Goodman Gallery Cape Town
17 October – 9 November
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Line of Beauty, a new series of paintings, drawings and sculptural works by Clive van den Berg.
Line of Beauty takes its title from an exploration of the aesthetic current underpinning the political ideas and concerns present throughout van den Berg’s practice.
Landscape is one such recurrent theme. Van den Berg’s interest in this imagery relates to ideas surrounding the “distemper” of our lived experience. For the artist, land serves as a powerful symbolic marker for these anxieties, which are contained in both the personal and political. Van den Berg explains this further by separating the idea of land into two concepts: above and below ground.
“Above ground in our country has been important in many ways, from commercial uses to migration,” he says. “But below ground is where the heart of unresolved history is lies. And we, as South Africans, try to create a modernist state and landscape, which denies that trauma and past.”
Van den Berg addresses this in his work by confronting the tradition of South African landscape painting. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to posses the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, Van den Berg “peels the surface off the land and makes the landscapes porous”. Surface and underneath, past and present, are simultaneously presented on the canvas.
“That relationship of surface to interior is one of the complexities of vision. And that is a political vision: What is on the surface and what does it conceal? “
The result is work containing various figurative elements, ghosts, witnesses, single and grouped figures.
This interest in the state of flux between past and present, the conscious and unconscious minds, takes different form in the sculptures. A gilded pillow bears the imprint of a head. Titled Lay your Head, a nod to Auden, this simple object has become a kind of memorial to the complex realm of rest, dream and conscience.
Of the exhibition title, van den Berg says ‘Beauty is hard work. It harnesses the very opposite impulses to those whose result is fascism and bigotry. I strive for it”.
Clive van den Berg, artist, curator and designer, works on his own and in collaboration with colleagues in a collective called trace, whose primary activities are the development of public projects. He has had several solo exhibitions in South Africa, and his work is regularly exhibited abroad. His public projects have included the artworks for landmark Northern Cape Legislature and, since he has joined the trace team, museum projects for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Constitution Hill, Freedom Park, the Workers Museum, The Holocaust and Genocide Centre and many other projects.
Van den Berg has much experience working on large-scale institutional projects with teams representing diverse constituencies: urban planners and policy makers, architects, landscape designers, museum curators, historians, community liaison officials and representatives of local and national governments. In the Northern Cape, for example, where he worked with the Luis Ferreira da Silva architects, he pioneered a new strategy for integrating forms of the local landscape and indigenous aesthetics into the overall building design, while also training local artisans as part of a skills transference project aimed at long-term sustainability. The result is a world-renowned and uniquely South African state edifice: a monument to the people of the Northern Cape.
At Constitution Hill, his design ethos strove to fuse old materials with new curatorial strategies: to preserve individual and collective memory about the prisons and experiences that people had in them, while also educating future publics about the place of the prisons in South African history, and creating aesthetic forms appropriate to the institution.
In contemporary South Africa, much public institutional design is aimed at the cultivation of memory and the memorialization of the past. Van den Berg’s integrative approach to art, design and architectural construction has allowed him to produce spaces in which previously unheard or even suppressed narratives can be articulated. His design work on the exhibitions for the Mandela Foundation have been oriented toward this end: in showcasing materials from the Foundation’s archive, he has developed exciting new formats and vocabularies in which to reveal a past that had hitherto remained largely unknown, making it accessible to a new generation of South African citizens.