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In Soundings, In Passage – a solo exhibition of recent work at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg – Clive van den Berg explores new as well as familiar terrain. Characteristically, he is not bound by medium, presenting monoprints, paintings, as well as a large-scale sculpture. Many of these works – both physically and conceptually – are the result of time spent in the United States, where van den Berg was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research fellowship, and worked at the LeRoy Neimen Center for Print Studies while on a residency at Columbia University in New York City.
In the catalogue Clive van den Berg: Unlearning the Grounds of Art (published by Goodman Gallery on the occasion of Soundings, in Passage), Rosalind C. Morris refers to Clive van den Berg’s insistence “that he is seeking a new kind of language, that he is attempting to break syntax without relinquishing its necessity." Morris continues to to explain that the "enormous range of works, the multiplicity of media, the vacillation between saturated colour and simple lines in monochromatic prints, the darting between allegory and abstraction: these tensions and polarities arrest and then excite the viewer, who encounters in the artist’s abundant new offerings the residue of earlier concerns but, equally, the determined departure from them. The title of the 2011 show gives voice to that mobility, and suggests an exploratory moment. But with its improbable invocation of the practice of maritime measurement (in relation to an corpus that is primarily concerned with the earth, the underground, and the landscape of a landlocked city, Johannesburg), we are alerted to the fact that this exploration requires something more than the well-trained eye. We must find our way, or plumb the depths, feelingly. Not with sentiment, but with a kind of heightening of the senses, and, more importantly, a re-oriented vision.”
Clive van den Berg is based in Johannesburg, South Africa and was born in Zambia in 1956. He is an artist working in various disciplines. Besides his studio practice he devotes much time to the curation and design of heritage projects, sometimes on his own and sometimes through trace, a company comprising professionals from different disciplines, including architects, historians, writers and artists. They design, research and curate exhibitions, public art projects and museum developments. Many of these are projects of redress, activating reflection on the past and future envisioning. These include The Worker’s Museum and Women’s Gaol in Johannesburg and he is currently working on the exhibit design for Freedom Park in Pretoria. His art has been shown around the world – in South Africa, Berlin, Charleroi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, London and Stockholm. It has also earned him several major prizes, including, internationally, a Civitella Ranieri fellowship and a Smithsonian Artist Research fellowship.
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.