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EUPHEMISM (article first published : 2004-11-24)

From November 25, the Durban Art Gallery will host Euphemism, an exhibition by Standard Bank Young Artist for 2004, Kathryn Smith.

Artistic practice and an equally compelling interest in forensic investigation, particularly the psychological aspects of criminal activity, have preoccupied Kathryn Smith since childhood. Choosing to prioritise her work as an artist, curator and critic, her artistic practice owes much to the forensic investigator's ability to recreate compelling narratives from evidence that can often best be described as debris.

Her process and research-based working methods are based on methodical recreations (or reinventions) of events or situations, which are not presented as complete “histories”, but abstracted moments and suggestive details.

Working primarily in photography and video, and dabbling in performance, Smith will treat Euphemism as a work-in-progress, responding to the specific spaces of each gallery and museum to which it will travel.

The exhibition revolves around 'Jack in Johannesburg', a body of work made in response to British painter Walter Sickert's alleged relationship to (and documented obsession with) the Jack the Ripper murders in Victorian England, and works by Sickert in public collections in South Africa. 'Jack in Johannesburg' comprises a two-channel projection featuring footage from the eponymous erformance piece produced at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2003, where Smith's upper left arm was tattooed with the aphorism 'Never look for unicorns until you run out of ponies'.

Research for this ongoing project has included walking tours of the Ripper crime scenes in London's East End with criminologists and crime historians, a trip to Dieppe (France) where Sickert often painted, and the production of a video documenting accounts of the theft of a Sickert painting (Royal Hotel, Dieppe) from the South African National Gallery in 1998. Original works by Sickert will be incorporated into the installation in galleries where these works exist in their holdings.

Other works, infused with a bit of baroque melodrama, position themselves in relation to artistry versus art history; biography; alter-egos; and the meeting of reality, fiction and fantasy. Here, evidence and identity are circumstantial. Stand-ins, prostheses, body-doubles, and the slippery space between impersonators and impostors are all brought to bear in an exhibition that makes little attempt to sift truths from fictions. Acknowledging the secret histories and unspoken desires that exist between private and public space, Smith's work is connected to both conceptualist and formalist traditions, and is innately tied to the romantic notion of the art of murder.

Euphemism features photo and video works, based on pseudo-forensic working methods that recreate or reinvent situations, and re-presenting them not as complete histories, but as abstracted or suggestive moments. Acknowledging the secret histories and unspoken desires that exist between private and public space, Smith's work flirts with the meeting of reality, fiction, fantasy and desire. It is innately tied to the romantic notion of the art of murder.




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