Sanell Aggenbach: Bend to Her Will
From March 16 to April 23, 2017, WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery will present Bend to Her Will by Sanell Aggenbach. Her work presents a haunting ambiguity characterised by her materially multifarious nature as she moves comfortably between the various disciplines of painting, printmaking and sculpture. She has proved to be a critical voice in contemporary South African art. Aggenbach retains a strange intimacy in her work, despite the anonymity of her subjects, whether she is delving in satirical cultural exorcisms Graceland, 2009 or exploring intimate portraiture of archived negatives Sub Rosa, 2008.
Sanell Aggenbach practices a kind of feminist mycology. She excavates dark things in dark places, submits them to study, turns them inside out and pulls them apart. In service of this project the artist deploys a wide range of intimate and elusive imagery: drifting spores, the specialised cells of the central nervous system or the petals of a flower. She allows us to see the innocuous anew, exposing the root systems that hold everything in place, or, as is sometimes the case, the hollows where roots once were or could be.
The diverse body of work collected in Aggenbach’s Bend to Her Will grows themes introduced in a previous exhibition, Atopia, 2015. Foremost among these is a concern with the social and subjective experience of rootlessness. Atopia means to be without a territory, and the exhibition revolved around the artist’s fraught relationship with her Afrikaans cultural heritage. Bend to Her Will elaborates on an experience of betweenness and all the instability it entails. Taking the body in relation to nature, to space and to history as a point of departure, the show engages in an erotics of disorientation. It asks what might happen if we’re estranged from the world without anchorage or bearings. If instead of digging our heels into the earth, we remembered that earth is mostly nothing at all.
The dominant motif in Bend to Her Will, is the flower. From waterlilies to the otherworldly inflorescence of fungus, flowers feature prominently in the prints, paintings and mixed media pieces. By harnessing this very recognisable, even clichéd, icon, the artist mobilises the sentiments that attach to it. Art has made the flower symbolic shorthand for sex and death. Budding and in bloom it’s an emblem of female sexuality. Cut, it’s a staple ingredient in Vanitas painting – a flower in a vase is already dying, and to enjoy its beauty is to revel in decay.
Quietly but insistently, the works of Bend to Her Will explore the possibility that such absolutes can melt: that light can become dark, positive become negative, non-form eclipse form and boundaries blur
Sanell Aggenbach, born 1975 is a South African fine artist living and working in Woodstock, Cape Town. Her work deals primarily with the intersection of history and private narratives by considering the process of recall and interpretation. Her explorative work has secured her many achievements including winning the Absa L’Atelier award, 2003. Her work is represented in numerous public and private collections, including Sasol, ABSA, Spier, SABC, Red Bull (Austria) and Anglo Gold.
October 27, 2020
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