Writing Art History Since 2002

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Peter McKenzie & Abrie Fourie

Two photographers exhibited side by side. Peter McKenzie’s Vying Posie is black and white social documentary, a lucid, deeply felt essay on the township of Wentworth in Durban in which McKenzie grew up; Abrie Fourie’s The End of the World, which includes light-boxes, lambda prints on aluminium, and photogravures, is abstract and meditative. While the two shows have little in common, conceptually or formally, they are both deeply personal and their juxtaposition in this context sets up an interesting dialogue.The differences between these artists may be adumbrated through reference to a white garden chair that makes its appearance in both exhibitions. In McKenzie’s, the chair features in a shot of children playing basketball in a dusty yard. The basketball hoop, seen from below, is an ingenious adaptation of the chair so that the space between the seat and the arm forms the hole for dunking. The image is both poignant and funny, drawing attention to the poverty of the place and to the inventiveness born of necessity.The chair appears in Fourie’s series Crossing, which began as a documentation of a dangerous intersection in Pretoria where a truck had spilled a load of chairs in an accident. Fourie responds to this event by re-creating it while on a residency in New York, where he and some friends break several of the same variety of chairs in a field. He repeats the action in Mexico, breaking one more chair to complete the “event”. The remains of the last chair are mounted on Perspex fitted with a light and displayed -with photographs – as if in memory of the chairs broken in the name of art and, more seriously, as a kind of commemoration of those hurt or killed at that intersection.In Mckenzie’s documentary photography, the object, a broken chair, is a marker full of associations. But although he has composed his photograph around the object he has had nothing to do with its presence in the world. As a documentarian, he wants us to see the world as he sees it, but also to understand that he has happened upon the events and things that he documents. In Fourie’s conceptual approach, the chair’s objectness is a function of his intention. Unlike the chair in the documentary photograph, it comes into being as a direct result of the photographer’s acting upon it, shaping it into an idea. It is a happy moment for South African photography when a major museum explores, simultaneously, the creative possibilities of both these ways of looking at the world through the work of two such self-assured artists.

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