Mikhael Subotzky: Massive Nerve Corpus

Mikhael Subotzky: Massive Nerve Corpus

Massive Nerve Corpus, an exhibition of provocative new paintings and works on paper by Mikhael Subotzky is presently on view at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

Massive Nerve Corpus continues Subotzky’s look inwards at his relationship to white masculinity. The exhibition builds on his fictional film installation WYE (2016) in which the white male psyche is the terrain of anthropological curiosity.

In a recent interview with Hansolo Umberto Oberist, Subotzky said: “I hope that my attempts to be vulnerable and self-reflexive in this space, in these words, and in the works themselves, will contribute in some small way to the deconstruction of white masculine power, rather than reinforcing it. All around me, I see amazing black artists who have been reconfiguring the canon, and I really do believe that white artists need to step up too, to take whiteness apart, and by doing so to meet them in the making of something new. I don’t think we can fully understand the exercise of white masculine power without exploring its vulnerability, both in the body and in the instruments that we’ve developed to allay this vulnerability and exercise power.”

Alongside large-scale paintings, Subotzky will show a series of drawings and photographs as well as a suite of eight photogravure-based prints made in collaboration with David Krut Workshop, Flying Horse Editions and Phil Sanders.

In 2014, Subotzky started showing his coloquially named ‘sticky-tape transfers’ which had developed alongside his internationally acclaimed photographic practice. According to him, these works investigate the “relationship between the physical and representational structures of images”. To make these works the artist pulls apart both his own and found photographs, using archival tape to remove the pigment from the photographic substrate and then reassembling the strips of tape and ink into collages.

This process relates to Subotzky’s ‘smashed works’, which were first shown in his 2012 exhibition Retinal Shift. To make these works, toughened security glass is face-mounted onto photographic images and then smashed. This act draws attention to the surface of the photograph and meddles with the viewer’s ability to consume the image. The smashing of the glass surface also re-inscribes the artist’s emotions onto the works he has authored, an element that is often elided from photographic representations.

Subotzky’s practice has since evolved into a unique approach to painting. He prints either found images or photographs from his archive onto canvas or linen and then manipulates the water-based pigment with a wet sponge. He often reprints the same image multiple times, removing or manipulating areas of the image in-between each pass, or uses this technique to combine different images. Next, the canvas or linen is stretched and Subotzky paints in a somewhat conventional manner, often adding layers of printed micropore tape between layers of paint. These strips of surgical tape form a semi-transparent layer that sometimes sutures the painting and at other times seems to restrain it.

These works seek to tear open the “corpus” of the privileged body, thus linking the artist, the representation and the viewer in a shared vulnerability.

Mikhael Subotzky (b. 1981, Cape Town) is a Johannesburg-based artist whose works in multiple mediums (including film installation, video, photography, collage and painting) attempt to engage critically with the instability of images and the politics of representation. Subotzky has exhibited in a series of important international exhibitions, including most recently Inheritance: Recent Video Art from Africa at the Fowler Museum (UCLA) in Los Angeles (2019) and Ex Africa in various venues in Brazil (2017-18). His award-winning Ponte City project (co-authored with Patrick Waterhouse) was presented at Art Basel Unlimited in 2018. The full exhibition and archive of this project has since been acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will be the subject of a monographic exhibition there in the fall of 2020.

Subotzky’s work is collected widely by international institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington), Tate (London), Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the South African National Gallery, among others.

Subotzky’s work was included in the Lubumbashi (2013) and Liverpool (2012) biennials. Pixel Interface, a multi-component video installation, was included in All The World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015).


Massive Nerve Corpus runs until July 6, 2019, at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.


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