Adele Adendorff Still(a)life 2010 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Still(a)life 2010

The exhibition comprises a number of oil on board paintings framed in vintage, often deteriorated frames of various sizes and ornamentation. The show is autobiographical in reference and attempts to trace various stillife objects (imbued with symbolic associations) which signify life in the artist’s own existence.

Amidst all the structures, cycles and routines imposed on us by everyday life itself, the artist experiences a constant state of being in limbo: a place where all seems devoid of colour, of life and hope. It is this “desaturation” that eats away at our humanity and our souls – our love, passions, dreams and desires – and leaves us with empty vessels for bodies, which merely go through the motions and complete sequences on a daily basis. This in-between state of being renders us lonely wanderers: nomads journeying through life as lost, soulless individuals, constantly chasing chimeras of utopian places, a place to call home. “They say we all lose 21 grams... at the exact moment of our death . Everyone. And how much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost? When do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with them? How much is gained? Twenty-one grams. The weight of a hummingbird. A chocolate bar. How much did 21 grams weigh?”.[1]

Works are installed in a manner akin to a wall of family portraits and indicates that these dreams and desires that fade away should be treasured and seen as that which, in facts, keeps us (or our bodies at least) alive. Central to the exhibition is a self-portrait (completed in desaturated flesh tones) which is flanked by a number of smaller works referencing various still life objects (as found in typical Vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands). The objects illustrated in the smaller paintings make reference to a particular desire or hope and, in each case, contain the colour red, thereby signalling life. The objects are imbued with symbolic and personal meaning and are chosen for the references made to both the tradition of art and conceptual considerations. The Vanitas tradition renders the exhibition another layer of meaning: The word, Vanitas, is of Latin origin and literally means “emptiness”. The genre traditionally deals with the concept of momento mori (a Latin word literally meaning “remember you must die”) and usually includes objects referencing death, ageing and the brevity of life (skulls, butterflies and moths, overripe fruit, crystal and silverware). These works are known for their technical proficiency as it is executed in a photorealist manner which, once again, relates to the artist’s method of working.

[1] Dr. Duncan MacDougall was an early 20th century physician who sought to measure the mass purportedly lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death. In 1907, MacDougall weighed six patients while they were in the process of dying from tuberculosis in an old age home. It was relatively easy to determine when death was only a few hours away and at this point the entire bed was placed on an industrial sized scale which was apparently sensitive to the gram. He took his results (a varying amount of perceived mass loss in most of the six cases) to support his hypothesis that the soul had mass, and when the soul departed the body, so did this mass. The determination of the soul weighing 21 grams was based on the average loss of mass in the six patients within minutes or hours after death.
Quotation taken from the movie 21 Grams (2003) directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.



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