| The Natal Witness, September 21 2000|
It's what you make of it
By Terence King
The ground-hugging works of Alan Alborough at the Tatham Gallery appear at once to sag heavily and float magically above the industrial flooring which is their base material. These sorts of contradictions are the very conditions of the works' success. They have simultaneously to do with multiple properties and allude freely to abstract notions about order and organisation, seriality and mass-production, technology, precision and standardisation as much as they do to states of chance, decay and other such veins of association.
The works are, however, also too slippery to categorise casually. The placement and internal compositions of the component pieces will vary as they are moved from exhibition venue to venue and will in fact change slightly in appearance during the course of each exhibition. In this process of change, the transformation of the mundane and, often, disposable and inexpensive products of industry into sculptural constructions of exceptional visual strength appears to rely as much on the practices of alchemy as it does on Alborough's clarity of vision and technical certainty.
Viewers are given many entry points into the works, in large measure determined by their own range of experiences and interests, and herein lies one of the key features of the exhibition.
Although he draws on an established history of constructed sculpture, as well as on more recent developments in installation artwork, Alborough does not require of the respondent a specific knowledge of those traditions or current practices but offers instead the opportunity for audiences to react imaginatively to the works and add further layers of meaning to these already richly textured objects.
Alborough makes the point well that meaning is not embedded in the work, to be taken from it, but is in part brought to the work by ourselves, cued by the signals he provides. More concretely he provides too a body of work of exceptional visual and spatial refinement.
The Natal Witness, September 15 2000
This year's Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, Alan Alborough, accompanied his exhibition to Pietermaritzburg to set it up at the Tatham Art Gallery. Unlike many exhibitions, it cannot simply be unpacked and erected by gallery staff according to a predetermined plan. Alborough has definitely designed it so that it is different in each of the seven venues it will visit in South Africa.
When Alborough designed the exhibition, he planned to create something that would grow and change in the course of the year, gathering input from people who see it. And the work itself will change to some extent. "Every space is different and therefore the work has to be able to be restructured to retain its overall integrity," says Alborough.
He was also conscious that the exhibition would continue for a year - and, for an artist, an exhibition can sometimes be an anti-climax once it is set up.
"It isn't necessarily a positive experience," he says, "so I have tried to create a system that allows me to build upon it so it continually stimulates me." The result is something that, by the time it reaches its final destination in Johannesburg, will be markedly different from where it began in Grahamstown.
Alborough uses everyday objects, many of them plastic, to create his three-dimensional pieces. Clothes pegs, syringes and cable ties are part of the forms which also have their own light sources. But Alborough will not be drawn on what the exhibition "means".
"I don't talk about my specific intention in relation to the works," he says. "There is a tendency to latch on to what the artist has to say and then try and find it in the work."
Alborough wants a creative response from those who look at his work, and in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth, where the work has already toured, he has received it.
Responses that were written in the Visitors' Book already appear on Alborough's website - which serves as the exhibition catalogue and which can be accessed at a computer terminal in the Tatham's exhibition space. And in each venue Alborough is asking someone to contribute an essay on his work - Professor Colin Richards in Grahamstown and Melanie Hillebrand in Port Elizabeth have already written on the exhibition and their essays appear on the website. Juliet Leeb du Toit will contribute the Pietermaritzburg essay. His website can be found at www.alanalborough.co.za.
Alborough's work presents a challenge to the viewer, but the artist believes that those who are not familiar with contemporary art can come to it without preconceptions and engage with the exhibition. He feels that the use of everyday objects should make his work less intimidating. And visitor input, written into the Visitors' Book, will in turn become a part of the exhibition.