(I promise) I love you
Prints and drawings
7 - 28 February 2009
Opening on Saturday 7 February at 15:00
Opening address by Alex Dodd
Walkabout with the artist on Saturday 21 February at 12:00
Terry Kurgan’s exhibition (I promise) I love you at GALLERY AOP, featuring etchings and drawings, centres on her “finding the image in the copper plate”. She has often been classified as a photographer, because so much of her previous work uses photographs as catalyst of the semiotic development in her work. She points out, however, that the processes and products of her work are essentially those of working with and about photography, rather than using the medium as an end in itself to create photographic art.
Printmaking is hardly a new medium for Kurgan: she majored in etching and lithography for both her undergraduate and Masters degrees, and in the mid 1980s, she worked for a protracted time at the famous Robert Blackburn printing Studio in New York. As printmaker she first attracted interest with her portfolio of lithographs, Body Parts (1994). Her oeuvre in general, however, entered the public imagination with the controversial installation of photographs “I’m the King of the Castle” for Penny Siopis’s curated exhibition “Purity and Danger” in 1997. But what is in common between making photographs then and making prints now is that she is still trying to get underneath the opaque two-dimensional surface of the photograph – trying to find the image, and understand what it might mean to her. Photographs are always the beginning, the source of her work. Etching, she maintains, is akin to photography: working on the etching plate, drawing, scratching, scraping, burnishing, polishing and inking it, is similar to working with photography as a medium, a veritable archaeological dig for the trace captured by the camera, lurking under the surface of the copper plate.
Similarly, the images in Kurgan’s drawings seem to lurk under the surface. She sizes the paper of her large scale drawings with rabbit skin glue, a kind of collagen, and draws in what becomes a thick layer on top of the paper itself. The image seemingly emerges from this layer.
It was the copper etching plate, however, that compelled Kurgan to return to a dormant theme in her work: the autobiographical, the private. Photography as medium immanently suited her for executing large scale public art projects, such as Maternal Exposures, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, and the Joubert Park Public Art Project and Park Pictures, captured in the book, Joburg Circa Now. She drew extensively too on photographs taken of her two young children in exhibitions in the 1990s, but she had to reconsider the source material of her art when her children, as she put it, “walked out of the frame”. At that time, these photographs raised issues of, what she calls, “the taboos associated with representations of children generally and the representation of the erotics of the mother-child relationship more specifically, best expressed through the photographic medium”.
Kurgan’s new etchings and drawings on the exhibition (I promise) I love you, mark a significant shift in focus and medium. It is less about autobiography and what the family looks like in the picture, than about how the picture looks in the family. It is about the of-course-I-love-you moments and exchanges between parents and children. It is about the memories families want to make. Fittingly, these etchings are rather small in scale, intimating a familial intimacy. Although the images Kurgan develops in her etchings are drawn from old family photographs, they yield an alternative form of knowledge. This knowledge resides in the marks she makes on the plate. In this regard visitors to the exhibition are awarded a view into the working process of the artist, since the exhibition includes a number of state proofs of some of the etchings, revealing how Kurgan grapples with the image on the surface copper plate.
The knowledge generated in this way, points towards another sensibility about the body and about childhood. Hers is not about romanticizing childhood, although, ironically, the beauty of the image belies this notion. Rather, Kurgan suggests the flip side of the beauty of childhood: hers is about the abject body, and the fragility, hurt and pain that is also part of childhood: the ‘imprint’, or what is laid down in our unconscious as children making us who we are, lying close to the surface of a beautiful exterior. “A photograph is a trace”, says Susan Sontag in her book, On Photography. An etching may well be a scar in Kurgan’s new body of work.
About the artist
Terry Kurgan completed a BAFA degree at the California College of Art, San Francisco, USA and an MFA at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town. She has taught at a range of South African universities. Kurgan won the prestigious FNB Vita Prize for contemporary art in 2000. She often consults to media and social communications companies and was nominated with her client and collaborators for business Art South Africa/Business Day awards in 2004 and 2005. She has been awarded many grants and awards in support of her public realm projects. She has exhibited broadly, nationally and internationally, and her work is represented in most major public and corporate South African collections and art publications. Terry Kurgan lives and works in Johannesburg.