In WYE, an immersive three-screen film installation, Mikhael Subotzky treads the tumultuous terrain of the “white male psyche”.
When three fictional protagonists travel between England, South Africa and Australia, their projections onto these landscapes mirror colonial mindsets in the historicised past, the vexed present, and an imagined post- corporeal future.
According to Subotzky: “The white South African man carries the mark of the colonial explorer whose ‘superior’ relationship to ‘foreign’ lands sticks stubbornly to their projected and internalised positioning in the contemporary body politic.”
The title WYE alludes to the 19th-century Romantic idealisation of the River Wye – the spiritual home of the English picturesque at a time when European imperialists swept inland in Australia and Southern Africa. The title also invokes the ‘wye’ structure of the letter ‘Y’, which is used in engineering and railroad parlance (two of the building blocks of the British colonial project), and a shape that echoes the triangular narrative structure of the three interconnected films.
This exhibition marks _WYE_’s debut in South Africa, after it was commissioned and exhibited by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (Sydney) in 2016. WYE was produced by Laurence Hamburger (goodcop) and filmed by the legendary German cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein (Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre and Woyzeck).
As an artist working mainly in film and photography, as well as collage and drawing, Subotzky engages critically with contemporary politics of mis/representation. For this show, he flips the lens inwards to channel the colonial perspective, collapsing it from within rather than criticising it from the objective distance that often characterises historical documentary forms.
Further works exhibited contextualise WYE within the artist’s broader practice and include smashed photographs and his colloquially named Sticky Tape Transfers, which respectively shatter and peel apart depictions of past and present South Africa to to interrupt the surface of images and complicate their function.
“At the heart of my work is a fixation with revealing the gap between what is presented (and idealised) and what is hidden, coupled with a desire to pull apart and reassemble the schizophrenia of contemporary existence,” says Subotzky.
Opening Thursday 2 March at 18h00