sbya 2000 cape town
Die Burger, March 21 2001
'Art machine' captivates with numerous questions                                                [Back]
By Cobus van Bosch

Depending on where you encounter a strange construction like this, your questions about it will vary. Come across it in a laboratory and you will inevitably want to know: "What does it do?" If you encounter the same thing in an art gallery, you will ask: "What does it mean?"

Answers are not easy to find, because there aren't any, only suggestions and invitations to form one's own interpretation. The artist also complicates issues by refusing to elaborate on his work - he is not even willing to give it a title.

But in contrast to the drawn, painted or printed picture, weighed down by traditions of expression, symbolism, allegory and conventions of looking and rendering, the suggestion of technology and science allows much room for contemplation.

Alborough has put together a number of seemingly complicated and dramatically lit constructions - each connected to the others to form one large installation. They appear to be sophisticated machines or, viewed from a distance, scaled down models of futuristic cities or industrial sites.

At first one gets the impression that a strange hi-tech device has been dragged into the gallery and in the process recontextualised as "art". Although the device, and of course its placement in an art gallery, convinces entirely that technology can also be considered in aesthetic terms, it becomes clear on closer investigation that this is all an illusion.

Each part seems ordinary, unsophisticated and non-functional within the greater construction - rubber floor mats, ordinary plastic pipes, plastic syringes, rolls of paper, paper clips, plastic bowls, nails, penlight batteries and electric cable. Alborough would no doubt succeed in the world of special effects.

One could assume that Alborough isn't necessarily trying to say anything specific with this work, almost as if the physical process of construction, composition and design is of greater importance than the broad conceptual background - the interaction between technology, industry and science (genetics perhaps?) and human existence and the spiritual world. Yet the atmosphere of this work does imply something meaningful - the dramatic lighting, syringes, pipes and electrical cable convey something of the sinister laboratory experiment, as if something has been disturbed that should rather have been left alone.

But if we are faced with a machine here, it is a machine that creates art rather than one that serves the sciences, because the thing is busy working, or "creating".

One of the central aspects of the installation is a number of rolls of thin paper, with nails inserted into them. The nails are joined with wire and electrified by penlight batteries, while the paper rolls are sporadically moistened with salty water.

The result is a corrosive process that not only discolours the paper rolls, but also leaves rust marks on large sheets of paper on which the rolls are placed. Following the corrosive process, the sheets of rust-coloured paper are removed and displayed on the gallery walls - art! There is an interesting ambiguity here - the artist bathes technology and science in an aesthetic light, and simultaneously builds an "art machine".

Thus: an artwork that creates art.

The SA National Gallery is the penultimate venue that this exhibition will visit on its current tour through South Africa. It has already been seen in several cities and next month it will move to the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg.

A number of essays and photographs of the exhibition, as well as details about Alborough himself, appear on the website