biomes they inhabit. Ten years deep, blank is no different. Using its first decade to nudge audiences into tomorrow’s zeitgeist where materials are alive, political and influential, independent of us, there is no obvious way to predict what the next ten will look like.