Paul Emmanuel

7 January, 2013

As a continuation of Spier' s commitment to support emerging South African artists, they also provide encouragement to established artists of particularly outstanding ability in the long term. Paul Emmanuel was the second of such artists to develop a close working relationship with Spier and his exhibition TRANSITIONS forms part of the wine estate' s permanent collection.

Emmanuel' s technically meticulous approach to his art making, combined with his very focused attention to the sites in which he chooses to locate his works, means that audiences only really a see a new body of work from him every few years. However, the fact that TRANSITIONS has taken Emmanuel over four years to research and create translates into an intimately poignant and contemplative experience for the viewer. At first, the works on exhibition appear as a sequence of ostensibly five 'photographic' images. When examined more closely however, they are revealed as drawings and expose a love-affair with concept and surface. Drawing with a fine steel blade into the black exposed and processedemulsion of photographic paper, Emmanuel captures portentous events in the shifting identity of a white South African male from youth to old age. These photo-realist renderings stimulate thoughts on patriarchy and pose questions around our perceptions of masculinity and the passage of time. The artist cites a quote by Susan Sontag as the point of departure that defined the exploration for these works. "A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passage of time its moorings become unstuck. It drifts away into a soft abstract past-ness, open to any kind of reading."

Spier' s Old Wine Cellar Gallery is a particularly magnificent space in which to view these works. Established in 1676, it is the oldest wine cellar in South Africa, and a place steeped in heritage and tradition. The drawings are suspended mid-air down the length of the cellar, leading visitors toward the sixth work – a film screened at the end of the gallery. Titled 3SAI: A RITE OF PASSAGE, this 12 minute film with soundtrack, documents the head shaving of new recruits at Third South African Infantry Battalion (3SAI) in Kimberley. This base is one of two South African military training camps that still perform the obligatory hair shaving of army recruits when they join the South African National Defense Force.

Shot as a high definition, cinematic quality work, this film also exists outside the context of the exhibition and has been officially selected by the Antimatter International Film Festival in Canada (2009), Design Indaba Film Festival in South Africa (2009) and the Rotterdam International Film Festival and has won Edinburgh' s Africa-in-Motion International Film Festival short film award (2009).

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