Lost on the way

Visiting Berlin artist Jenö Gindl, invited to exhibit at the festival by artist and Rhodes university lecturer Mark Hipper, deals deftly in the realm of uncertainty. His highly worthwhile exhibition On the Way consists mainly of manipulated photographic prints strung together in emotive and confoundingly elusive combinations.

Out of place among several series, the single platinotype Tulips – chosen as the emblematic visual on the exhibition poster – is a textured black and white floral cliché. Several closed tulips loosely surround a central, wilting bloom with its phallic pistol revealed. The obvious sexual connotations echo the orchids of painter Georgia O’Keefe, or, more forcefully, are a subtle parody of Robert Mapplethorpe’s highly styled and stylised photographs of flowers. Clever, but too tired to have much impact.

Far more interesting than this image, or two others of mussed and torn clothing, are the silver gelatin prints comprising the triptych mother yes nothing, which demonstrate Gindl’s associative knack. The first of three prints, emblazoned with the word “mother”, depicts an unidentifiable arm – male or female – retrieving eye-pencils from a make-up box. The second bears the word “yes” and captures this same person retreating from the frame. The last reveals the abandoned vanity case and is simply titled “nothing”.

With a tell-tale context deliberately excluded from the shots, it is near impossible to discern what is being transmitted. Is the subject a hurt child not receiving attention from a parental figure? Is it a cross-dressing man hesitant to reveal his desires and identity to his mother? The question is deliberately left open so that what is in fact conveyed is a sense of dislocation and isolation, a nothingness in which answers and meaning are unattainable.

The elusive nature of the work throws the interpretive process heavily onto the shoulders of the viewer. Reading the work becomes a stealthy negotiation of uncertainty.

As beguiling as this threesome is Gindl’s large-scale multi-media series which dominates the exhibition. Here the artist has layered charcoal shading over black and white photographic prints, in a way that recalls and extends the painterly tint methods used by pre-colour portrait studios.

Gindl’s interest, according to the preface, in what “lies outside the image, or lies as a threat between the images”, is enhanced by his techniques. The frequent addition of words and phrases to unanchored contexts sets up associations but refuses to clarify situations. Many of the photographic images are blurred (a subversion of the clarity of documentary photography), and their focal point is withheld, excluded by the click of the shutter. Printed large on an inkjet, they are then further obscured by the typically smoky, indefinite smudges of charcoal.

While contemporary German photographers have taken most prevalently to colour film, Gindl’s choice of traditional black and white allows him to manipulate grey tones that are integral to the very contemporary concerns of his project. His exploration of these “grey areas” of the indefinite ably reflects current sensibilities and conceptual interests. The overwhelming data excess of the information age make it impossible for any single individual to access everything. It is this lack of clarity that Gindl is well on the way to expressing.

On the Way is on view at the Albany Museum

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