There was something just vaguely apocalyptic going on at ArtSpace Durban this August in the group show Formation. Featuring four of Durban’s most talented painting talents – Grace Kotze, Dee Donaldson, Anet Norval and Janet Solomon – and curated by Kotze, the show attempted to give the viewer an insight into the physical and psychological process of producing works using text, photographs and sketches.
On one level – that of technical virtuosity where the art viewer looks carefully at the brush strokes and declares the actual level of competence of the painter, like a scientist analysing a blood sample – the show succeeds admirably. But it does so, in fact, because that level was invisible, as virtuosity always should be. You become transfixed by the song not the singer, by the painting not the paint.
And indeed I was transfixed by the fusion of narratives and emotion on display, so much so that the medium itself became irrelevant. The work on show in Formation were paintings, but they might just as eaily have been cinema or video art or installations or memories or dreams. And even when I started doing the blood analysis thing – with Janet Solomon’s staggeringly detailed Susanna – its ominousness and otherworldly depiction of an incredibly natural landscape kept on pulling me back out to the big picture.
I have to say, though, that I wasn’t that engaged by the documentations of how the work was formed. That may simply be the philistine in me talking, or it may be that the works were all so strong, said so much, that I didn’t want to see the invisible strings that held everything together. It might also be the case that the documentation would – strangely enough – have been more gripping without the presence of the final artwork.