Gerhard Marx I Warren Siebrits I Johannesburg
Like the breadcrumb markers in Hansel and Gretel, maps have always provided human beings with a reassuring reference to the known and charted universe. But then, of course, the birds ate the crumbs and maps have frequently been completely wrong – a subjective dogma imposed or willingly embraced by the unadventurous. Those of us less enamoured of the world see maps as an unwanted restriction. We despise the safety and control they introduce, harbouring secret desires to be mapmakers ourselves – to step out into the pre-colonised unknown and get tangled in the jungly undergrowth of our consciences. Maps have the power to reduce travellers to tourists. There is therefore something intrinsically exciting about the childlike violence of cutting up a map, taking it to pieces.For the past five years, Gerhard Marx has been doing just that, creating works composed of map fragments, predominantly fragments of South African maps. But Marx’s maps are not entirely destroyed or discarded. His business with maps is neither anarchic nor nihilistic. Instead they have been reconstituted with great care and deliberation. “Drawing with map fragments is an extremely slow process,” reads the accompanying text. “It is a process of lingering on a line or shape, causing the artist to draw on memory or other internal reference points often found hidden in the map itself.”In this sense Marx’s work is deeply postmodern. The classical map projecting an apparently objective omniscient worldview is slashed to pieces, dethroned to be reconfigured according to unapologetically subjective impulses. But there is a newfound order in all this subjectivity. Figures emerge from the lines of the maps. Skulls, heads, reclining figures, feet are superimposed on the landscape which is now less a physical code than a metaphysical context.Frequently bits of the map are missing. The bodily topography breaks down into a tumble of squiggles in the area of the human head or solar plexus, subtly hinting at emotional or mental breakdown. Marx’s conceptual engagement with memory and geography is entirely convincing in this new body of work, but in terms of form I was most drawn to an older work, Untitled [Homeland], exhibited in the womb of the gallery along with his theatrical sketches and sculptural objects. In this work the topographical texture of the map seems to matter more as the three-dimensionality of the landscape is transformed into the crumpled sheets upon which the figure is lying – map transformation as poetic gesture.