1 - 31 October 2015
Bronwyn Lace’s Response is an exhibition in dialogue with Neels Coetzee’s Crucible, and elements of Coetzee’s exhibition remain in the CIRCA Gallery space, setting up a contrapuntal dynamic between the works of the two artists.
Both exhibitions have been curated by Koulla Xinisteris. The idea arose out of an abiding sense of congruity in the spatial and thematic interests of the two sculptors, and was distilled in many hours of conversation between Xinisteris and Lace. Along with the enlarged skulls of Measure (2015), which were exhibited for the first time as part of Crucible, Response is a posthumous meditation.
Lace’s connection to Coetzee’s life and work runs deep. Some of the inspiration for this project arose out of her early-career interest in his work, which she first encountered at the Durban Art Gallery in early 2006 before she met him. Although she was never taught by him, she came to know him well in the final years of his life and was present at the time of his death. As a friend and fellow artist, she took part in the Greek rituals that were carried out to mark Coetzee’s passing, witnessing his last breath, and the intimacy and tenderness with which he left the world.
Lace’s early installation works reveal her abiding interest, since her student days, in the fragile and numinous. Her trajectory is imbued with auratic effects – layered light ameliorating traces of disaster and death.
Her response was forged in relation to Coetzee’s Skull Series. For Coetzee, the skull is the locus of transmutation. While he fixed his focus on the skull – the seat of thought and of the contradictions inherent to the the power of mind – Lace gravitates to the pelvis, the birthing point for transformation/new possibilities. The pelvis is rendered with light. Its fragility yet steady illumination brings comfort and release.
Lace’s light sculpture, Ascension, was inspired by the memory of Coetzee’s hair being caressed as he was dying. This memory and the notion of spirit intertwine in the interplay of silver gut and light, gesturing toward the idea of transcendence or metamorphosis.
In her two-dimensional x-ray works, the golden thread is the source of light that ameliorates the darkness – in this case the darkness that might lurk within the ailing body.
Although there are great similarities between the work of Lace and Coetzee, their materials are also markedly dissimilar, their forms resonating with individual iconography. Whereas Coetzee’s works are bronzes, watercolours and drawings, Lace’s repertoire comprises resin, gut, x-rays, silver and gold thread and light.
Productive tensions are set in motion by the juxtaposition of solid and translucent forms. The conscious spatial shapes surrounding the sculptures are charged with presence, prescience, predicament, and shared concerns emanate from the play of tragedy and vitality in the works’ bodily, sensual surfaces.
Experienced in intimate engagement with each other, these works prompt uneasy queries in relation to the nature of life, death and transcendence, giving force to the inconclusive and the unknown. Encountering the layering of light in Lace’s work in relation to Coetzee skulls, figures and shields is an experience of simultaneous unease and comfort.
KOULLA XINISTERIS is an independent curator who has been involved in creating platforms and spaces for contemporary artists for over 15 years. She was director of the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios from 1998 to 2010, and is curator of the SABC Art Collection – one of the most substantial public collections in South Africa.