Writing Art History Since 2002

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Obert Contemporary Johannesburg

Gina Waldman is known for her claustrophobic compositions of kitsch paraphernalia, the artist stating that she is interested in notions of taste, consumerism, excess and kitsch. True to form, her most recent exhibition, Shrines, is kitschy, excessive and playfully tasteless although not without concept and skill. Co-owner of the fashion label Two, she draws most of her media and inspiration from this complementary activity.Her works are textured and tactile material constructions pinned, threaded and glued into a series of deep-set box frames. These frames are evocative of sacred niches that house intricate and at times bejewelled surfaces. The format induces the receptive mode of the Victorian curiosity cabinet, whose contents are made an object of fascination. A series of these shrines leads the viewer to the main wall at the rear of the gallery where the majority of these shrines are mounted in a random tessellated fashion. This mode of display has an opulent effect. The media that constitute the pieces are haberdasheries, thread, and pieces of tapestry, sequins, hairbrush ends, hair, false nails and pins. The use of materials that evoke bodily matter and margins recall nkisi, a sacred Congolese fetish object. In couching these mundane items in such a manner, these odds and ends of predominantly female labour are revered and preserved as sacred mementos. Unfortunately, the clean metal frames did not compliment the worked and nostalgic aesthetic of the display. Similarly, slightly more dramatic and atmospheric lighting would have enhanced the devotional qualities of the works.Her tapestry reproductions of Degas’ ballet dancers and the buxom redhead in Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) are perhaps the most engaging pieces. There is an obvious subversion of the masculine fine arts medium of oil painting in rendering them as a tapestry. However, the works are further complicated by the resemblance of the tapestry squares to pixilated digital imagery. Waldman plays with a variety of boundaries in her work: the secular and the profane, public patriarchal structures and female domestic labour, as well as the laboured craft versus fine art binary. Similarly, she prods at notions of good taste by producing works that both engage one in a visceral manner yet overpower in their excessiveness. Waldman’s presentation of these liminal objects as shrines, objects marking the boundary between the secular and spiritual world, is an appropriate conceptual choice and ties the exhibition together in a coherent fashion.

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