Speechless at the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town by Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky (rosenclaire) questions the power of words to represent and relate to our surroundings.
The exhibition registers an inability to comprehend and articulate the political, social and ecological crises experienced around the world today. This implies the breakdown of all secure structures including language, communication and materiality itself. We approach the ‘unspeakable’ from a position of warning but also of wonder.’
Speechless takes its cue from current discourse on the Anthropocene, described by writer Robert Macfarlane as ‘the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.’ Macfarlane warns that ‘we have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come’ in an attempt to urge human beings to consider the implications of our actions in terms of ‘deep time’ – beyond the here and now.
Deploying different visual languages, rosenclaire propound a shared belief in the world as an ever-shifting fusion of equal components, always in a state of becoming. Their work can be read as part of a wave of artists, philosophers, scientists and anthropologists who ask that we look to new ways of relating to each other and to nature or else face extinction.
Shakinovsky’s semi-abstract prints strip back stock media images of recent natural disasters and social upheavals, including the fire in London’s Grenfell Towers, the Syrian refugee ‘crisis’, wildfires in California and the Natal floods, to create ‘a composition without balance or symmetry, mirroring the incoherence and collapse of the social and revenge of the natural’.
Within these alluring works, Shakinovsky boldly attempts ‘to represent the new visual language that may define these times,’ as she puts it, looking to re-represent ‘the underlying structure of disaster and the visual forms it takes.’
Gavronsky’s delicate pastel works posit a deflated colonial male figure as humbled in the face of nature and, at times, crippled by remorse as he is positioned on his knees before people exploited over the ages. In one work a man kneels before a flock of imposing Dodos, joining them in extinction.
Other paintings by Gavronsky evoke a scrapbook, or perhaps a crime wall, mapping key moments of human technological ‘progress’, from industrialization in the 1800s to the ‘Great Acceleration’ of the 1950s through to the present. Current world leaders, such as Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, loom large within this enmeshed narrative assemblage whereby human beings and natural resources continue to be exploited.
rosenclaire began collaborating in the 1980s when they moved from South Africa to Italy, where they run a residency program for international artists. Their collaboration is defined by two distinct artistic languages which grapple with their shared concerns. They have exhibited individually and collaboratively around the world, most recently in the group exhibition Right To The Future (2017) at the Museum of the 20th and 21st Century Art in St. Petersburg. They have collaborated with William Kentridge on a number of occasions and are known for producing public participatory works, such as the Soap Boxes sculpture commissioned by the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 2003.
Speechless runs at Goodman Gallery until April 6, 2018.
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