McCusker ‘ Penn

Everard Read Johannesburg

Now in its second year, the Everard Read Art Award presents a post-graduate student or past MA graduate a fully sponsored, professionally mounted exhibition with a printed catalogue in a commercial space. Selected by a panel of judges associated with the Wits School of Arts, the winning artist is given a springboard from a ‘safe’ purely academic environment to another arena, that of the commercial art market. This year’s prize was awarded to Siobhán McCusker while Richard Penn received special recognition for his body of work. Entering McCusker’s installation is an immersion into inky blackness punctured by warm glowing red embers and soothing plaintive ambient sound. The immediate awareness is of an overwhelming feeling of security and intense pleasure rather than a disarming sense of impending anxiety. <I>Path and Prescience<I>, is an installation of 15 red railway lanterns spaced at different levels along the gallery walls with intermittently pulsating lights emitting gentle glows, created by red LED’s, evoking the sense of emergency fog warning systems of lighthouses, while the soft ambient beeping of Morse codes suggest the comforting sound of whales communicating under water. By these subtle manipulations of the sensory experience, McCusker teases out varying responses to terror and panic. In the exhibition catalogue, the dim red glow of the signal lights is obscured by two looming images of dark grave-like masses. These monoliths evoke Art Spiegelman’s cover image for The New Yorker shortly after 9/11; it depicted two large rectangular, virtually indiscernible shadows of the fallen towers.Shadows and their projections transform the space of the other room occupied by Sentinels and Sadness, an installation of 11 plinths supporting railway lanterns. Images of leaves and shadows, hand etched on the front of the glass globes are projected onto the gallery walls, creating an ethereal testimony to the passage of time and a metaphor for inevitable loss. As viewers pass through the gallery space, the movement of their shadows disrupts the equilibrium.Penn’s three backlit video projections, collectively entitled Mirror, explore family portraits and the theme of how memory collapses time and space through the familiarity of seemingly insignificant gestures that connect humanity. The ability to transcend life and death in a single gesture. The first projection, placed at almost head height and approximately the scale of a human head, is a still disquieting image which appears totally abstract until the blurred image of a face moves for an instant – the image then reverts back to the still version that is again repeated after pausing for a few seconds. The second projection reveals another still abstracted shape that slowly animates, becoming the faint gesture of a hand on the arm of a chair. In the last work, a thin slice reveals the space between two domestic rooms, as if through a door slightly ajar. It is an uncomfortable image where a head rests at the base of the image, almost as if dismembered, as if it were stored at the bottom of a cupboard. In contrast to the formal portrait Penn has distilled the familial gesture that characterises an individual. Both these artists hark back to a romantic connection between man and nature, and man’s nature.
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