CLOSE Deepest Darkest
5 Sept – 10 Oct 2020
By Ashraf Jamal
Deon Redman reopens Deepest Darkest in September. The title of the show – ‘Close’ – is a fitfully precise wager and exploration of what we feel and think we’ve lost – intimacy. For Redman, however, the three artists on show are not preoccupied with ‘solace, isolation, introspection’, but with a ‘physical and psychological disconnect’. The realisation that we are not as connected as we imagined ourselves to be is not the result of a globally enforced isolation, it was always the gnawing crux of our unease. We long for intimacy, for closeness, and yet we have always sensed our exile from it. This disconnect, which we scrupulously conceal from ourselves and others, has now glaringly resurfaced. It is unsurprising, therefore, that we now find ourselves seeking answers for the wanton deceits we have coolly practiced, and why throughout the world we find a need for introspection. Redman is not wholly convinced by the resurgence of contrition, regret, or the reawakening of a need for moral, social, and political redress. It is not human betterment that moves him – though this reckoning is vital – but the crisis that underpins it – ‘the breakdown and redefinition of our sorry selves’.
One of the most astute curators I have encountered, Redman never loses sight of human complexity and the role of art in the examination and expression of that complexity. If ‘Close’ is cannily astute, it is because it allows for the uncertainties that afflict us, the break and suture without which closeness cannot be realised. To be close, bound to and with another, is not to attain oneness. This ideal is a fantasy. Human life only ever allows for tenderness because it is fragile. It is this realisation of our fragility which Redman asks us to embrace. The artists he has selected are markedly different in their practice. Rossouw van der Walt is a sculptor, Johannes Wewetzer a photographer, Talut Kareem-Black a graphite artist. However, while the mediums differ, what connects them is the naked human body – its classical perfection, and imperfection. Anthony Gormley sums up the focus at Deepest Darkest, ‘what it feels like to be alive, dealing with the body … from the inside, exploring it as a place rather than an object’.
Closeness is only possible when we challenge what Gormley calls ‘the contemporary obsession with bodily appearance and … idealisation’, or better, when we allow for the breakdown and redefinition of this obsession. This is the project-instinct-feeling that informs Wewetzer’s ‘near classic recreations’ of a Greek and Renaissance ideal, Kareem-Black’s nano-second shivers of bodily clarity, Van der Walt’s achingly elegant and shattered sculpture of a foot. In each artist we find a clouded detail, nothing is quite what it seems to be. Chiaroscuro, the Renaissance technique used to graphically sharpen contrasting light and dark now seeps and disturbs the entangled bodies in Wewetzer’s photographs. The frantic judder of twisting heads in Kareem-Black’s drawings reveals the body not as an object but an agonised maw. The meticulous detail which Rossouw applies to his sculpture of a foot reminds us that nothing is ever grasped in its entirety. We bind ourselves to the particular because, always, we fail to grasp the whole. This is not a failing, it is the way in which we learn what it means to be … close.