Immortalised by William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the phrase “nothing will come of nothing” has been on the minds of philosophers for centuries. Its trendy latin equivalent, nihil fit ex nihilo (or just ex nihilo if you’re into the whole brevity thing) speaks of the cosmological debate that goes all the way back to the origins of the universe, and is sometimes used to argue weighty topics like existence and the possibility of a omnipresent being that some like to call God.
In the case of artists, the phrase takes on a different meaning that comes to stand as a cipher for the creative impulse. As a means of addressing the mystical urges that govern artistic production, ex nihilo is used as a way of investigating where the by-products of this antic disposition of the artist comes from.
Pairing up this idea with the notion of the muse (another concept rooted in ancient Greek mythology) is Smith’s current group show, Out of Nowhere. Featuring 24 artists and 46 artworks, the show is held together by the invisible relationship that binds artists to the source of their inspiration. As a result the show is a virtual crush of painting, drawing and sculptural installation in a show centered on the ephemeral idea that something, somewhere deep in the imagination of the selected artists, was responsible for bringing the work into being.
Though an unusual curatorial approach, this method of planting a thematic seed in the mind of the viewer is instructive when deconstructing the works on a one-on-one basis. What remains is an open interpretative field that reveals the various idiosyncrasies evident in the artists approach to the subject of the muse. Flitting between figurative representation and abstraction the works do occasionally present some interesting dialogues that are orientated around the similarities between form and subject.
Entering the show the viewer is immediately greeted with the paintings of Banele Khosa and Jeanne Gaigher who both give the subject of the muse an erotically charged human form. In a stark comparison to these figurative works are the abstract compositions of Dale Lawrence hose heavily laden acrylic lines on paper find a synthesis with Byron Fredericks’ two chalk pastels on tracing paper.
Two streams of sculpture run through the show with Miggie Linders’ You Are Better off Doing Nothing and Katharien de Villiers’ The Waves/Wanderer Above the Fog both making use of new media installation whilst Joshua Stanley and Jill Joubert opt for a more traditional approach with wooden forms.
A curatorial highlight is the celestial conversation that occurs between Fred Clarke, Marsi van de Heuvel and Rosie Mudge, with each artist presenting a different interpretation of the cosmos. Clarke’s laboured surfaces in pen and ink find a quieter meditation in van de Heuvel’s images of the night sky where comet’s streak across the pictorial plane. Rosie Mudge’s giant triptych Closer, Still reveals a glittery surface that captures the gaseous clouds that hold the secrets of our universe, speaking directly to the title of the show “out of nowhere”.
Tapestry also makes an appearance in the works of Michaela Younge and Gina Niederhumer who present two very different approaches to the medium. Full of humor, Younge presents an internal bar scene stitched in felt titled After Thelma is Not There, Service is No Good, Bar Is No Fun which reveals a absurdist snapshot of a carnivalesque interior where a dog plays poker, a patron bleeds out at the bar whilst some dancing girls frolic among wild beasts. Conversely, Niederhumer presents internal dialogues ala Tracey Emin (whom she references) albeit with the raunchy bits.
Finally, the last word must go to Bert Pauw whose work exists in a dialogue all of it’s own. Collected on wall, his take on the muse resides in the ambilvalent potential of his chosen materials. Playing on the indeterminability evident in his titles, Pauw elevates the absurd to an uncanny game of semiotics. His caged tennis ball, Sacred Fragment Of Unconscious Joy, for instance speaks of an unfilled promise of play whilst Purity of an Ideal which features a pierced stack of time magazines replete with yellow dangling rope suggesting the instability of our post-truth era.
Out of Nowhere thus speaks of the cognitive emotive dissonance that artists use to manifest their production. It speaks of the earthly place of desire and the depths traveled by the subconscious and journeys to that unknown place where creation resides.