01.08.15 – 19.09.15
Infinite Loop is Kate Gottgens’ second solo exhibition with SMAC and introduces a survey of the artist’s production since her 2007 solo exhibition Asleep Inside You. The exhibition includes many examples of Gottgens’ subsequent oeuvre, but centres on her two most recent bodies of work; Ghost Album and Infinite Loop.
A conceptual painter, Gottgens continually interrogates the how and why of representation and the mechanics of image-making. A lover of paradox and ambiguity, she rids her visual narratives of beginnings, endings and anything conclusive, so that multiple exegetical possibilities eliminate any single definitive reading.
Working from photographic sources, Gottgens transforms them by weaving in fresh scenarios that express her fascination with psychological states, history, stifling bourgeois conventions and the intermingling of the banal and the brutal. An innovator with many purely idiosyncratic styles and techniques at her command, the artist always applies a different approach to the wide variety of themes she tackles.
Since her debut in 1993, the artist has cast a critical gaze on the idealised “South African dream”. She took snapshots steeped in the optimism of affluent 60’s and 70’s suburbia, and turned them into edgy painterly evocations of “the ennui and malaise beneath the surface of everyday life.” The sense of a serial killer behind the change hut, or a black mamba in the campervan, yields in her mature work to a subtler, more nuanced preoccupation with the elegiac themes of memory, mortality, death and decay.
Ghost Album and Infinite Loop broadly divide into two thematic categories. The first of which is rhapsodic celebrations of the innocence of youth, and plangent laments for its inevitable loss as seen in Oh, Green World (2015); Field of the Cloth of Gold (2015) and Milk Teeth (2015).
Each painting consists of an enchanted circle, a sunlit glade bathed in radiant yellows, oranges and gold and surrounded by verdant greens where a ring of girls attired in white insouciantly play. However encroaching shadows, dark branches, pools of shade and sinister profiles intimate that this charmed world is threatened by the development of inner psychological forces and malign outside influence.
Gottgens’ lyrical flair, her sensitivity to emotive colour, the expressive power of shape and line, and the baleful overtones of darkness counterpoint jejune delight with a sense of indefinable threat.
The place, the features and costume are cursorily indicated and all detail elided. The figures are archetypes, rather than individuals, and the images transcend time and place, and achieve a universal resonance.
Metaphor enriches these cloyingly lovely visual utterances: the round configurations resemble clock faces: the circle of figures represent digits, and the image proclaims the finality of the cycles of life and death and the irretrievability of the past. Paintings of babies and skeletons further confirm this melancholy truth. However, the act of painting miraculously makes time stand still, perpetuating the artist’s exquisite, yet fleeting imaginings in visuals as hazy and elusive as memory itself.
The many layers of meaning steep the image in mystery which is compounded by the subterranean world of menace, violence and brutality concealed beneath the beguiling veils of paint. Brooding spectral chimera and phantasmal visions in smoky greys and misty half-tones constitute Gottgens’ other forte. Her source materials are anonymous, turn of the century photographs of forgotten events and long deceased individuals, and it is these ghostly presences that she rescues from oblivion, resurrecting them in strange, mirage-like paintings.
In Zeitgeist (2015) a group of men in formal Edwardian suits and hats solemnly stand to attention as they hearken to a brass band commemorating the First World War or some national holiday. The whole ethos of Empire, of war memorials, heroism and the supreme sacrifice is reconstructed with an irony that proves almost unbearably poignant as the ideology that sustained it has been so ruthlessly discarded.
A mushroom cloud looms over the horizon in Sea Ablaze (2015), where the entire canvas ignites in a conflagration of fiery reds, yellows and pinks. Despite the apocalyptic overtones, this is a festive scene of men and women boating and swimming. The title gives nothing away: the narrative remains incomplete, and the spectacle unclear. Confronted with this baffling sight, the viewer craves additional information, and when none is forthcoming, as in most of Gottgens’ canon, the mystery becomes insoluble and the image indelible.