Karin Preller Just Above the Mantelpiece 2010 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Just Above the Mantelpiece 2010 | Artspace Johannesburg

Karin Preller at Artspace Johannesburg 5 June – 3 July 2013

In Just above the Mantelpiece, Preller returns to still life, with paintings that speak of collection and display; of dialogues unexpectedly set up by an idiosyncratic collection of objects. Known mainly for her photo-based paintings referencing pictorial archives such as family albums, home movies and photo magazines, still life has remained an ongoing interest. A particular ‘photographic’ way of seeing continues to play a role in that photographs taken by the artist become a means to further defamiliarise the objects depicted. This is effected by the deliberate inclusion of photographic data such as sharpness and blurring and intensification of shadow and light. In this regard Just above the mantlepiece continues her distinctive use of photography as a means to explore the conceptual reach of painting.

The paintings express the strange defamiliarisation effected in part by the objects themselves, but also by the very process of immortalising them in paint, alluding to practices of collecting, labelling and classification going back to the curiosity cabinets of the 16th century as well as to the recording of everyday life by Dutch still life painters of the 17th century.

Most of the objects depicted form part of a collection displayed in a friend’s house, others are Preller’s own. Acquired and treasured over time, they become shrines to existence; repositories of memory and obsession, at once eerie and often humorous; testaments to the stories of their owners or those to whom they once belonged. The apparent randomness of collection and display unintentionally strike a web of relationships, the objects becoming carriers of meaning beyond those initially attributed to them, either because of their isolation or because of strange juxtapositions made visible in paint.

Still life abolishes the human figure, standing in direct contrast to events and narratives that take place outside of their confined spaces. Significant for their owner, they are always also a reflection of the surroundings, time and society that look upon them. In a sense every still life is a memento mori – a reminder of the fragility and transience of existence; of the immutable and silent presence of objects, remote from that which falls outside the frame.

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