23 November 2010 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Waystations: something pauses

Two or three gleaming strands of fishing wire hang from the ceiling.  Remnants of something weigh them down just enough to make them noticeable. The lines spiral slackly with the weight of something that’s not there anymore.

I enter a world of shifting shadows and light.

Dispersed cement bags, heavy with metaphor, hang from the ceiling of the exhibition space at the Pretoria Art Museum, where Magdel Fourie’s Master’s Exhibition entitled Waystations: Something Pauses, runs until 27 November 2010.

The word ‘home’ is projected onto one of the bags. Hanging between integration and disintegration, the empty bags have been sculpted to represent a place between places. Movement is frozen, as though caught in a photographer’s flash.

In this display of suspended animation, the future and the past defer to the present and in the process, create a fragile balance, a moment of stillness in a world of flux.

I pause, inadvertently mimicking their inaction.

Next, there is a low squatting nest. Its strangely organic, stubborn emptiness is heavy with ambiguity. Themes of homecoming and abandonment compete and, from among its folds, a touch of green from one of the cement bags hints at unknown potential. It’s a strangely feral space and I imagine it bound together by spit and sweat and the sticky resins of plants. Subtly lit, it speaks of comfort and decay, an uncertainty articulated by the uneasy expectations it embodies.

“It’s about a craving for attachment in a world of movement and uncertainly,” explains Magdel, who is walking a small group around the exhibition space. I am impressed by how well her work articulates its meaning.

Moving on, I duck as small windows of light move over me. I am disconcerted, turning, looking for their source. It is unsteadying.  There is a flash as a piece of perspex turns above me and I see a swarm of translucent words in English, Afrikaans and Mandarin. They are creating perpetual movement, a restless dance of light that feints and twirls around me as they dangle from the ceiling.

Still in the midst of this motion, more cement bags hang suspended from the ceiling. I imagine climbing into one, its space cocoon-like and warm with amber light, reminding me of fossilised resins, thousands of years old. I am conscious of the negative space around them. I know the moulded bags won’t hold my weight, but they are still inviting.

On the floor, pieces of perspex map distance and disparateness. Their mocking lines question the premise they purport to support.

“In a globalised world, we’re further apart than ever before, but also closer together. So, to what extent does distance exist and yet not exist?” Magdel asks. “Does it connect us, as well as divide?”

All the while, the exhibition space tinkles with liquid sound, like wind chimes made of ice. This prepares me for the universe that awaits, a celestial profusion of bells suspended from taunt lines of gleaming fish gut. Their shadows scatter like stars. It is spectacular.

With sublime perspective, this installation confirms that disconnection is a certainty. Its stillness validates the spaces between us. Its silence speaks of the difficulties of communication.

But its form embodies order. It leaves me strangely accepting of what Magdel would suggest is defining modern reality; a constant sense of being on the threshold of different existential planes.

With her family spread over 3 continents, and constant choices about how to define herself in relation to them, Magdel’s personal understanding of being stuck at life’s waystations is her inspiration for this body of work.

But the work itself goes beyond the personal. By creating a compelling visual investigation of the liminal spaces opened up by global migration trends and their effects on a person’s sense of belonging, she transforms her understanding into something tangible,  accessible and human. She creates a literal space where we can pause for a minute and take stock of where we are.

I move on to the next installation, words mapped in perspex, lit against a white wall. Place. Move. Tie. Stay. Their associations,  randomly sourced from a thesaurus, create a web of shadows on the walls.  They are doubled and tripled, stretched with meaning and its absence, an abstract yet tangible token of contact and belonging.  My shadow reaches through to them in silent communion.

The final installation is a cityscape of sound waves made from sheets of perspex, placed side by side. Its barcode shadow documents an act of communication. The sound waves, transcribed in this way, are impersonal, as technologically mediated conversations can be. But the content of these waves, derived from spoken words, are testament to something personal, real and replete with meaning.

I pause for just a moment, before moving on.

For more information, please contact Gerda Guldemond.

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