Marvin Bartley, Leasho Johnson, Berette MacCaulay and Olivia McGilchrist in the Super Plus Under 40 at Mutual GalleryFriday, November 16th, 2012 Categories: Features, Reviews, Updates
The Super Plus Under 40 Competition—brainchild of gallery director Gilou Bauer and photographer Wayne Chen—has been taking place for the last 12 years at Mutual Gallery in Kingston. Modeled after the Turner Prize in London and likewise aiming to expose new forms of visual expression in all media, the founders did a few things differently, such as lowering the cut-off age of eligibility to under the age of 40, and adding a Public prize that would engage audience participation.
From the entries the jury picks a long list of artists who are required to furnish two past works and a proposal, as well as undergo an interview by the panel of judges. Four artists are then short-listed and each is required to mount a mini exhibition for the final event, from which the winner is chosen. The winner gets a solo show at the gallery the following year.
Within recent years the competition’s alumni have become increasingly high profile with the likes of Christopher Irons, Ebony G. Patterson and O’Neil Lawrence completing as finalists—perhaps this contributed in part to the unprecedentedly large crowd at this year’s finalist show. Making the cut this year were photographer Marvin Bartley, painter Leasho Johnson, mixed media artist Berette Macaulay and performance artist and photographer Olivia McGilchrist, a cohort of artists arguably further along in their careers than any of the competitors from previous years.
Olivia McGilchrist’s entire installation revolves around her alter ego “Whitey”. Whitey is presented, in three sequentially installed large photographs, isolated in idyllic locales across Jamaica donning a white plastic mask and a red dress, identity concealed and searching wistfully. A listless Whitey appears in turn facing the edge of a cliff, emerging from the mouth of a cave, and butted up against a sugarcane plantation.
Succeeding the sequence of Whitey’s excursions there is a small maskless self-portrait of the artist on a black background from which her face emerges. Her face is tattooed—It is the motif one readily identifies from dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel—and her expression is one of grit, possibly embittered. Past this we come upon one of the most technically adventurous piece of the show, “Lover’s Leap”, a video of the naked torso of a dread-locked young man doing a series of dancehall-style moves projected on a wall-sized photograph of Lover’s Leap. Note: Lover’s Leap is the cliff where the lush Santa Cruz mountains abruptly end with a 1,700 foot vertical drop to the sea. The spot was named for the two slave lovers that were chased to its edge in their plight to avoid separation by their master who was enamored with the slave woman. The video is accompanied with beats from dancehall tracks created for this show. The dancing young man’s body is positioned so as to bourgeon and summon from the land, permeating the static frame. This piece is the only one in which McGilchrist has used someone other than herself as the subject.
There is a fixation with objectification at play in McGilchrist’s work. As we move back and forth between the two bodies (Whitey’s and the dancing male’s) we have no choice but to single them out. In doing so we are left to contrast them and question how they relate to each other in this setting of mutual isolation. But there is a personal and cultural familiarity that is needed to get the full statement: the name “Whitey” is what McGilchrist is beckoned with on the streets of Jamaica as she navigates to unveil a mixed family ancestry that she is compelled to connect with. In a culture where the term “Rent-A-Dread” was coined for the exotic companionship that many white foreign women allegedly seek, we feel the tenuousness of Whitey’s search for connection with her long lost homeland.
McGilchrist’s work addresses identity and some of the limiting factors in creating such. In our attempt to ascertain what can be identified of the subject while she wears this mask, we also see identity as a willful mask—one that can be ordained, or conveniently thrown on and used. Inherent in this are notions of navigating a physical space as cultural “insider” or “outsider” and the borders therein.
A handmade aesthetic illustrative of her interest in mythology and an alchemical approach to photography pervades Berette Macaulay’s work. The bulk of her pieces employ Polaroid photo transfers and collages set in light boxes. Other pieces in the show are a larger than life cast iron sculpture dressed in transparent blue garments and a digital photograph suspended on top of a piece of driftwood.
Macaulay’s light box pieces employ cutouts that radiate in shapes reminiscent of the moon. Water, trees, and fetal forms are also recurring motifs. The photo transfers depict ethereal figures frozen in a range of motions from catching metamorphous flying objects in “We Had Kingdoms First” to performing a series of nude rituals in a forest setting. The latter, titled “We Connect at the Root of a Beautiful Catastrophe”, with its warm hue and flesh tones, are vignettes that hearken 17th century Flemish painting. The cast iron sculpture towers above the other works in Macaulay’s show, with the train of its dress draped to frame the digital photographs.
