Mikhael Subotzky / Two Projects: Jan Smuts / 2009
In early 2008 Mikhael Subotzky moved to Johannesburg. He has subsequently continued with two long-term projects which are of independent concern, but which have both been influenced by his new context – the backdrop of the city of Johannesburg.
These two projects are presented here as work-in-progress and will both be realised as full exhibitions and publications in the coming years. The first, for which the artist was awarded the 2008 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant, is a continuation of what has already been a five-year interest in crime, social marginalisation, and the public and private institutions of punishment and security. This investigation started in 2004 with Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners), and was continued in subsequent years with the Umjiegwana (The Outside) and the Beaufort West series’. In this exhibition, Subotzky presents new works which extend these series’ into new environments. Loosely focusing on the lifestyle of fear in South Africa, these works explore both the reality and the concept of security in contemporary society. Presented mainly at the Goodman Gallery’s new project space at Arts on Main, they include new large-scale photographs which extend the artist’s formal vocabulary, as well as older photographs which are exhibited here for the first time.
The second new body of work is being made in collaboration with British artist Patrick Waterhouse. Subotzky and Waterhouse met while on residency together in Italy. They started collaborating in mid-2008 on a project that is geographically located in Berea’s Ponte City building. This icon of the Johannesburg’s skyline has long been a symbol for the city itself, and the crucible of its citizen’s imaginations. Since its inception in 1976, the best and the worst of Johannesburg have been projected onto the building, and built into its mythology. Combining photography, historical archives, found objects, and interviews, the work spans the pre-history of the building, its spectacular decline, and recent attempts at its transformation. The building is cast as the central character in a tangled narrative which reflects Johannesburg’s magnetic pull on the social and mythical lives of those who come to this place from all over the country and all over the continent.
At the Goodman Gallery’s Jan Smuts location, Subotzky and Waterhouse present a series of photographs made in the building, a new five-metre panorama, and a book dummy installation. The book dummy provides context to their broader engagement with the history of the building and their ongoing relationships with some of its residents. Inscribed by hand with the artist’s notes, this dummy combines the photographs that are on display in the rest of the exhibition with the archival and found documents, and represents the artist’s attempts to organise and find narratives in the wide range of images and sources that they have collected.
Subotzky was included in New Photography 2008: Josephine Meckseper and Mikhael Subotzky at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His first monograph, Beaufort West, was published the same year and his work has been widely exhibited and collected. He is the winner of the 2009 Oskar Barnack Award, the 2008 W. Eugene Smith Grant, and the 2008 ICP Infinity Award (Young Photographer). This is his third solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery.