“Calibrating Wonder”

SMITH Studio
56 Church Street
June 22, 2017–July 22, 2017

View of “Calibrating Wonder,” 2017. From left: Lyall Sprong, Juggling Balls, 2017; Brendan Bussy, Lyall Sprong, Tristan Nebe, Conflict, 2017.

In a future history of South African art, Cape Town–based artist Daniella Mooney should receive due credit for her exploratory, left-field sculpture practice, which, since her Terry Riley–quoting BFA show in 2009, has eschewed the dominant rubrics of postcolonial identity and spectacular monumentality. Her contribution to this showcase of sixteen artists, organized by designer and artist Lyall Sprong, includes Three New Wands I, II, and III (all works cited, 2017), eccentric fabrications in wood of a wand she made as an adolescent. Mooney’s attenuated and bulbous pieces are hopelessly clumsy, but as speculative objects they arrest the imagination. In a clipped catalogue note, Sprong refers to them as “personal tools,” an interpretation he extends to all the aggregated objects installed in alcoves fashioned from hanging sheets of tinfoil: paintings, works on paper, video, flower pressings, and all manner of soft, mirrored, kinetic, flying, or sonic sculptures.

The sound pieces intrigue. Simon Kohler’s Mother Tone Reflections is a display of sixteen dolerite rocks with two speakers replaying an original composition made with these so-called rock gongs. His other work, Entry Point, a speaker where the volume increases in concert with a viewer’s proximity, hints at affinities with Alvin Lucier. Sprong’s collaboration with Brendan Bussy and Tristan Nebe, titled Conflict, is a suspended indigo wheel that when spun re-creates the sound of water gushing. This neo-hippie experimentalism, while earnest, acknowledges joyfulness. It is also not without levity: A collaboration between Amy Rusch and Sprong, Ubu Mooi is a cardboard unicorn mask that mockingly references playwright Alfred Jarry, a proto-Dadaist revered by an earlier generation of South African artists. Shifting the tone, Marsi van de Heuvel’s compelling slow-motion film Gravity and Grace shows four performers, each willing themselves to fall over. Somber and elegiac, it points to artistic discovery in acceptance and collapse.

Sean O’Toole