Writing Art History Since 2002

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Christine Dixie’s latest exhibition, Corporeal Prospects, is an extensive and thoroughly conceptualised exhibition. Consisting of works from Dixie’s early career up until her most recent offerings, the show gives the viewer an interesting trajectory of the artists work whilst navigating the voluminous Standard Bank Gallery space.

Dixie, who is currently a lecturer in the Fine Art Department at Rhodes University, obtained her degree in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand and her Masters degree at Michealis School of Fine Art. Her technical training is evident in the high standard of execution in the majority of her work that spans over a diverse range of media from installation, digital prints, mixed media and printmaking. However, Dixie’s’ finest accomplishment is in her printmaking which she renders with a meticulous hand. Even in the Long Descent I-IV, an etching and mezzotint, is a five-panelled piece that utilises the medium with significant effect. In each panel a figure- corpse-like, foetal, vulnerable, or animal, descend into a dark ochre expanse. Tracking the upper register of all the panels is a panoramic view of the mountains of an Eastern Cape landscape. It is an ominous composition. The figures assume helpless poses. They are naked, with their faces turned away or inaccessible to the viewer. We are unable to prevent their fall into an unknown space that is almost bloody in its hue. Above them an unpopulated landscape- apart from a tiny rural homestead- is curtained by a darned sky that portends trouble. Her, at times, pessimistic exploration of the South African landscape and the clinical approach she takes in articulating it reminded me of JM Coetzee’s textual evocation of similar themes. A connection also recognised by David Bunn in his discussion of her work. Dixie in a sense serves as a gendered equivalent to the unrelentingly clear prose of Coetzee. She too, recognises the cartography of South Africa in terms of its charged history, its relation to the corporeal and the trauma evidenced on both locales.She also identifies the uncomfortable fit white subjectivity has experienced, particularly within the Afrikaans settler culture, to a more democratised South Africa. Her childhood correspondence with her parents and their responses is included in the exhibit. Her naïve narrative provides us with fragments of a time in where racial and spatial divisions rendered the black individual just that, a fragment passing by when viewed in the comfort of a cushioned train compartment.Hide: to withhold or withdraw from sight is a particularly mesmerising piece. Located in a darkened room, a series of figures, objects and animals which appear in other pieces in the gallery float against a whitened background lit up by a supporting light box behind. Small circular perforations form less tangible forms amongst the more solid figures. The lit up composition gives the impression of a reliquary, giving the figures a sense of solemnity: a religious-cultural artefact of privileged inspection.Parturient Prospects is her most recent series of works that grapples with a gender sensitive interpretation of maternity that she often couches in religious rhetoric. Dixie’s dialogue with the maternal is a personal one and incorporates her own experience of the birth of her child by Caesarean section. Birthing Trays I-IX is a particularly strong series where the artist marries digital prints with the more traditional forms of print making. The birthing tray finds its origins in fifteenth century Europe where new mothers were brought food and drink on such trays. The tray also served as a potent magical item that served to ward off potential hazards in the birthing process. The imagery on the birthing tray references the pregnant figure, particularly during childbirth via Caesarean section, and the figures involved. Each tray is coupled with some form of food, receptacle or drink, which creates an engaging dialogue with the underlying image and highlights visually the gendered discourses that frame this process.

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