Writing Art History Since 2002

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Art on Paper Johannesburg

Once I saw and heard a man singing liturgical song. He was physically unrefined, yet he did it with such sincerity that the sounds emitting from his mouth seemed to be lines of colour that melded and intertwined, forming beautiful tendrils. For me, this man and his song evoke Influence, a work central to Kim Lieberman’s Human Matters.The work comprises silhouettes of five human types, quoting Lieberman’s own Sitting Cultures (2003). These ‘types’ are visual quotes from National Geographic, and the lines that surround them in Influence link them, implicitly linking humanity in its diversity. Communication, connections and their associated values have for years been Lieberman’s consuming focus.Human Matters is provocative. The works skirt the values that informed high Modernism in a manner that might not necessarily seduce everyone, however. Lieberman diversifies from using perforated stamp sheets as support to working on something equally unusual but beguilingly seductive: the jigsaw puzzle, which simultaneously connotes linkage, brain stimulation and play.A sub-theme in the exhibition focuses on ‘the butterfly effect’, coined by Edward Lorenz in 1963: “A butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear … the flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena.” Two works use images of butterflies to articulate this, but works like Who will you meet that will change your life? and the Human currents series also present a contingent understanding of the phenomenon.The exhibition is impressive in size, even if not all of its components are uniformly resolved; on occasion, the oil paint sits heavily on the surface, like felt, in the way in which it insinuates itself on the glossy cardboard surface. On others, the paint doesn’t cling comfortably to the surface, occasionally leaving an aura of oil. Most of the works subtly offer insight into mystical manipulations of image and content, yet others push too ambitiously beyond this and succeed rather, in being too easy-on-the-eye design manifestations.In several pieces, Lieberman meshes two puzzles with one another, revealing a silhouetted drawing. The effect, while subversive in its imaging, and evoking visual tricks, is astonishing, and often, as in Baby, almost invisible in its subtlety. Mesmerizing and meditative in the labour intensiveness evident through the technique involved, these works throw light on Lieberman’s working methodology. The work is ponderously constructed – like knitting it involves repeated actions, yielding, after much time, a transformation. The exhibition’s title offers a casual pun on the importance of human interaction, while the show presents deep yet easy to read work, and this, in a sense is its edge, but also its flaw. It is not prescriptive in its approach, yet in many respects skirts issues of Minimalism. The work White for instance, is a jigsaw puzzle, not simplified with an image in its readability, mediated only by its floated frame. Lieberman’s work attempts to fathom the core of human interaction: the jigsaw puzzle traditionally being the domain of recreational play. The manner in which the pieces are cut to interface with one another serves an entry point into her thinking that informs the visual gestures. These ideas are bold and fresh, yet, on the whole, the exhibition appears sterile, warranting investment of time in accessing individual pieces.

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