Writing Art History Since 2002

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Art on Paper | Johannesburg

Paul Edmunds,Fan, 2006, linocut,150 x 110 cmI recently joked with Paul Edmunds that I was researching his work for a hypothetical book I wanted to call ‘You can’t make me!’: Paul Edmunds and resisting the Protestant work ethic. While this was in jest, there’s definitely something productive about reading his work in this vein, and his exhibition Array is no exception. As with his previous outings, this exhibition explores what it means to deliberately show few objects in a market where the reverse is more often the case.We’re so conditioned to equate prodigious output with quality practice. When it comes to gallery visits, most viewers (myself included) fall into the trap of being impressed by dense shows, especially solo shows. Such exhibitions have a hard sell dynamic, urging one to buy into the artist’s commitment to their area. It’s often as if the surest way for artists to prove they’ve worked through their ideas adequately is to completely exhaust them with multitudes of objects. Edmunds’s approach, which he says eschews “overload and bombardment”, is an altogether more elegant and considered one. This show in particular operates via a very few carefully weighed artworks, three sculptures and two prints, to be precise. Alet Vorster at Art on Paper must be credited for sharing Edmunds’s vision and sticking with a sparse curation of works, despite the size of the venue and also the obvious financial risks in doing so. She speaks of showing in this manner as a kind of necessary luxury, allowing the viewer sufficient time with each work to fully grasp it.The works (2006 -7)continue Edmunds’s interest in processes. Fan is the possibly the most spectacular work on show, a measured explosion of Technicolor telephone wires. Closely packed at the base of the work, the wires extend out to different lengths at the top, carving veritable fjords out of the space above the work. Clearly the result of a very systematic accretion of base units (the individual wires), this work, like the others, explores what Edmunds calls “the accumulated gesture”. It seems to challenge the notion that time can only function as a component in media like video and film: the hours spent creating such a work are clearly a central part of what Edmunds is working with. He speaks of the time it takes to create such works as being absorbed into them, and of the works communicating this sense of time and its attendant weight to the viewer, even if only at a subconscious level.This sculpture is accompanied by a linocut, also called Fan (2006). It is the product of a similarly methodical process, this time the incising into linoleum. Yet on closer inspection the sense of system is charmingly undermined as one finds that the surface is enlivened by hundreds of little incidental printing marks. These float around like errant punctuation, unintentional references to the matter of language, and pulling productively against the otherwise aloof restraint of the work.Cord (2007), a woven section of ribbon cable culled from the realm of IT hardware, hangs like a giant plait from the gallery’s rafters. Yet this almost comical anthropomorphic quality doesn’t distract from its refined presence. Here one senses an interest in exploring how communication happens; this work in particular feels like a distillation of the complexity of conversation, verbal or digital. Unlike the multicolour of Fan, its uniform grey plastic covering encourages an appropriate consideration of textures and interweaving. Cord also sets up a dialogue with Fan by virtue of their use of types of wire from opposite ends of the history of telecommunications.The power of individual works on this show is amplified not only by their conceptual consistency but also, I would argue, by their relative sparseness. Curators and artists alike should be taking note: less is not necessarily Minimalist posturing, but can be a powerful way to pitch art in a culture of overstimulation.

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