Writing Art History Since 2002

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Gordart Gallery | Johannesburg

Brian Eno, visual artist and accomplished musician and producer, spoke recently at the Design Indaba. His lecture dealt with the eternal question of what constitutes art and how humankind is able to appreciate it. Eno argues that it is predicated on one’s capacity to envision alternate cultural and conceptual spaces created by the artist. In many ways Eno’s “Theory of Mind” rings true when dealing with personal attachments, the subject matter of Stephan Erasmus’ latest installation.Personal relationships, like art, are sensual, visual and cerebral experiences that require one to envisage another point of view. Erasmus works with a composite selection of song lyrics in order to explore fundamental human emotions of love and sorrow experienced in romantic relationships. Set up in a small room in this multi-roomed gallery, the installation uses a Nick Cave song, Love Letter, as its conceptual base. Selected words from the song, whose narrative articulates Cave’s plea for his lost love to return, flow rhythmically and run along the upper register of the space’s three walls. Each letter is attached to a number of black threads, which intersect across the room in a matrix of intangible, encrypted text, thereby creating a second layer of articulation. This layer was sourced from The Song of Songs, a Christian passage that is a conversation between lovers with commentary from their friends. The inaccessibility of this code points to the complex web of communication and miscommunication involved in human connections, and reveals the paradoxical intimacy and remoteness of the love narrative.Erasmus adds another, final textual layer by including personally significant lyrics, from artists such as Veruca Salt, Snow Patrol, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. Torn and folded into small paper parcels, these miniature love letters were attached to the melancholic net of threads. Hung at various levels, they created an immersive installation space. Again, the unreadable nature of the text suggest the loss involved in a terminated relationship, a physical absence coupled with an all-consuming presence of the others absence.Initially, I felt that the lack of sound in the installation compromised a thorough exploration of the lyric format. However, through the methodical weaving of a textual code and the rhythmic patterns of the readable text, an aural presence is achieved. The final result is a complex documentation of love in palimpsest style that is poignant without being saccharine.

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