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Love in the digital era: Kalashnikovv

How do you understand romantic and sexual relationships? What words, gestures, and images do you use to navigate love’s stormy seas? It is in playing out the trajectory of emotions in a romantic connection that we are our most predictable, most like organisms that behave to a rote script.

In ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ showing at the Kalashnikovv Gallery, a great little Braamfontein art venue, artist Jana Hamman interrogates the ebb and flow of relationships, the cycle from peacocking to disenchantment. The show’s title is also the name of a Mötley Crüe song, but Kalashnikovv’s owners MJ Turpin and Matthew Dean Dowdle suggest it refers to a cynical take on sex relations, referencing the kind of pink neon signage one only sees when one strays from the iPhone Map app’s recommended routes - or if one is looking for girls, girls, girls, of the sort that the Crüe would pen a song about.

Hamman’s works, weirdly immersive printed colour gradients, populate the walls of the space, each one with a woman’s name scrawled underneath directly onto the wall in one of a variety of shades of lipstick. Similar to New York-based artist Rob Pruitt’s ‘Suicide Paintings’, which trawl the same waters of ersatz emotional expression and post-millennial ennui, Hamman’s gradients each revolve around an off-centre focal point. They shift from blue through orange to yellow, or from red through purple to teal; their seamless transitions creating sensuous concentrations of colour. It is Colourfield painting for the Photoshop generation. Perhaps Hamman’s images are slickly pointing out all that is wrong with a screen-based sexual marketplace of slick graphic transitions, a left swipe sliding away an unwanted face in the hopes of finding a collection of pixels more palatable to the device-holder? It isn’t clear: Hamman is deliberately vague about her intentions. The dearth of substantial explanations about her works and processes is frustrating, yet the prurient voyeur in me is excited by the mystery. However, a video projection of the gradients transitioning in real time reinforces the idea that Hamman is interested in what Daft Punk would call ‘digital love’.

Curators, owners, Turpin and Dowdle are also artists and have ‘added’ their own works to the exhibition; such as two large steel sculptures (I call them scale models of Richard Serra’s COR-TEN steel behemoths - Turpin and Dowdle regale me with gruesome tales of how many people have met their ends under falling Serra works). These sly digs at the rash of neo-Modernist sculptures popping up at every major local art fair do more than goad the hipsters: under the title ‘From Archetype to Prototype’, they represent the first stage in a project which will later see the steel pierced, at a shooting range, by AK47 bullets. The third stage of the sculptures evolution will see them, bullet holes and all, polished up and powdercoated for sale at an art fair. Like Hamman’s preening girls, Kalashnikovv’s hunks (of metal) will present themselves on the market, looking for the true love of a buyer.

In their willingness to play with the boundaries between artist, curator and gallery director, Kalashnikovv’s energetic duo are shaking things up. Their lightness of touch injects some humour into a stultifying scene, but they also present some tough questions about the local art scene’s courting of money and influence. I wish them well: this is a little firecracker of a show. - this review first appeared in The Times, May 24, 2016.


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