Lesson one: manipulate mainstream

FINE ART: Dennis Mair

ON select Monday nights in Cape Town the stabbing wound of the underground art world throbs independently of the mainstream. Groups of reactors gather to prove that art exists for the appreciation and admiration of others; a little more than the traditional pomp of mere financial gain.

On November 18 two shows opened at alternative art sites, far removed from the traditional ostentation of the thriving art- vending populace: Drive By/Ice in the lower suburbs, and Stadskaap in Kaapstad at the Mau Mau Gallery in the central city.

The Drive By/Ice exhibition came first, at the Planet Contemporary Art Site. Tucked away below a bar in Observatory, this happening venue caters for various forms of expression, ranging from the traditional to the art extreme. This time photographs and lithography were on show where artistsMandy Jandrell and Tom Cullberg exposed their creations to an honest gathering of artists and admirers.

At first glance, the work appears to be no more than renditions of rough-edged juxtapositions depicting everyday life. But a closer look reveals the steel-framed and pasted comelies bare far more than that which meets the eye.

Jandrell’s photographs embody the Drive By aspect of the display and deal with the understated affair between nature and industry. Her double-exposed images of the Cape and its surrounds evoke an eye-level experience for the viewer. The manipulation of her medium asks us: “Where to from here?”

Cullberg’s work, entitled Ice, centres around his experiences as a Swede down south in Africa. Multiple images caress one’s view in his work about quiet memories, clear feelings and simple senses that move beyond the medium of each lithograph.

Together the works contained in the art space resonate sweet visual melodies uncharacteristic of contemporary rebels. The uncomplicated aesthetic of the work as a whole is refreshing and correlates harmoniously in this hidden creative outpost, shining light in a previously darkened space.

More centrally placed, the Stadskaap in Kaapstad opening at Gallery Mau Mau, later that same evening, surfaced from the underworld as a mixed-media event of much proportion. Mau Mau, the “newest art site for small revolutions”, is an establishment that pushes fringe exposure for renegade artists.

Embracing the walls were images filled with the resonance of daily life: Craig Parker’s spot colour photostats and Joshua Miles’s reduction woodcuts on hardboard.

Parker’s stats took second focus, though, when he reeled out some self-made movie clips as part of the art experience. His multi-dimensional random footage, scattered with bits of animation, created a splice of life on celluloid. The three part mini- feature moved observers into a realm where the constraints of culture faded into film, encompassing the otherness of our existence. His work enthralled the tribe of artists, appreciators and extremely stoned onlookers.

Miles’s work explores rural and urban landscapes without irony, capturing the richness and realness of South African lifestyle. The positivism in his work offers a patriotic look at our changing land and affirms confidence in our state as a work in progress.

The Mau Mau art experience indulges in such rhythms of the underground. As a space it scavenges for room on the first floor of a city central building, but ample stretch is provided for excess art voyeurs on an adjacent wraparound balcony.

Miles expressed clear reasoning why such an outlandish art venue works for him: “I hate the fucking art scene in Cape Town. It’s just so fucking pompous ... It’s about how slick you are, the people you know and saying the right things when it should be about the work. Real art isn’t about all that and neither is Mau Mau. The curators understand what I am about. It’s like home.”

Drive By/Ice is on at Planet Contemporary Art Site, Observatory and Stadskaap in Kaapstad is on at Gallery Mau Mau, 57 Castle Street, Cape Town

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