FRANCES GOODMAN - FOREVER
The work of Frances Goodman brings to mind the quotation by South African writer Olive Schreiner who in the early part of the 20th century asked :
"Has the pen or pencil dipped so deep in the blood of the human race as the needle"? This seems an appropriate start to unravelling the exhibition. The body of work which confronts us , whilst concerned with fabric, hand stitched embroidery and the paraphernalia of weddings, takes us from the romance and glamour of the event to the pain and disillusionment which often follows the dream. The embroideries on the wall behind me are quotes which the artist has collected from women who are not yet married and who dream of that one particular day which they imagine will transform their lives. A wedding is a rite of passage and, as suggested by the beautiful and fragile silks and satins used in the artworks, symbolises for many a pinnacle of attainment and promise of everlasting happiness.
The installation of the exhibition makes it clear that it is the event of the wedding day (rather than the marriage) which overtakes all else. There are contracts, promises and aspirations which are witnessed by a selected community during this ceremony. These are in themselves contradictory, she suggests. The ante-nuptial contract and the religious covenant of the marriage have been placed side by side. Both of these have been embroidered in the manner of Victorian samplers which traditionally were spaces where moral sentiments were impressed upon young girls. However alongside the promise of life- long loyalty and love is the caveat concerning the division of property should this promise not work out. The exhibition title of "Forever" expands this irony. The play on this word is accentuated in the confetti scattered through the gallery. This is made up of white cutouts of this word but the implied question is "Will the confetti outlast the occasion?" Clearly not - as the paper will be destroyed, dispersed and scattered once the day is over. This emphasis on the momentary is also suggested in the pictures of the wedding dresses which have been worn by the artist's friends and photographed after the ceremony - they are soiled, crumpled and the glamour has now faded. Dickens' story aptly titled "Great Expectations" comes to mind as we imagine Miss Havisham in her decaying cobweb- covered wedding dress as she lives her life in loneliness with only the memory of her wedding day to comfort her.
The fact that the end of the story is not always certain or predictable is central to Goodman's work where perceptions of the sanctity of marriage do not always live up to their reputation. The femininity of the stitchery, the gossamer of the fabric through the exhibition is interrupted by the hard metal sculpture of the shiny Audi bonnet - a fragment of an object which brings to mind social standing, status symbols, masculinity and, maybe, a fast getaway . The riveted metal cursive script which has been aggresively inserted into the object is a play on words and a foil to the action of stitching throughout the rest of the exhibition which, because it is related to the feminine is often considered a genteel and harmless activity.
By reclaiming this gendered action and space the artist makes us aware of the contradictory impulses which lead to the questioning of many of society's assumptions and finally the thought remains with us that in reality there are no tidy and predictable endings.
ROSEMARIE MARRIOTT - RELAAS
The exhibition on the upper level by Rosemarie Marriott is called Relaas. This is an Afrikaans word for a narrative story. In this body of work she engages with themes from Afrikaans childrens' stories and nursery rhymes which on the surface appear quite cheerful and happy but most of which have underlying darkness and fear. This is her main theme but on first viewing I was struck with the relationship of her objects to the historical theme of the Cabinets of Curiosities. These 17th century "rooms of wonders" were creations of collectors and explorers who had travelled to strange countries and who wished to gather a variety of knowledge and wonderment into a single space. These objects generally included items such as shrunken skulls, insects in amber, animal parts such as horns or bones, exotic shells, stuffed animals and were the first foundations of both science and art study.
Marriott's objects invite this same type of wonder and also bring the idea of an unchartered territory to mind. But her "heart of darkness" does not lie not the geography of an undiscovered dark continent but rather that of the mind and its inner thoughts. Most of her materials are remnants of animal skins and debris from taxidermist studios and are therefore substances caught between life and death. She uses the trope of fables and nursery rhymes to transform these substances into objects which hover around the sub-conscious and, in the manner of an alchemist, transforms them into different forms. Fairy stories and nursery rhymes do the same thing. One of the better known is Ring a Ring a Roses in English or (Or Ring a ring a rosie in Afrikaans). Both have slightly different words but both tell of dancing and singing whilst danger lurks in the underbelly. The English rhyme has been thought by some to refer to death from the plague whereas the Afrikaans rhyme tells of a spinnekop or spider lurking dangerously over the dancing children which is how the artist has depicted the story in her installation. However the interpretation is left open as the spider, like most symbols, has many meanings.
Other works take a more direct view such as the Lied vir die kinders which is made from antelope skins and porcelain - two seemingly unrelated materials yet both fragile and ancient. This work refers to the children who have died, particularly in concentration camps, but also through other acts of violence and conflict. The fragmented remnants representing bodies are clustered together within a framework suggesting the frill around a cushion bringing thoughts of home and comfort lost forever to these young anonymous lives. The confrontation of the abject in the materials used initially startles and disturbs the viewer and this is the power of the exhibition where the artist confronts us with our earliest experiences and lessons and from this creates a strange and powerful beauty which chills and thrills at the same time.