Art that speaks for itself: exhibit skillfully pairs artworks with audio

Mary Corrigall checks out 'The Confessional' exhibition at Joburg's Absa Gallery

25 July 2017 - 12:51
Peter Mammes' 'Childcare' is paired with an audio detailing his experience of abortion from a man's perspective.
Peter Mammes' 'Childcare' is paired with an audio detailing his experience of abortion from a man's perspective.

Never have I been more certain that art has usurped religion than when I stood in the cavernous entrance of the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art. Unfortunately, what I saw is under embargo until this Cape Town museum opens its doors in September, but I can reveal that Thomas Heatherwick's design is cathedral-like and will usher into its bosom many new art converts.

The Confessional, an exhibition curated by artist Liberty Battson at the Absa Gallery, further affirms how art is fulfilling the role religion or churches once played.

The confession box structures might not be present in this exhibition as the title implies - the focus is on the process that takes place within. A fundamental aspect of the confession booth is secrecy; the penitent might be on view to the public but can't be seen by the priest - only heard.

Each artwork is paired with an audio recording detailing the artist's "confession". The headphones which hang by an invisible fish gut next to each work remind visitors of the invisible works tied to the visual ones. These pairings are successful as they bind you to the artworks - forcing you to look at them for the length of the recording and encouraging you to discover how the audio relates to them.

Jaco van Schalkwyk talks about selfie culture and his visual work depicts an image of the artist through a plastic film. He uses the audio to ''explain" his artwork. His desire is to obscure his self-image.

Pauline Gutter's audio track enhances the context from which her image is drawn. Her portrait of a young man encapsulates the looks boys in her school directed at her when she was doing public speaking. For her this embodied a patriarchal position. This informs our reading of her artwork, deepening our appreciation that the image is disappearing, is being eroded or destroyed by the artist.

Kai Lossgott's audio is used as an abstract extension of his video-work.

The audio works are largely more interesting than the images

The tale of violence, the rape of a child underpinning Heidi Mielke's work I'm Tired and Sore is probably more compelling than her artwork. This draws your attention to the limits of visual expression and how difficult it is to relay a traumatic event.

The audio works are largely more interesting than the images. Or perhaps the images rely on the audio. The relationship between the two modes is most interesting in Nina Liebenberg's A Natural Confession. Her audio work is a recording of a protest. This is paired with an artwork and text, which details the history of oak trees in South Africa and how they have evolved and adapted since Jan van Riebeeck's arrival. It's interesting that many of the white artists ''confess" to their whiteness. Art provides a level of catharsis for the artist and viewer. No "Hail Marys" necessary. - Corrigall & Co

• The Confessional runs at the Absa Gallery in Joburg until August 4.  

• This article was originally published in The Times.