12 May – 27 June 2021
Inside the White Cube | White Cube Bermondsey
White Cube is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by South African artist Bronwyn Katz titled ‘I turn myself into a star and visit my loved ones in the sky.’. Her first solo show in London, it includes ten new sculptures that deal with materiality, narrative and social history and address how each of these are intrinsically interconnected.
Developing her thinking around ‘earth matter: its origins [and] relationship to the celestial’, the title of the exhibition affirms the continuity and transmutability of bodies, qualities which cannot be contained nor controlled. A focus on social identity, and the relationship this has to language and ancestry, is a key theme that runs throughout the exhibition. However, employing subtle acts of resistance in her work, Katz also draws attention to the resonance of place, social constructs and artificial distinctions: ‘There are places that have previously felt important to me because they are the places where most of my known ancestors lived and were buried, but now understanding that I have ancestors as old as time, no specific place holds more importance than another.’ For Katz, the earth cannot be delineated; it cannot be divided into parts by boundaries or borders, for as she states: ‘the soil from here remembers the soil from there’.
Working with found materials, Katz creates a vivid and descriptive link to the physical body and daily existence. Wall-based works featuring deconstructed metal bed frames and bed springs as well as other household materials behave as abstract sculptural forms imbued with meaning and symbolism. Katz has incorporated the bed into her artistic vocabulary from the outset, with her very first exhibition revolving around the gesture of appropriating a stained mattress. The bed is a potent symbol that brings into play issues around land, homelessness and belonging – and which, in its horizontality, even serves as a metaphor for land itself. Increasingly deconstructed, Katz’s process involves an unravelling of the material, a peeling back of layers, pulling, breaking and repairing. The bed, metal bed springs and bed frames can be thought of as ‘unearthed material’; the furniture is often salvaged from places in states of flux, cities where the artist might be living at the time or has lived in the past.
In several sculptures, patterns of coiled springs are combined with colourful, plastic pot-scourers. The carefully arranged tonal shifts foreground pictorial language: copper and yellow scourers are grouped together in one work, red, pink and copper in another. Stretched out onto the springs to create a field of delicate, protruding mounds, the material delicacy of the scourers belies a powerful symbolism. Scourers speak to labour, the expectation and normalisation of the black body at work, scrubbing and cleaning. A signifier of blackness, they conjure up the derogatory phrase ‘hair you can scour pots with’, which attests to one of the many ways in which blackness is judged by superficial attributes.
For a series of minimal ‘sculptural drawings’, Katz uses whole or fragmented bed frames meticulously knotted with wool – a warm and soft material, that instead speaks of the labour of care. The sharp lines of these sculptures, stretched taut against the wall, are suggestive of everyday objects such as a ladder, a picture frame or a window. In !Xankukua (Orion's Belt) (III) (2020) a rectangular bed frame with soft bright blue wool is demarcated at all four corners by a single, dangling bed spring. In |Amis||ãub (Magellanic clouds) (II) (2020), five lines of black wool create vertical axes between two horizontal lines, their simple repetitive forms echoing Minimalist sculpture, in particular the regularity of Dan Flavin’s neon sculptures and the ‘ladders’ of Donald Judd. While these works employ a minimalist formal language, Katz’s approach is more rooted in humanism: ‘I take my cues from the materials and push it further,’ she has said. ‘Once the material is deconstructed, I try and bring back the human connection with the material.’ Connecting the personal with the collective, the ‘ghost forms’ of her sculptures locate the idea of a living entity not only within memory but embedded in the material trace. ‘I am interested in the possibility of these sculptural drawings being read as markers of movement (forced or voluntary), or markers of space or place that has been occupied’ she has stated.
For Katz, the poetic reactivation of memory and ancestry is a way of addressing the subconscious impact of history. Titling all the works in the exhibition after constellations or stars offers a means of tracing her own ancestral line, whose lineage, like so many other Black South Africans, has been partially eradicated by the structures of colonialism. Katz’s allusion to the infinite motions towards the idea of an expansive freedom, driven by a longing for a universal space unbound by political systems. ‘[T]here is always the possibility for reconstruction. One can break down, dissolve the current self… within that lies a possibility of a reformation through new perspectives, towards new worlds,’ the artist has said.
Bronwyn Katz was born in 1993 in Kimberley, South Africa and lives and works in Cape Town. She studied at the University of Cape Town, where she was also awarded the Simon Gerson Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Salvaged Letter’, Peres Projects, Berlin (2020); Blank Projects, Cape Town (2019); and ‘A Silent Line, Lives Here’ curated by Marie Ann-Yemsi, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018). Group exhibitions include ‘This is Not Africa – unlearn what you have learned’, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum (2021); ‘NIRIN’, 22nd Sydney Biennale (2020); ‘Road to the Unconscious’, Peres Projects, Berlin (2019); ‘When Water Comes Together with Other Water’, 15th Lyon Biennale (2019); ‘Material Insanity’ curated by Meriem Berrada, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Marrakesh (2019); and the 12th Dak’Art Biennale, Senegal (2016).