Writing Art History Since 2002

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Franchise Johannesburg

Forget about such sentimental notions as local diversity and rather embrace the more profound idea of global connectedness. That seems to be the message conveyed in this exhibition. In Theresa-Anne Mackintosh’s case, she has supplied us with a carefully constructed international vocabulary to decode that message. Hers is a fusion, similar to that of Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Tam Ochiai of Japanese pop art traditions, such as anime (animated cartoon films) and manga (Japanese strip cartoons/comics). These she combines with otaku (a form of Japanese geek sub-culture) and ‘Merry’ (the well-known Japanese teenage street fashion cult) in what can only be labelled as poku (the synthesis of pop and otaku). Typically, Mackintosh’s motives are naïve, fantasy and toy-like images used to communicate some of the primal conflicts in the human psyche, such as feelings of abandonment, loneliness and anxiety that accompany emergent, prepubescent sexuality. These feelings she tries to express (and contain) in the numerous ceramic baby-sculptures, grouped in a square, roped-in playpen in the middle of the gallery. Moving around this central installation is like creating an own maelstrom.In contrast, the figures and animals painted on the walls, completing Mackintosh’s installation in the gallery, appear rather detached. The literature on this type of poku maintains that the viewer is supposed to experience some sense of menace emanating from these creatures. Such a feeling, however, is curiously lacking in this exhibition. Sentiment and nostalgia would be a better description.Mackintosh’s installation is deliberately posited as a non-linear narrative, which is rather curious because of the phenomenal success Mackintosh achieved in her first (fully fledged narrative) installation, Jackie the Kid (2004). With that installation, Mackintosh accessed Julia Kristeva’s very interesting theoretical concept of “adolescence”, which, according to Kristeva, constitutes an “open psychic structure” that is predominantly influenced by mass media society. Mackintosh seems to be celebrating the emotion (or lack thereof) of immediate gratification, of a must have the toy mentality, over notions of conceptual creation and critical thinking.Ruan Hoffmann does the same in and with his ceramic plates, urns and pots, albeit in a rather self-conscious manner. Inscriptions on his plates read: “I draw, walk, sleep, think, eat, I read, I think about what might happen to me, I worry myself, then I, appear rather self-indulgent. Despite the fact that much of the catalogue essay is devoted to arguing the cross-over nature of Hoffmann’s art, it is a far cry from one of the irreverent inscriptions Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winner, put on one of his vessels: “Pottery is the new video.” In the final analysis, Hoffmann’s works remain decorative items. What he does achieve, very successfully, is undermining conventions of surface decoration with his imagery and commentary.If Mackintosh’s installation constitutes an act of appropriation of a global vocabulary, Hoffmann’s ceramics are acts of subversion of classical traditions in Chinese pottery. The two artists, whose work was presented as distinct solo projects, both connect well with the global art world.Wilhelm van Rensburg

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