AKRASIA. A solo mixed media exhibition by Marlise Keith. At Worldart gallery until December 1. DANNY SHORKEND reviews

AKRASIA refers to the ancient Greek concept that one somehow lacks the will to do what ones knows is good for oneself, instead possibly subsiding into the opposite. And indeed taken as a whole, Keith’s drawings, paintings and sculptural objects appear to harbour a tension psychologically, and as expressed through the various media. That is, there is a search for a serious sense of wholeness and coherence only to contradict that with the sensuous, lustful and quirky pop-artish signature style.

Thus one finds that while the artist (and the viewer) may will intellectual clarity, there is the indefinite engulf of the “other” side – that to the extent that the artist finds a kind of untouchable sanctity, there is equally the looming monster or the egotistical desire either for reclusiveness or excessive expression.

There is a definite style that runs through the work, be it her mobiles, objects, painting/drawing and various collage elements including beadwork and mosaic, the latter two methods deployed with the help of employed artisans from the Qubeka bead studio and Spier Arts Academy respectively (yet following the designs of the artist).

There is a sense of constant iteration: little lines evenly spaced; plant-like forms; pins and nails in certain patterns; the use of found materials “tamed” into definite shapes and the egg form that usually loses shape as various forms jut in and out.

This aesthetic predilection has a dual purpose: on the one hand it tantalises the eye in such a way that one finds oneself empathetically reaching out to these works and yet on the other hand it repels.

Consider for example one figurative “sculpture” that is encased in glass - or the nails for that matter.

Less obvious are the psychological elements: eyes looking outward, yet disembodied; mouths that are full as if seduced by the beauty of sensation and plants that perhaps symbolise the apparently absent figures.

Deeper yet, there are also monsters.

The artist often incorporates dream symbolism and in this world or dimension logic is suspended or operates as a higher form of logic. Perhaps Jung and others are right and in fact dreams are a portal to the unconscious.

Through coming to understand our dreams perhaps individuation may take place, On the hand, it tells us that our apparently conscious self, ego and reason is but the tip of the ice berg and not the real motivator or determinant of our thoughts, speech and action. If that is the case, then the title of the exhibition is that much stronger for the very notion then of ones willing and motivating action often is not realised precisely because other, deeper or less accessible parts of the mind impinge on our decision making processes and habits.

Given then that reason is suspect does not spell the end of civilization and send us into barbarism.

For reason itself is a mere tool deployed by the will. Furthermore, reason is simply a rationalization of certain axioms albeit of the individual, social group or an ideological system. Thus to topple reason from its pedestal, to proclaim for example that Western art is not the absolute and “classic” standard is possibly a movement forward and moreover, to recognise the contradictions within the self, even with the veneer of reason, is possible a motivation to integration.

So that the artists call of “please” written on some of the works and forms that are at once beautifully feminine and then morph into something potentially negative, perhaps suggest that philosophically the self - self in relation to others and self in relation to nature - is fraught with tension.

By exposing the dualities of life, a sense of wholeness – sensually and spiritually – emerges.

The sense that I gather from her work is that of a labour of love.

A certain tenderness amidst coarseness is evident and one may surmise that her odd curiosities in particular, her mobile sculptures and objects are symbols of the inner world that the artist shares with us.

How one interprets it will depend on what the viewer brings to the work, so that art is merely a lens through which one can see oneself in many respects.

There is a profound sense of willing to make something and yet a letting go, literally allowing the fabric (one such material she uses) to express itself, that aesthetics, lust, attraction, connection and being precedes and supersedes the capacity to abstract and remain aloof. One has to get dirty to be clean.

Or in other words to quote Tennyson: “Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all”.

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