SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Soirée, an exhibition featuring new works by Cape Town-based artist Galia Gluckman.
Soirée explores changes in relationality brought on by the global pandemic. The exhibition uses irony and exaggeration to cast light on how we have been existing, operating and relating—the absurdity of which has become painfully visible in how different people have been affected by the pandemic.
Through an immersion of colour and material, the party becomes an important metaphor through which to reflect on the fragility of the current moment. Despite its brightness and luminescence, the exhibition takes on a pensively sad tone, one that is reminiscent of the confusing times of the 1920s; an era of feathers, sparkle and dissipation. One that ultimately ushered in the great depression.
It is of course during this period of the 20s that the likes of Florence Foster Jenkins rose to fame. Born in 1868 and later the main subject of a Stephen Frears film starring Meryl Streep, Florence was an American socialite and amateur soprano, an heir to a wealthy land-owning Pennsylvania family. Dubbed as "the world's worst opera singer" —a vicious and perhaps cruel title to carry as a legacy, Miss Jenkins had a flare for the flamboyant. She was known to prance around New York parties and concerts in lavishly elaborate performance costumes pronouncing herself a coloratura soprano. Truly lacking in technical singing ability (rivalled only by her overconfidence) she quickly became a laughing matter mocked for her exuberant appearance and unrelenting ego. Just as we look back at the likes of Jenkins with derision, Soirée calls upon us for a similar kind of scrutiny. And here, "us" stands in for different parts of society that have continuously enjoyed the shield of privilege from the horrors of the world (read art world bubble, read bourgeoisie etc etc).
These themes of overindulgence in sensual pleasures can be read through Gluckman's constructed fanciful creatures, which sit between painting, collaging and sculpture. They allow us to delve deeper into, and question, illusions of grandeur. What do we find when we look back to our recent past, pre the pandemic? Do we find willful ignorance? Perhaps self-gratification? Excess?
For Gluckman, the lockdown provided a rare moment of intense reflection on the work and this, in turn, birthed experimentation and a renewed perspective on older processes where the addition of new and unfamiliar material functioned as a point of inflexion. The use of angel hair and sisal, for instance, make the work more 'hairy' speaking to feelings of safety and protection (and by extension, lack of) – both of which are central in a time of isolation and retreat. To retreat implies having a safe space to call home. The reality, of course, is that home is sometimes haunting, precarious or even absent.
Throughout the exhibition, we are introduced to characters who take on specific personalities. Diverse in arrangement and disposition, Frank, Leroy, Peggy, Patricia and Shirley are malleable party guests whirring cheerfully in no particular direction, experiencing the full hospitality of their host Genevieve. The festivities do not take place in this decade but rather in a faraway land in a faraway time – a time of affluence and extravagance. The intention is not to relive these moments but rather to point to them as we reflect on cultural, economic, social and political shifts currently taking place. Gluckman notes; 'In one sense, the party is over, the carefree period has ended and it is time to take responsibility".
The artist's previous solo exhibition, cellular state, which took place in Cape Town in 2019, lent itself towards introspection and meditation. Soirée, on the other hand, is complexly reflexive whereby the artist is simultaneously examining her own experiences together with those of others.
The exhibition is birthed from Gluckman's willingness to fully consider and embrace new ideas. The works are dynamic, and mesmerising in detail. As much as the exhibition is a serious consideration of our methods as a society, it still holds space for aesthetic beauty. Soft colours – coral, lilac, flamingo pink, Fuschia and teal – deepen into vivid and radiant hues; emerald, ocean, bumblebee yellow, charcoal and silver, all of which result in a luminous mingling —ribbons of light delicately dancing around each other. Just as the sun makes way for the moon as a source of a different type of light, the swift changes in tonality introduce a spark that makes way for the evening revelry.
Works such as the gathering (2020), Shirley (2020) and Peggy (2020) have a rounded shape to them; they alluringly fold into themselves, suggesting a sense of protection. The interaction of the ribbons encloses volume in a manner that gives the work three-dimensionality and buoyancy, which adds depth to an otherwise flat pane. In this sense, Art critic Laura Cumming's words ring true; the lure of the circle is ancient and infinite; it is surely the most potent of all-natural symbols.
Through abstracted, multifaceted and immersive creations and using rhythmic forms and successive layers, Gluckman is able to explore and capture the authentic fullness of life — beauty, dissonance, disorientation and joy.
Text by Nkgopoleng Moloi