Bell-Roberts Cape Town
Notwithstanding Lyndi Sales’ skilfully executed work on the universal themes of chance, loss, memory, and the fragility of life, her exhibition 1 in 1 000 000 chances is somewhat marred by a bewildering absence of one material fact: The point of departure here is a plane crash. As a memorial to the 159 people who died when South African Airways (SAA) Flight 295 crashed, the show is a respectfully unsentimental remembrance of the dead and a coolly intellectual expression of the political intrigue that rigged the odds of an otherwise remote occurrence. Travelling from China to South Africa, the Helderberg, the name of this particular Boeing B-747-244B, caught alight and nose-dived into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, leaving scant evidence of the cause. Speculation at the time, later explored in Truth and Reconciliation Commission enquiries, was that the plane was on a government-backed transport mission ferrying highly volatile, military cargo. Details of the incident remain shrouded in mystery. Drawing on the subtleties of cartography, the intricacies of collage, the fragile properties of materials (paper, wood, string) and universally accessible symbols, Sales gives visual expression to philosophically profound questions. Her personal stake in this exploration of chance and destiny is the loss of her father in the crash. By assiduously avoiding reference to this point, and understating political indictment, Sales succeeds in provoking private musings on human vulnerability to the whims of fate. In the visually rich 59° 38E 19° 10S she frames her themes in the understated elegance of a softly toned map of the sea bed surrounding the crash area, dotted with symbols from playing cards and artefacts of an archaeological site. Overlaid with a paper cut out in the form of seaweed, the detailed contour lines of the area are indistinct. The only cold certainty is the location of the wreckage, marked by 159 red pins positioned around longitude and latitude lines of red string. Also map-based, but less subtle in its symbolism is Ocean flow / air flow / peak flow, which features the old SAA springbok logo, banknotes and a box of Lion matches, opened to reveal red dice. The installation 159 life vests stands as a haunting icon of collective loss. Finely translucent paper vests rest beneath a ceiling of seaweed. Lit from below, they create a column of light in the blackness of the ocean floor while audio from the airplane’s black box recordings drones in the background. Poignantly ironic and deftly evocative, the piece works as an elegant memorial to these 159 hapless victims of circumstance and a quiet expression of the ephemeral nature of life. With respect to Sales’ well-conceived and skilfully executed work, the narrative thread and depth of the show is lost without the factual background provided by Pippa Skotnes’ catalogue essay, entitled ‘Curating the gravesite’, which in itself would have been a fine title for the show.