Blank Projects art review: Finding meaning in every aspect

By Danny Shorkend Time of article published May 7, 2017

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ntil June 3

Senzeni Marasela and Asemahle Ntlonti

An odd work greets one as one enters Blank Projects. One is presented with different coloured plastic plates by Ntlonti. The text by Thuli Gamedze explains, “an installation of colourful plastic plates marked with the family names of people who live close by in the Eastern Cape, refers again to death, to the borrowing of plates for funerals, to another action of living together, eating together – amongst lives passed on from here.”

It is curious considering the seeming celebratory tone, the dance of primaries, the swagger of circles and the play of chaos and order, to recontextualise as a reference to the pain felt by some, in particular the black body.

Then there is the more obvious reference to such pain. Consider Amabali, where a metal grill and painted “flag” implicate the South African police in another raid of sorts, as the familiar blue and yellow stripes indicate.

Her Umthandazo, a wooden stick is equally enigmatic, and the markings on the wall call to mind the notion that the stick, at once ceremonial and potentially creative, is simultaneously a tool of revolution as it is potentially one of violence and danger.

Yet Marasela’s approach is rather different: Wool on shawl works that seem to imply the traditional alongside a new approach.

But without deviating philosophically, let us once again heed the words of Gamedze and determine her intentions. She refers to Theodorah, the artist’s alter ego, named after the artists’ mother. She writes, “Theodorah, who lives in Mvenyane in rural Eastern Cape, longs across thousands of kilometres for her husband Gebane, who works in Johannesburg”.

In the above readings, it is as if the artist leaves clues: lines of colour (that are supposed to refer to police vans); grills (referring to the police van or cells) and blankets with woollen red additions that are said to mean a traditional sitting or awaiting coupled with the drawings that are said to represent possible scenarios regarding the one for whom she awaits.

Yet the philosophical question is: how do we relate sign to referent? Without the context, could one in fact make such correlations?

One might here remark on Kripke’s Rule-Following Paradox, wherein anything could be said to correspond with anything else. In this sense, any sign could refer to many possible referents.

In this sense, one could approach the material stuff – the artworks – and so interpret with no necessary set of truths or meanings. If this is sound, then it follows that these artworks could have multiple meanings. Does that then negate the intended script?

An intended script would imply a master narrative and since the post-modern notion that there is no one such superstructure, therefore ought to welcome an open-ended script.

At the same time, the defined, local script as formed by the artist and the art context is probably the point of departure, but one has to ask to the question whether the master narrative of art history is accurate or not.

If it is, then the artists described herein are using the formal language of art to refer to other things in a way that has developed and evolved over time.

If not, then the very question as to the existence of art is brought to the fore.

That is, to the extent that art exists does it not pacify all attempts to refer to certain issues and aspects of life?

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