“Hello. I’m in here.”Just finished sorting out my video piece.”Oh cool. Sjoe, I’m like terrified by this work.”What? This net? Why?”Look at those shadows! They are all looming and gnarled and grasping. It looks like they are moving towards you.”Oh, yeah, I guess. Seeing it out of context.”I get the old four-poster bed with tattered mosquito net vibe. The rhythm of the metronome reminds me of breathing. It’s pretty nightmarish.”The rhythm does make you feel uneasy. Ha! I’m going to tell Katherine that she is giving people nightmares.”Oh, is Katherine the artist?”Yes. Katherine Spindler. Her work is actually all nautically themed. So that motion is supposed to be the sea and these are like fishing nets.”Oh, yes that makes sense.”Just shows how weird these exhibitions are, taking fragments of exhibitions to make a new exhibition.”
“Hello. I’m in here.””Just finished sorting out my video piece.””Oh cool. Sjoe, I’m like terrified by this work.””What? This net? Why?””Look at those shadows! They are all looming and gnarled and grasping. It looks like they are moving towards you.””Oh, yeah, I guess. Seeing it out of context.””I get the old four-poster bed with tattered mosquito net vibe. The rhythm of the metronome reminds me of breathing. It’s pretty nightmarish.””The rhythm does make you feel uneasy. Ha! I’m going to tell Katherine that she is giving people nightmares.””Oh, is Katherine the artist?””Yes. Katherine Spindler. Her work is actually all nautically themed. So that motion is supposed to be the sea and these are like fishing nets.””Oh, yes that makes sense.””Just shows how weird these exhibitions are, taking fragments of exhibitions to make a new exhibition.”The current exhibition at the Michaelis Gallery, literally titled Masters Grad Show displays a selection of works by MA graduates of late 2011 and early 2012. The work on display is strictly selected from the final exhibition of graduating students. A show of this nature poses curatorial and critical challenges. The works are not overtly related but are united by a single group to which each artist belongs, here the outgoing masters class. The works have been removed from the conceptual and aesthetic context of the individual final exhibitions and must now be read through the institutional frame of Michaelis. One work in particular on the Grad Show has shown me that what I originally thought would be a curatorial disability can in fact be transposed into a strategic device. The re-contextualising of Katherine Spindler’s work Wave allows it greater room for interpretation.Spindler’s Wave is an intricate web-nest made delicately of paper salvaged from academia. Her surname “Spindler” is oddly apt at describing the spindly, woven net of paper and cast shadows she has created. The spider-like paper frame fills the majority of the darkened room in which the work is installed. The nets creep up the gallery walls and hang from the ceiling. In the heart of the tangle, a small light glides mechanically in a regular, rhythmic arc. The movement of the light spins off ethereal shadows that grow and recede, suggestive of breathing. Sitting on the low wooden bench you are forced to look up at the shadows that loom and lurch around and seemingly toward you. Standing in the doorway of the Michaelis gallery side room, I felt afraid, and momentarily frozen. I was disorientated, having moved from the well-lit gallery proper into the darkened space. Being confronted with movement directed outwardly from a mobile source is baffling. I was taken off-guard, unsettled. Instead of the usual loop-track of videos projected on the left hand wall, the space is ambiguously occupied. Like many other people, as a child,I was afraid of the combination of darkness, stillness and silence. I recall waking at night to discover that one of my limbs had escaped the blanket and a bare foot was exposed to the chilly air. I would lie perfectly still, frozen wanting nothing more than to be hidden entirely. The silence and stillness would amplify any noise or movement dramatically. I would be frightened to move or even breath. I would be trapped, terrified my foot might be seen, but if I moved it, terrified that my movement would be detected. I would edge my foot in so slowly that the movement could be barely seen or heard. Then I would lie stiffly under the blanket, tangled in my pyjamas and sweating.Adult fear is less forgiving than childhood fear. I never asked myself what I was afraid would happen if I broke the silence or stillness of the dark as a child. The fear was real without justification. Back in the present day, I found myself sitting on the bench in front of Spindler’s work trying to rationalise my apprehension, while the fluctuating shadows continued to surround me mockingly. The exchange of words I shared with Nina Liebenberg, another masters graduate exhibiting on the show, shifted the meaning of Wave. I learnt that Spindler’s body of work was titled “At Sea”, and revolved around the time she spent on a Hospital ship in West Africa nursing a dying close friend. Sitting on the wooden bench I began to recognise the motion of the tide in the rhythm of the single swinging light. The paper installation appears as much net-like as web-like (my initial reading). What I found most fascinating is that the change of context lent a new interpretation to the structural elements of the work, yet the overall sensory experience remained unchanged. Fear, whether it is a childish irrational fear of the dark or an adult fear of the inevitability of death, manifests itself in the same way as a physical response. The work continues to conjure complex psychology being read outside of its original context.This is the beauty of a group show. Often as a writer or curator, you look for works that resonate or converse together. You might overhear a murmuring from which you can fabricate a dialogue. In the catalogue preface the director of Michaelis, Stephen Inggs, addresses the particular task of the Master’s programme and student. According to the curator, Cara van der Westhuizen, the show takes the more nebulous theme of addressing “notions of the passage of time.” I noticed a recurring coincidental theme within the Masters Grad Show of the absent or dismembered figure. Rossouw’s Cenotaph, shows severed legs, a memorial ostensibly dilapidated. Palte’s Family, an installation of eight oil paintings, contains ghostly fragments and suggestions of figures. Bezuidenhout’s landscapes are largely unpeopled. These demonstrate attempts to make sense of the often haphazard juxtaposition of works that result from shows that exhibit a particular selection of artists. Perhaps rather than being wholly distracted by the new relationships that emerge between works in the context of a group exhibition, we should simply enjoy the works outside of the context of the artist’s particular oeuvre. That way we can indulge our childhood fears before being humbled by the theme of death.