Monday, May 25, 2020

Fenced and Veiled: Michael Meyersfeld

Michael Meyersfeld
Giclée Print: Awagami Kozo Double Weight.
60 x 80cm.
Giclée Print: Awagami Kozo Double Weight
 60 x 80cm.

TLC  Extension  Collection (South Africa, May 2020)

Overview: In “Fenced,” two shadowy hands , perhaps gloved, press against an apparent wire fence, as if seeking to break through. In  “Veiled” we behold the shadowy figure of a head, in light wash.  A darker nose and mouth are partially visible through a mask. Over the eyes we behold a kind of  horizontal lattice work form, similar in appearance to the fence in “Fenced”  At three or four spots on the lattice work, one glimpses dark blotches, perhaps evocative of the virus.

Mark Auslander: In Fenced and Veiled, the artist concentrates on the two bodily features that are usually thought to be our greatest points of vulnerability to the novel coronavirus, the hands and the face. Hands, which normally extend outwards to explore, grasp and caress the outer world, now are constantly scrutinized, sanitized, gloved and fretted over. In Fenced, two hands, possibly gloved, press against the net mesh, seeking to escape the confinement of quarantine and the Lockdown.  In Veiled, the grid of the net reappears as a kind of veil across the eyes: in our anxiety and panic, we cannot see beyond our moment to moment condition, and long range planning seems almost impossible.

South African landscape theorist David Bunn has written that there are no landscapes without bodies, and it is noteworthy that Meyersfeld's two depictions of bodily elements are both suffused with implied landscape features.
In Veiled, the double shadows of the dimly perceived human head and face might be read as land forms viewed indistinctly from above through cloud covering. The wire-lattice work over the subject's eyes recalls digital landscape mapping technologies, rendering three dimensional landform contours through grid pattern metrics. We are, one might argue, trapped within digitally-mediated representations of landscape that make it difficult for us to recover primary sensuous engagement with natural spaces and processes.  A veil, which in other circumstances might signal the mysterious beauty of a bride, now is transmuted into an uncanny, lurking presence, perhaps evocative a body bag or deadly, interwoven strands of viral RNA.

There are some striking, coincidental parallels between Meyersfeld's Fenced, and Walter Oltmann's Frontliners, a work highlighted in the  first Lockdown Collection.  In both works, shadowy hands under conditions of duress are intimately associated with wire.  This may be conditioned, in part,  by the long, painful history of wire and wire fencing in South African history. Under colonial and Apartheid conditions, wire restricted the movement of livestock and of people across previously unconfined landscapes. In J.M Coetzee's The Life and Times of Michael K., the protagonist, recoils when the farmer he briefly works for tells him, "You have a good feel for wire," and moves on. The electrified fence that ran for years along the South African-Mozambican border in Kruger National Park, patrolled by the military, has long been a space of terror and loss for thousands of economic migrants seeking to cross this dangerous threshold zone.  A century on, wire strewn landscapes are an enduring, horrific memory of the Great War.  Zombie films and TV shows often featured the hands of the living dead pressing against wire fences. More recently, wire fencing globally has taken on particularly ominous attributes, associated with images of detained migrants, even separated children, confined in wire cages.  The specter of wire fencing haunts our collective nightmares, and seems oddly fitting as we contemplate our current, surreal predicament.

How then do we read the black dots on the veil, which recall the dark blotches in Fenced, where the fingertips press against the enclosure?  Are these hints of the invading virus itself, moving across bodily and landscape boundaries?  Perhaps they are equally evocations of the fearful apprehensions we project, constantly, onto our field of vision during these strange, anxious times--a reminder that we remain fenced in, or locked down, most perniciously by our own preconceptions of the world around us.  As in Sizwe Khoza's painting of a pensive youth perched on a high wall, with which the Extension Collection opens, the most powerful barriers would seem to be those produced by our own minds. Summoning up the demons from the misty deep within us,  the artist just might provide us with the tools to dispel the fog which still imprisons us in our darkest hour, as we begin to chart, with new eyes, the territory ahead.

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