CONFESSIONALE – HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN
By Ashraf Jamal
24 Oct – 6 Dec 2020
In the documentary, The Secret Life of Chaos, Jim Al-Khalili reminds us that we are made of chalk, coal, water, air, the ‘debris of annihilated matter’. In the work of three artists on show at Deepest Darkest, Marieke Kruger and Henk Serfontein who work with charcoal, Wilma Cruise with clay, it is annihilated matter that is embodied. The works are of bodies, about bodies, in their fragile human form.
Cruise’s lone sculpture is a blunt instrument, roughly hewn. The torso echoes ancient forms, the Venus of Willendorf, but the head, a bald nub with gouged eyes, possesses sinister currency. Little is reassuring in this drilled stub of fired mud. The echo may be ancient, but this is no fertility goddess. As for the Greek ideal, apex of a Western conception of beauty? It is nowhere to be found. A rudimentary block with vacant holes, Cruise’s sculpture conspires against two traditions, one founded on fertility, the other on ego. Neither body nor mind are generative. Instead, both are fired into oblivion.
Flanking this lone rough sculpture, we have charcoal drawings by Marieke Kruger and Henk Serfontein. Serfontein’s are meticulously detailed depictions of what we think the body is, what it looks like. But these drawings are not the sum of compulsive detail, but what meticulous detail fails, always, to convey. If Serfontein is obsessed with minutia – the porousness of skin, reticulation of bone and muscle, flowing growth of hair on a forearm – it is because his is a microscopic eye. He knows we learn best through minute observation, which most of us, distracted by distraction, fail to grasp. But the lesson of his meticulous eye and hand is not the clarity it reveals. Why? Because inside aggregated detail – the pocked surface of skin, say – lies chaos, formlessness, the unboundedness of human forms. Markedly distinct from Cruise, Serfontein nevertheless returns us to primal chaos.
Kruger’s works examine the complex of formed and amorphous matter. The dynamism of her charcoal drawings, combined with their vast scale, are reminders of the integral relationship of substance and void. We are recognisable and definable, yet not. This is because psychic forces which traverse the body are not reducible to it. The body is a vessel that contains a void and contained by it in turn. The Greek ideal is error. Assuming the body a reflection of a conscious ideal, the Greeks mistook the fundament of being. Our on-going obsession with surface and ego affirms this grotesque mistake. We are not what we look like, and neither are we the sum of ideas about ourselves. Deeper, stranger realms invade, confuse and hurt us, allow both for dread and hope. We are barely computable things with inscrutable urgencies.
It is a bodiless dimension locked within bodies which Kruger, Serfontein, and Cruise, in differing ways, communicate. Their works make us feel, they unsettle, inspire, remind us of the power of looking closely. And why we fail to see what is most significant about ourselves, the debris of which we are made – charcoal, clay – and the debris to which we return – chaos, the deepest and darkest dimension of ourselves.
If, after Nietzsche, we are human, all too human, it is not because of our regenerative capacity nor hubris, but because of our sensitivity to all that eludes us. This is the narrative at work in a gallery – booth – that amounts to a confessional.