In the making: materials and process

18 August - 17 September 2005

In the making: materials and process presents works by a range of artists who share a deep concern with materials and materiality, as well as a tendency towards obsessive working processes in which these materials are put to use in previously unimagined ways. Almost all the works on display have been produced expressly for this exhibition.

The artists have strongly individualistic practices and their choices of materials are diverse, ranging from wire, Perspex and mirror to cowhide, inner tubes and old clothing. Their processes are correspondingly varied, among them collecting, weaving, cutting, curing, stitching, burning and corroding. The objects or installations that are the products of these explorations are testament to intellectual curiosity, perseverance, vision, aesthetic appreciation and transformative potential.

El Anatsui is the guest artist for this exhibition, courtesy of the October Gallery, London. He is a Ghanaian artist of immense stature whose works are in the collections of the British Museum and the Pompidou Centre but who is little known in South Africa. His dramatically beautiful Fading cloth transforms the discarded caps of liquor bottles into a contemporary evocation of both the rich tradition of the West African kente cloth and the history and impact of colonisation.

Among the 11 South African artists, three also make strong references to textiles in their work. Walter Oltmann's Wire tapestry refers to African cloth and wire weaving traditions, this time through the use of soft aluminium wire manufactured as power cabling. Doreen Southwood uses fabric as the basis for a design recreated in nuts, bolts and washers, held precariously in place on a metal sheet using hundreds of high-strength magnets. Nicholas Hlobo stitches together the rubber inner-tubes of tyres to form an unwearable dress that reaches its apex in a leather whip, with connotations ranging from gay sexuality to industrialisation.

Organic substances come to the fore in the work of Nandipha Mntambo, who casts moulds of the female body in tanned cowhide, and Jeremy Wafer, who uses the earthy substances of red and black oxide, clay and ash to invoke rituals of transformation in a series of serene disks. Natural processes are harnessed by Sandile Zulu in his playful wet string and fire drawings, and in the corrosion set off by Alan Alborough's bottled devices of batteries and syringes.

Obsessive traits manifest themselves in many of the works. What appears as a chaotic jumble of objects in Dineo Bopape's wall installation is the result of a process of collecting and ordering according to an idiosyncratic yet particular vision. Retha Erasmus' suspended sculpture is made up of myriad parts so precisely assembled that the resulting form appears to have evolved organically. Paul Edmunds has spent months hand-cutting hexagons from paper in order to translate the colour values in a photograph of the dawn sky - a concern with optics that is shared by Stefanus Rademeyer, who uses light and mirrors to dissolve the surface of the sculpture and evoke virtual space.

From the scientific to the poetic, the works on this exhibition are the result of sustained, varied and imaginative engagements with materials and an extraordinary commitment to process.

Click on images to view full size; click on artists' names to read statements and bios

Installation views

El Anatsui: Fading cloth

Alan Alborough: WYSIWYG

Dineo Bopape: Growing everyday

Paul Edmunds: Sieve  (n/a)

Retha Erasmus: The sum of us  (sold)

Nicholas Hlobo: Umtya nethunga  (sold)  and Vanity

Nandipha Mntambo: Purge and Stepping into self  (sold)

Walter Oltmann: Wire tapestry  (sold)

Stefanus Rademeyer: Gestalt

Doreen Southwood: Curtain

Jeremy Wafer: Black disk, Red disk, Grey disk, White disk

Sandile Zulu: Lines of origin  (n/a)

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2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.