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FNB Art Joburg

Johannesburg, South Africa

Exhibiting Artists: Jake Aikman | Ed Young | Amy Rusch | Tumelo Mtimkhulu | Jacob van Schalkwyk

Text by Ashraf Jamal

Ed Young – Words
Ed Young’s word works are as shouty and aggressive as they are desperately vulnerable. In AND I NEED YOU MORE THAN WANT YOU dependency overwhelms desire, expediency replaces care. As for FUCKERS? A blindly futile outrage? Irony rears its ugly head in I’M A RAINBOW. Really? Isn’t Desmond Tutu’s vision now detritus in a bloated landfill? Such is the dissociative extremity of the world we inhabit, loveless, cauterized, immune to care, that OTHER PEOPLE’S TEARS ARE ONLY WATER – pouring from a broken faucet. Young asks us to SHUTTHEFUCKUP. We are trapped in a din and blur, a world senseless, unfeeling. What matters is who hates more and who screams the loudest. As for IF ONLY I LIKED YOU A LITTLE BIT MORE – its wishful, but in Young’s world wishes never come true.

Jake Aikman – The Sea
In The Sea Around Us Rachel Carson writes, ‘Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage’. This is Jake Aikman’s return, his world. We experience this moment when standing before an Aikman seascape, as we sink into his blues-greys-greens, a parcel of sea scooped from a great infinity. In his paintings we experience immensity. In their detail, we know the sea’s liquidity, its deep unquiet. ‘Alone in this world of water and sky, he feels the loneliness of his earth in space. And then, as never on land, he knows the truth that his world is a water world, a planet dominated by its covering mantle of ocean, in which the continents are but transient intrusions of land above the all-encircling sea’. Carson’s musings are those which Aikman’s paintings trigger.

Amy Rusch – Anthropocene
Amy Rusch has collected plastic bags since her childhood – ‘because of their colour, materiality, their life before’. Bound and burnt, sometimes ironed, Rusch’s works in plastic are a toxic hazard, the fumes sickening, yet, when the process is concluded, air fumigated, the result is beautiful. That her work with plastic has its counter in her engagements at Blombos Cave, an ancient human history spanning 77 000 years, sharpens the paradox she inhabits between the synthetic and organic worlds which define our Anthropocene age. What triggers Rusch is human mark-making, ancient glyphs and contemporary signage. All of life is caught in a ‘stratographic time’. ‘Bone, stone, shell, ochre’ infiltrate a plastic realm. The ‘layers of waste’ in which our lives are immersed (walking on a beach, Rusch is as entranced by as shell as by ‘an earbud stompie or a lollipop stick’) remind us of the obscene synergy of the world. Rusch’s stitches on sailcloth and plastic sheeting conjure beach bird prints. In fact, they are the markings triggered by ‘wind and breath’ produced ‘directly with elemental movement’. The stitched dashes, like morse, track the scuffed marks created as sailcloth bends and reopens. They are ‘the translations of wind patterns’. Rusch is fascinated by the ‘unseen’, the ’undersurface of things’, a ‘vibrational wavelength’, the ‘invisible guiding hand of nature’ – the ghosted movement that confounds ‘where we think the boundary of something is’.

Jacob van Schalkwyk – Geological
In Jacob van Schalkwyk’s richly textured and coloured impasto paintings, we turn to geological strata. It is the earth that is the central protagonist, seen with its magnified yet abstracted detail, for what compels van Schalkwyk is the language of a crevasse, a cliff face, a jewel-like stratified formation, the earth’s resonance. As Rachel Carson writes, ‘The new earth, freshly torn from its parent sun, was a ball of whirling gasses, intensely hot, rushing through the black spaces of the universe on a path and at a speed controlled by immense forces. Gradually the ball of flaming gases cooled. The gases began to liquefy, and Earth became a molten mass. The materials of this mass eventually became sorted out in a definite pattern: the heaviest in the centre, the less heavy surrounding them, and the least heavy forming the outer rim. This is the pattern which persists today’, a pattern intrinsic to van Schalkwyk’s raw and dense surfaces, the product of a ‘rolling, viscid tide’ – ‘the force of resonance’ – a physical as it is psychically abstract. It is this inner geological surge that van Schalkwyk captures.

Tumelo Mtimkhulu – The magnetism of mystery
Tumelo Mtimkhulu is deeply suspicious of ideological dogma, preferring to track inner and outer worlds, depths and surfaces, the magnetism of mystery. For him, the unconscious is a palpably poised drama. Monochromatic, sometimes scrawled with partially indecipherable words, Mtimkhulu’s ‘paintings’ – the medium and cipher is uncertain – take us to the depths we seek to plunge, dissatisfied as we are by statement and assertion, or the puffery and noise of power. Instead, looking at and sensing Mtimkhulu’s art, one can hear the murmurings in the artist’s skull, a desire for a deeper human communion. I am reminded of Giorgio de Chirico’s vacant lots filled with portent, of some impending event about to happen, or which has recently occurred. As Buffalo Springfield sings – ‘There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear’ – but it is acutely felt.

The Group
As Herman Melville writes in Moby Dick, ‘There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea whose gently awful stirring seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath’. Despite cynical truths, truths which we have all found ourselves compelled to accept, life, the world we live in, obscene and Anthropocene, still possesses some ‘sweet mystery’, some ‘stirring’, no matter how ‘gently awful’, that keeps us bonded to ourselves and to others, as though upon a wrecked ship, a quaking earth, and there, and then, in moments such as this one, when we stand before five very different visions of life and art –Ed Young, Jake Aikman, Amy Rusch, Jacob van Schalkwyk, Tumelo Mtimkhulu – still, we find the reason and spirit we require, to go on.

Unbeknown to me (I) (2023)
Amy Rusch_Wind Transcriptions, Tracing 1_2023_Found Plastic Bags and Thread_50 x 37 x 4.5cm