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Graeme Williams

KZNSA | KWAZULU NATAL SOCIETY OF ARTS
166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Kwazulu Natal
September 8–September 27

IRMA STERN MUSEUM
Cecil Road, Rosebank
August 1–August 22

WITS ART MUSEUM
University of Witwatersrand
October 8–November 1

Graeme Williams, untitled, 2013.

Johannesburg, a city founded on a gold rush in 1886, has prompted a great deal of handwringing amongst writers about its place in the world, and indeed Africa, since the fall of apartheid. By contrast, photographers, especially city residents like Graeme Williams, have been less grandiloquent, accepting its roughshod visual character and unstable temperament as a kind of truth. His earlier black-and-white work combined the feral tradition of Gary Winogrand’s street photography with the more impressionistic urban documentary of David Goldblatt, also a Johannesburg resident and Williams’s mentor, but “A City Refracted” his Ernest Cole Award-winning exhibition, sees this former news photographer confidently chart his own direction, by wedding documentary purpose to a formal style that favors experiment and elision.

“The images are not so much about journalistic content as they are part of an accumulative feeling or sense of the area,” Williams once said in an interview. To this end, his color photos are uncaptioned and possess an amateur, snapshot-like quality, a strategy meant to register his increasing unfamiliarity with his subject, as Johannesburg dismantles its hard apartheid borders. Functionally, his naďve compositional style delivers lots of blur. Pedestrians, a repeat subject, are often swallowed by shadow. Two women in pink bathing costumes are framed without heads. If this formal experimentation is an easily exhaustible strategy, Williams manages to ally it with a clear sense of purpose: of turning his fear (he uses bodyguards while photographing) into a kind of wonder at his hometown’s shop-worn beauty.

Sean O'Toole

Kemang wa Lehulere

THE NELSON MANDELA METROPOLITAN ART MUSEUM
1 Park Drive
July 28–September 6

View of Kemang wa Lehulere, 2015

Kemang wa Lehulere’s latest show is composed of a trio of installations, each devoted to a pioneering black South African modernist. The most ambitious work details Lehulere’s discovery that his aunt, in her youth, had visited expressionist painter Gladys Mgudlandlu’s home and found its walls covered with evocative murals. Lehulere, whose practice includes archaeological digging performances and site-specific chalk wall drawings with a durational lifespan, decided to uncover these murals, which, it turned out, are hidden beneath seven coats of domestic paint and two layers of plaster. The story is recapitulated in The Bird Lady in Nine Layers of Time, 2015, an autobiographical film, and also enriched by a showing of original works by Mgudlandlu—naive, color-drenched depictions of birds, rural figures, and landscapes—here juxtaposed with chalk drawings by Lehulere’s aunt recalling the covered murals.

Abstract painter Ernest Mancoba and short-story writer R. R. R. Dhlomo are also celebrated. Another Homeless Song (for RRR Dhlomo) 1–2, 2015, is a two-part installation that reads as one: an arrangement of music stands and gold-painted porcelain dogs face a collection of upended rubber boots with gold soles held in place by the frames of school desks. The work allusively riffs on a 1930 short story by Dhlomo about dogs, mining, and power. Mancoba is a more literal presence: A 2002 video interview with the artist by Hans Ulrich Obrist, here titled Where, if not far away, is my place?, 2015, is projected alongside an untitled Mancoba lithograph from 1986 and African totem figure reworked by the artist, which share the title Does this mirror have a memory, 2015.

Sean O'Toole

David Haines and Joyce Hinterding

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, AUSTRALIA
140 George Street, The Rocks
June 25–September 6

David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Geology, 2015, two HD video projections, real-time 3-D environment, game engine, motion sensor, spatial 3-D audio, dimensions variable.

What might the sun smell like? David Haines imagines it as something like the charred remains of electrical wire, or the dry mustiness of a lake bed, perhaps even raw egg. Ozone One: Ionization and Ozone Two: Terrestrial, the two scents he concocted in his private perfumery for the work EarthStar, 2008, seep from slips of white paper sprouting from two beakers in the corner of a darkened room. The sun’s surface glares from a video projection nearby, its electromagnetic waves radiating an audible static that’s caught by two large copper antennae laid side by side. Suspend your disbelief and you might be on a journey, traveling through space-time.

For the last fifteen years, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding have collaborated with a shared interest in energy and epistemology: How do we know what we know, especially when we can’t see it? Some insight might be gleaned when standing inside Telepathy, 2008–15, an anechoic chamber encased in a gigantic yellow wedge designed to insulate its occupant from electromagnetic radiation and sound waves. Outside, a motion sensor catches movements made by viewers’ hands in the 3-D environment of Geology, 2015. Reminiscent of the extraterrestrial virtual reality as viewed with an Oculus Rift, but more portentous, these gestures are magnified as if by magic on a sixteen-meter-wide screen. Wilhelm Reich felt similarly about orgone energy, a concept he coined in the 1930s that posited libidinal power as the force behind life and creativity. He was eventually ridiculed for his ideas and his literature was burned, but they inspired much of the work in this exhibition—the artists’ first retrospective and a voyage into the invisible and what lies in the space in-between.

Heidi Harrington-Johnson