Line of Beauty / 2019
Goodman Gallery, Cape Town
Line of Beauty takes its title from an exploration of the aesthetic current underpinning the political ideas and concerns present throughout van den Berg’s practice.
Landscape is one such recurrent theme. Van den Berg’s interest in this imagery relates to ideas surrounding the “distemper” of our lived experience. For the artist, land serves as a powerful symbolic marker for these anxieties, which are contained in both the personal and political. Van den Berg explains this further by separating the idea of land into two concepts: above and below ground.
“Above ground in our country has been important in many ways, from commercial uses to migration,” he says. “But below ground is where the heart of unresolved history is lies. And we, as South Africans, try to create a modernist state and landscape, which denies that trauma and past.”
Van den Berg addresses this in his work by confronting the tradition of South African landscape painting. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to posses the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, Van den Berg “peels the surface off the land and makes the landscapes porous”. Surface and underneath, past and present, are simultaneously presented on the canvas.
“That relationship of surface to interior is one of the complexities of vision. And that is a political vision: What is on the surface and what does it conceal? “
The result is work containing various figurative elements, ghosts, witnesses, single and grouped figures.
This interest in the state of flux between past and present, the conscious and unconscious minds, takes different form in the sculptures. A gilded pillow bears the imprint of a head. Titled Lay your Head, a nod to Auden, this simple object has become a kind of memorial to the complex realm of rest, dream and conscience.
Of the exhibition title, van den Berg says ‘Beauty is hard work. It harnesses the very opposite impulses to those whose result is fascism and bigotry. I strive for it”.