The School of the Arts at the University of Pretoria (UP) is pleased to announce the solo exhibition Things appear and disappear by Johan Thom at Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, from February 4 through 23, 2023.
For his solo exhibition Things appear and disappear, the artist Johan Thom utilises the personal experience of loss to explore broader issues of memory, violence, and death in a (South) African context. The artist presents a new series works, including a three-channel video installation, process-based drawings and a performative, sculptural installation.
The central sculptural installation, Time after time (2023) features a brick and a bronze replica of a human skull mechanically automated to swing through the gallery space in a circular motion—the skull rotating clockwise and the brick rotating counter-clockwise. The objects fill the room as they float through the air, nearly colliding as they pass each other. This formal conceit sets in motion a series of conceptual associations with the passing of time, progress and the ever-present reality of violence and death in South Africa. The countless memories of loss, violence and trauma historically written into human bodies become a dormant repository of energy that may yet be unleashed upon the world. Throughout the exhibition, Thom will enter the the sculptural installation as part of a series of live performances or ‘lesser miracles’.
Thom also presents a delicate series of process-based drawings featuring the human skull as subject matter. The artist employs a broad range of mark-making techniques including body prints, collage and drawn marks, and the layering of multiple materials (blackboard paint, soil, builders chalk, oxides, twigs and leaves, charcoal and burnt ashes). Together these layered material surfaces and marks generate artistic renditions of the human skull that, from afar, appear near ethereal and ghostlike, much like X-rays.
Finally, the artist presents Autportrait (2022), a three-channel video installation detailing his performative, bodily interaction with three objects: a human skull, one of his late mother’s favourite dresses, and the skin of a Livingstone’s turaco bird (circa 1872). Thom states, “One of my most vivid memories of my mother is a photograph of her as a small child, somehow standing with both her feet on my grandfather’s outstretched left hand. Frozen at the moment, she appears precariously balanced between the forces of gravity and light, youth and old age and that of human care and joyful carelessness”. The photograph serves as a prompt for a more in-depth artistic investigation into the poetics and mnemonics of death and loss.