Writing Art History Since 2002

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Warren Siebrits | Johannesburg

Sound is an important if overlooked determiner in contemporary art. Stefanus Rademeyer attempts to play with the values it is heir to by creating digitally composed sound sculptures, which, manifesting as video pieces, inform his wall-mounted graphic works. The unusual impetus for his show, which blends computer-generated prints with computer-generated sounds, necessitates focused reading.Titled Ideographs, Rademeyer’s second solo exhibition is problematised by theory. Paying tribute to the voices that inform one’s work was used through modernism and in its wake. As a strategy, though, it is laden with pitfalls: quotations can be too trite or too obscure, resulting in a literal trotting out of theory rather than allowing the ideas framed to leap off at associated tangents. Ideograph generally sidesteps these dangers; it offers thoughtful and fresh insight into the computer as a tool.The 11 prints are pristine. Each is dedicated to a practitioner in theory, architecture, music or art, all linked by their interest in structure. A work inspired by Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing neighbours one focusing on German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s ideas; American composer John Cage and English mathematical physicist Roger Penrose are grouped with American architect Daniel Libeskind, Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem and Buenos Aires-born mystical fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges. Marcel Duchamp and Gilles Deleuze are represented further into the gallery space.The Duchamp and Cage reflections are one-liners in their delicate yet uncontrollable tracery of cracked glass and crumpled paper, respectively, confronting the notions of chance. This description must be digested within Duchamp and Cage’s ideas. The quick interpretations for both these artists, the one engaging with the readymade, the other with sound in a chance-informed rubric, dovetail well with the artists’ working methodologies. By comparison, the Deleuze-referent pieces, while complexly explained, aren’t as visually strong: theory subsides into patternmaking; the visual metaphor is compromised.All the print works are slippery in their obscurity and apparent coldness, but beautiful in their levity. The Heidegger-inspired work, Being, uses the whirlyword as a matrix. Letters are arranged upside down, back-to-front, jumbled, but look closer: Heidegger’s key doctrinal ideas are buried here. The Laing work, Knots, degenerates from text into inarticulate scribbles; here lies the rub, linking visual prints to sound sculptures.Central to the space is a video sequence comprising four individual pieces, which essentially function to bring the prints to life. Dedicated to Duchamp and Cage, they use voice recordings. Visually, the works extrapolate on the sounds. The visualisations on Windows Media Player are a useful, if lesser parallel example – by contrast, Rademeyer’s sound sculptures are mesmerising. Hiccupping unintelligibly, four intersecting voices are translated digitally across a matrix. The most effective piece uses fluid as a visual conductor for the sounds. The substance of the fluid is not clear; it could be milk. The subtle dynamics in the fluid evoke smoke in their linear abstraction.Despite their limitations, these works hold the show together. They offer a layering of text evocative of a device used in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) or Michael Lessac’s Truth in Translation (2006), where the sounds of words in translation get layered. The upshot in works like this that deal with emotive catharsis, gives the gist of the context audibility and understandability on a subliminal, emotive level. For Rademeyer, the gist is abstracted; the poetry in the layering of the sound is not lost.

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