In early 2008, Mikhael Subotzky moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and since his move has been at work on two long-term projects. While independent, the projects are both influenced by Subotzky’s engagement with the city of Johannesburg. They are presented as works-in-progress, eventually to be realised as full exhibitions and publications.
The first body of work continues a long-held interest in crime, social marginalisation, and the public and private institutions of punishment and security. This investigation started in 2004 with Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners) and continued in subsequent years with Umjiegwana (The Outside) and Beaufort West. In this exhibition, Subotzky presents works that extend the three series into new environments. Loosely focusing on the lifestyle of fear in South Africa, the images explore the vexed and many-layered concept of security in contemporary society.
The second project, begun in 2008, is a collaboration with British artist Patrick Waterhouse – whom Subotzky met while on a residency in Italy. The work is located in Berea’s Ponte City building, an iconic structure in Johannesburg’s skyline that has long been a symbol for the city itself. Opened in 1976, Ponte has come to represent the best and the worst of Johannesburg, and has generated a particular mythology of city life.
Subotzky and Waterhouse combine photography, historical archives, found objects, and interviews to create a body of work that spans the pre-history of the building, its spectacular decline, and the recent attempts at its transformation. The building is cast as the central character in a tangled narrative about Johannesburg’s magnetic pull on people from all over the continent.
Mikhael Subotzky’s work has been widely exhibited and collected. He was included in New Photography 2008: Josephine Meckseper and Mikhael Subotzky at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and his first monograph, Beaufort West, was published the same year. He received the 2009 Oskar Barnack Award, the 2008 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant, and the 2008 ICP Infinity Award (Young Photographer). This is his fifth solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery.
Mikhael Subotzky (b. 1981, Cape Town) is a Johannesburg based artist whose film, video and photographic works are concerned with the structures of narrative and representation, as well as the relationship between social storytelling and the formal contingencies of image making.
Subotzky’s first body of photographic work, Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners), was an in-depth study of the South African penal system. Umjiegwana (The Outside) and Beaufort West extended this investigation to the relationship between everyday life in post-apartheid South Africa and the historical, spatial, and institutional structures of control. Beaufort West (Chris Boot, 2008) was Subotzky’s first monograph and the series was included in the exhibition New Photography 2008: Josephine Meckseper and Mikhael Subotzky at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2008).
The exhibition Retinal Shift was produced by Subotzky on the occasion of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2012 and toured South Africa’s major museums. Retinal Shift includes two large photographic and video installations that critically engage with the artist’s own ambivalence towards the processes of representation and image construction. Retinal Shift (Steidl, 2012) was published to accompany the exhibition.
Retinal Shift also includes Subotzky’s first major film installation, Moses and Griffiths 2012, which uses four screens to narrate the contrasting and conflicting institutional and personal histories of two seventy-year-old tour guides in the small South African town of Grahamstown. Moses and Griffiths has subsequently been exhibited at Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2013) Yale Art Gallery (New Haven, 2014) and Art Unlimited (Basel, 2014).
A third monograph, Ponte City (Steidl, 2014) is the product of a six-year collaboration with the British artist Patrick Waterhouse. This project focuses a single 54-story building that dominates the Johannesburg skyline. The building is cast as the central character in a myriad of interweaving narratives that, through photographs, commissioned texts, historical documents, and urban myths, chart the convoluted histories of both the building and Johannesburg itself. The Ponte City exhibition, which consists of a single installation of thousands of photographs and documents, has been exhibited at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Edinburgh, 2014), FoMU (Antwerp, 2014) and Le Bal (Paris, 2014). Excerpts from the series have been shown at the Liverpool (2012) and Lubumbashi (2013) Biennales, as well as the South African National Gallery (Cape Town, 2010). Ponte City has won the 2015 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize.
Show ‘n Tell was initiated while on residency at the Musée MAC/VAL (Paris, 2013). This body of work looks to the relationship between images, the various instruments of their construction, and both the politics and physiology of their reception. Pixel Interface, a multi-component video installation from this body of work was included in All The World’s Futures, the main exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th Venice Biennale. WYE, Subotzky’s first fictional film installation, was commissioned by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (Sydney) and premiered there in March 2016. Yellow Bile (or Work in Progress), his first exhibition of paintings and performance, took place at Maitland Institute in September 2017.
Subotzky’s work is collected widely by international institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington), Tate (London), Centre Pompidou (Paris), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the South African National Gallery, among others.