Circa embraces whimsical, factual art

Published Nov 29, 2016


THE heavy rain could not keep art lovers away last Wednesday when the opening of Circa Cape Town took place. Testament to the manner in which the creative economy is expanding and flourishing new galleries open all the time, however a large one located in an historical building by the oldest, most established art brand – Everard Read – clearly made it an event to miss at your peril.

Cape Town’s well-to-do turned up in droves filling the cavernous two floor Ulundi building on Portsridge, overlooking the harbour. Where once in the 1800s port engineers rattled around in the stone building, it was filled with socialites, art buyers and industry people spying each other and the art of Beezy Bailey and young upstart Liberty Battson.

It was a good idea pairing a senior artist well known in moneyed social circles in Cape Town with a virtually unknown Joburg-based artist working in a minimalist abstract language. In this way gallerist, Charles Shields, had both bases covered, delivering on both the expected and the unexpected and cheeky– Battson’s exhibition is titled I bet you wish you did this.

I bet everyone there was wishing they were in Battson or Bailey’s shoes as the dots gathered next to their works, indicating sales or at least serious interest. The two artists work might be united by their bold use of colour but it could not be more different.

Bailey’s 1000 year Dance Cure exhibition is driven by intuition and relates to primordial mythology – that dance is a necessary form of expression and humanity. The theme is overstated, manifesting in dancing figures in almost every artwork on the exhibition. You find yourself attaching different feelings to these figures; some appear lonely, withdrawn and lost in their own worlds, while others look carefree and joyful.

Bailey might not be the best painter or artist, whatever that might mean in today’s artworld, but there is a compelling energy and sensation in these works. It could be attributed to the movement of the bodies, the expressiveness in combination with the very vivid and warm colour palette – reds, purples, pinks. He does sort of make you want to dive into this pretty world of dancing people, who are flowing and jiving and allowing themselves to be swayed by whimsy, emotion or intuition. He transports viewers a place they don’t often visit, where nothing matters and you can just be. Yoga studios around Cape Town are full of people trying to arrive there by any which way and somehow Bailey has captured this headspace or non-headspace driven by the body and not the mind.

This sense of mindlessness that his art relies on and captures may be why some commentators have dismissed it. For so long we have expected art to speak to our minds and not our bodies. This dialogue with the body that his art evokes was made real on the opening night with a performance by the Indoni dance group, choreographed by Sibonakaliso Ndbaba to an unreleased track created by Brian Eno.

With their bodies covered in bright body paint and emerging from a collection of Bailey’s scultpures echoing the dancing body motifs the performance initially appeared to enhance and accentuate his art, but it was too choreographed and tight. There shouldn’t have been a guiding sequence or rationale driving the movements. It would have been more interesting to be confronted with more intuitive, unstructured dancing, even by people who aren’t dancers. This might have defied expectations of a live performance on an opening night but it would have complemented the ethos underpinning Bailey’s art.

With the structure and form of her artworks being derived from internet data Battson is so obviously a product of her generation. There is no room for intuition, mood or whimsy in her art; each colour stripe in her barcode type paintings is determined by numbers, statistics.

Canvases are most often split into two with one side representing data from a local url and the other an American one. It is the versus the com. in other words. This makes for very dry, repetitive art. Each work looks like the one before, aside from a few alterations. This is algorithm art that might have been even more compelling had it been painted by a computer too.

Battson attempts to remove traces of her hand via these slick shiny coloured blocks, though she presents us with balls of all the masking tape used in creating the lines in the form of ‘sculptures’. Precisely square shaped they appear clinical too.

This seemingly ‘accurate’ art of hers, of course, is a foil for the slippery nature of the data and the issues, material it is meant to represent about the world. The statistics refer to immigration, xenophobia – all the real issues. Like most of us, she turns to the internet to provide insight, the answers, which not too unexpectedly are unreliable and contradictory with the data appearing different to the information on .com.

The bold straight lines offer some comfort, particularly when separated from the information they are meant to represent.

In this way ‘death’ looks pretty and colourful, though as certain as a straight line.

Fortunately, Bailey has the cure for all the malaise; a 1000 year-long jig. The 1000 year dance and I bet you wish you did this will show at Circa Cape Town until December 14. –- Sponsored text.

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