Ângela Ferreira

Werdmuller Centre and Other Works

11 March - 17 April 2010

Michael Stevenson is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Ângela Ferreira. Born in Maputo, Ferreira studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town in the 1980s. She now lives in Lisbon, and in 2007 represented Portugal at the 52nd Venice Biennale with her acclaimed Maison Tropicale project.

Ferreira's seminal work Sites and Services was shown at the National Gallery in 1992. Since then her work has only been seen sporadically in South Africa. This exhibition of new and existing work provides an opportunity for significant engagement with her multi-disciplinary oeuvre.

Ferreira's primary area of investigation is modernism, and specifically its translation into the African context. Her study of the modernist event in Africa has led her to think about the complexities of the modernist ethos and its aesthetic and architectural merits, and to understand the success of the internationalisation of the modernist project. She writes:

What I have been able to ascertain is that one cannot look at modernism as a simplified language or approach. Modernism is a complex network which evolved in time and [across] geography, as well as politically, and in fact what is clear is that there are many different modernisms and that we cannot any longer look at it as a singular manifestation.

For this exhibition, Ferreira has conceived a new work which takes as its starting point the Werdmuller Centre in Claremont, designed by Roelof Uytenbogaardt and completed in 1976. Ferreira notes that the conception, and failure, of this controversial building provokes many searing questions about modernism and the use of this international language in Africa, as well as the profound impact of apartheid on the functioning of the modernist aesthetic in South Africa. The Werdmuller Centre had all the right design intentions. It was meant to redefine the concept of shopping mall, bringing the street into the mall. It planned to create a walkway between the poorer segregated South Africans of the 1970s to the white middle-class shopping area of Claremont. It is a building that is beautifully and carefully designed and its formal and aesthetic development makes it an important historic work firmly positioned within modernist language.

It has all the ingredients to be an example of the building of the future of South Africa, and it was designed in hope of an ideal new South Africa. Yet, as Ferreira observes,

its model and recipe proved to be a dismal commercial failure - which speaks a lot about the conventional capitalist society that South Africa remains and has further entrenched itself in after apartheid. And it is disliked and abandoned by users and has become a security hazard because of the crime resulting from the violence inflicted on the society by the apartheid system.

The Werdmuller Centre becomes for Ferreira a prototype for the study of the failure of modernism, a classic failed modernist utopia. Irrespective of the idealism that accompanied its conception, the building is inappropriately located and saddled with objectives it could never feasibly achieve. It is, in effect, sited on a demographic fault line between the main road and the railway line which is emblematic of the divisions in South African society. The failure of the building suggests that this society continues to be unable to co-habit and intermingle, and is a reminder that modernist architecture is unable to contradict the forces and prejudices in a society.

The exhibit will be the result of an investigative process and inquiry into the building and will comprise a large-scale sculptural work as well as photos, collages, drawings and text.

Also on view will be two video works. Doubling the Reading (2009) takes the form of a lecture in which Ferreira speaks about the theoretical and historical research processes that have informed her work since Sites and Services. An earlier piece, Untitled 1998, introduces yet other aspects of Ferreira's practice as the artist performs an aerobics sequence at the National Stadium in Lisbon, invoking the memory of gymnastics festivals held under Salazar's authoritarian regime.

Ferreira will exhibit concurrently with Natasja Kensmil and, as part of the FOREX series, Walid Raad.

The exhibition opens on Thursday 11 March, 6-8pm. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.

Ferreira will give a walkabout of her exhibition in support of the Friends of the South African National Gallery on Friday 12 March at 11am; cost is R20 members and non-members.