The sculpture is a “representative form of the Greek Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne” according to Macaulay. In Greek mythology Mnemosyne is the mother of the Nine Muses—each responsible for inspiration in their specific field of literature, science and the arts. Mnemosyne also represents the cyclical processes of life, and natural laws depicted in Macaulay’s work.
Leasho Johnson’s work accesses points in Jamaican culture where the seemingly contradictory collide; where male aggression, unabashed sexuality and devout Christianity coexist freely. His installation consists of four equally sized paintings on canvas of predominantly male subjects outfitted with microphones and crucifixes. Dotted in between these paintings are miniature sculptures resembling primitive caricatures of mostly women in lascivious poses. Women appear in a couple of the paintings but they never take center stage, they are present as accessories.
There is a deft rigidity in the brush strokes Johnson uses to portray the subjects in his paintings that lends severity to their already brutally wild expressions. This wildness is abruptly and tightly curtailed by a neon orange background that spills over like a biohazardous waste to blanket the adjacent sculptures. Floating and detached from their frames, the sculptures are avatars of the contemporary Jamaican culture that one recognises in the paintings. The physical features of these sculptures however are limited to mere labia, lips and limbs—the figures are stand-ins for what Johnson deems as “an invisible characteristic that underlies Jamaican social and cultural happenings…[and] a loss of identity”.
Marvin Bartley’s opus at first appears to be photographic documentation of tableaux vivants depicting famous paintings by old masters—only with the substitution of Europeans for Africans (the models are in fact Bartley’s art school friends from Edna Manley and other compatriots). The scenes are actually constructed using a combination of staged photo shoots and seamless digital manipulations that Bartley has used to reinterpret Peter Paul Ruben’s “Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus”, Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, and Eugène Delacroix’s “The Barque of Dante” into his own pieces titled “The Great Rape”, “The Birth of Venus” and “River Styx, The Arrival of Christopher Columbus” respectively. Grand in size, Bartley’s works reference the opulence of their forbearers but with an ease of accessibility achieved by being left unframed.
It has been a recurring tactic in contemporary art practices to insert “blackness” into various art canons as a tool to comment on Eurocentrism in the mainstream art world and culture. This forms the conceptual framework for many high profile contemporary artists such as Kehinde Whiley, Renee Cox, Robert Colescott and Kalup Linzy, to name a few. While this is at play in Bartley’s work, one can also seize the opportunity to assess what truths remain about the original compositions and what becomes recontextualised by opting to change the variables of ethnicity and medium while keeping much else the same.
Bartley’s use of 17th century themes may not seem particularly contemporary but there is indeed relevance to mainstream Jamaican culture with its religiosity, carnal fixations, and confrontations with death on an overwhelming scale. Their relevance stand as Bartley’s assertion of the social legacies of religion and violence.
The Super Plus Under 40 Competition is up until Sunday, November 19 at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston. Mutual Gallery is located at 2 Oxford Rd, Kingston 5 in the NCB Towers. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday, 10.30 am to 3 pm. Phone: 876-929-4302.
Olivia McGilchrist lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica. Born in Jamaica and educated in France and the U.K, McGilchrist moved to Jamaica in 2011 after completing an MA in Photography at the London College of Communication in 2010. McGilchrist has exhibited in Jamaica at The Cage gallery at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, The National Gallery of Jamaica, in Trinidad at Alice Yard and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, in Grenada at The Gallery, and in London at Madame Lillies Art Space.
Berette Macaulay is a NY-based artist. She has exhibited at Artists Space, Art Gotham, Headquarters Gallery, 25CPW Gallery, and Gowanus Loft with the Vanderbilt Republic in New York; Real Art Ways, Hartford, Connecticut; Art For Progress/Fountain Art Fair for Art Basel Week, Miami; NORD Galerie Haus, Nürnberg, GERMANY; and the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston.
Leasho Johnson is a Kingston-based artist who received his BFA in 2009 from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. He has shown locally at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Red Bones, Mutual Gallery, in the U.S. at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, and in the Netherlands at KADE.
Marvin Bartley was born in Jamaica in 1983 and studied painting at the Edna Manly College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Bartley has exhibited regionally at the National Gallery of Jamaica and Alice Yard in Trinidad. In 2011, Bartley was commissioned by the Andy Warhol Foundation to be included in the Small Axe Art Journal.