Writing Art History Since 2002

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Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1 – The Wailers, 2003, film still”Flavour of the year” is one of the things that often comes to the minds of those in visual art circles when the name Tracey Rose garishly, no doubt, ingratiates itself into polite conversation. One gets the sense that those in these circles would rather not pass any comment on this wild child of contemporary art, on record that is. Off the record, however, “She’s overrated!”After her latest exhibition at the Goodman Gallery, entitled The Thieveing Fuck and the Intagalctic Lay, in which Rose showcased her work Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1, I pondered on the validity of the right-off: “She’s overrated!”Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1 is a new body of work consisting of a series of iris prints, a site specific wall paper as well as two films on DVD, entitled Prelude and The Wailers. From her proverbial fascination with identity, Lucie’s Fur sees Rose following her umbilical cord all the way back to the beginnings of humankind: questioning God, turning religion (Christianity) on its head, and much like Pieter-Dirk Uys in his take on re-con-ciliation, in his latest satire The End is Naai, shows up the ‘con’ in the controversy surrounding the Big Bang. As Rose puts it, “What Lucie’s Fur is really about is the mythology of existence… the origin of humankind.”With Christianity and the fall of Lucifer as starting points, Rose casts an array of fictional characters that, through cleverly styled models, subvert symbols of Christianity to reveal what she believes to be falsely constructed grand narratives that serve to oppress those who question and thus oppose it.The first character, the Messenger, is an angel with a wild black afro and false eye-lashes, large white wings, and a magical constellation of glitter and colours all over the angel’s body, including blue, pink, yellow, green, etc. The Messenger is the angel that transcends all boundaries; racial, cultural, and religious.For Rose The Messenger is, in a sense, the genesis of all the images in the exhibition. These images include characters like Mme OEUF!, who depicts the Virgin Mary with a gold egg on her shoulders; Adam and Yves, portrayed by two so-called gay Zulu boys in a forest-like landscape; and La Messie, a black lesbian standing on a flowerbed with penises growing, like mushrooms, erectile fashion out of the ground. Although at times offensive to sensitive viewers, all four images are arresting images that are intelligently conceived and beautifully captured. The video art is perhaps the weaker element of the exhibition. Prelude sees Rose using the allure of her femininity – Lolita-style – as she runs around half-naked and periodically talking in a rather cutesy girlish tone. Wearing a colourful leotard with her breasts and genitals covered and portrayed as targets, and a large paper-mache penis worn as a hat on her head, Rose tells the story of how Lucie/Lucifer was pushed out of heaven by God because she/he dared to question him. While we may rate Rose’s performance as quirky and at times mildly provoking, we cannot ignore the fact that Prelude is badly filmed, pedantic, and even dull.The Wailers, a silent 16mm film, better reflects Rose’s filming skills. It is described as a “dream opera” in which five young South African boys clothed in traditional Hassidic attire play a game of underwater basketball against a backdrop evoking Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. The five men represent the five books of the Old Testament. Rose says the idea of the film came directly from a dream she had about Hasidic Jews playing basketball on the Wailing Wall.The film’s poetic dream landscape enhances one’s viewing experience. However, it also blurs the symbolism Rose is trying to create. So in the end, one is not always sure what she is trying to communicate. But, the film is certainly beautiful to watch.Now having seen and read Rose’s latest body of work, the question returns: is she “over-rated”? Definitely not. Her work is often intelligent and thought-provoking and often well-executed. She is also still a new kid on the block. I would thus reiterate what Koulla Xinisteris, curator of the SABC Art Collection, recently said about Rose: it will be interesting to see how her work grows as Rose matures as an artist.

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