Writing Art History Since 2002

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The Muti Gallery | Johannesburg

Derrida “Dies”/”Derrida” Dies (for Robert Simon), 1999-2004, permanent marker on chip board, 880 x 240m Renegade poet, filmmaker and novelist Aryan Kaganof and Brazilian filmmaker Guto Bussab were seen singing together in a sleazy bar in Melville. Shortly afterwards the doors of the Muti Gallery were flung open to reveal Kaganof’s exhibition, Sanctuary, which the artist refers to as “the latest instalment in Kaganof’s multidisciplinary sequence The Work Of Art In The Age Of Digital Reproduction”. The space is contained in the offices Bussab uses to produce his advertising films. Bussab is an advertising filmmaker; this is significant since Kaganof remains resolutely uncommercial, even if after a few beers Kaganof admitted that he would not mind making a whole lot of money.The entrance to the exhibition was marked with the Sign of Tanit (Delos), which was placed at the entrance of houses in ancient Carthage and Phoenecia to repel evil powers. Kaganof came across this sign during a visit to the Greek island of Delos and adopted it as a leit motif in his work. This exhibition was held together conceptually by its contemplation of religiophilosophical concepts and their impact on the artist’s autobiography(y)ies. Kaganof’s work contains a multiplicity of philosophical references, with other references radiating out of the work like ripples after a stone has been dropped into a lake. With works entitled Prosopopeia, Apophasis, Apeiron, Anamnesis, and Paregron, the casual visitor might feel lost without their dictionary. But Kaganof’s work functions at many levels.You could rush home and look up these words, and find that prosopopeia means “personification, or the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects or abstract concepts”. Or you could just enjoy the frisson of excitement generated by familiar, but forbidden words, like scatological. Or you could just resist the desire to pose as someone very clever and let the visuals speak.Standing back from Kaganof’s works, each had a mandala-like quality, the meandering patterns lulling one into a meditative mood. In Buddhism a mandala is an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation; each object has significance, representing some aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of some guiding principle. For example, the image used on the invitation, The Song of Solomon, is the Biblical chapter, written from within the painting.According to that artist “Hebrew priests in the Egyptian period would consume tref (forbidden meat) symbolically one day of the year in order to absorb and exorcise the ‘crimes’ that were committed by the people. The marriage of the epic and the sacred text in the painting symbolises the highest mystical truth; that there is not good and evil, there is only what is”.And it is at this point, as one moves closer to the mandala, that you notice that Kaganof’s brush-strokes are in fact words, those signs and symbols that gave French philosopher Jacques Derrida so many sleepless nights. Which brings us to the site-specific work, Derrida “Dies”/”Derrida” Dies (for Robert Simon). The work consists of one entire wall covered in a text painstakingly applied in situ by the artist. Created as it was a few weeks after the death, on October 8 2004, of one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, the work serves as a tribute to the man who invented deconstruction.Kaganof and Derrida seem to share a deep suspicion of words – and a deep fascination with their origins and they way they are constructed into language. Kaganof says he became obsessed with the idea of language as the fall from grace – strange for someone who can be found obsessively scribbling away in his signature font as if he is channelling some demented Greek god. But that’s the thing about paradox – it’s so paradoxical. Andrea Vinassa is a Johannesburg-based freelance writer

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