MATTERS OF THE ART
Carolina Salinas’s debut solo exhibition in Cape Town: Freedom of repose with reckless abandon
Carolina Salinas’s debut exhibition at 99 Loop Gallery depicts intimate and public moments of rest and leisure but evokes the unseen politics surrounding this theme.
In a world that is constantly moving, bustling and turning, the notion of rest and leisure often feels beyond reach. With a long Easter weekend behind us, it seems apt to examine Carolina Salinas’s debut solo exhibition Reposed. Particularly, against our conceptions of how rest is undertaken, at times constructed or perceived, where it takes place, and to whom we believe it is afforded.
Human geographer Yi Fu Tuan writes: “Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to one and long for the other.” Although this can be read against a multitude of contexts such as migration, nationhood and freedom of movement, one can also begin to think about notions of place and space and how they are navigated in certain locales with the intention of rest and leisure. Salinas’s exhibition presents an interesting mixture of the private and the public, landscape and figurative art traditions, warm and cool tones, and the objective or subjective perspective and how they cumulatively mediate humanity’s connection to the environment. With this being said, how can we move beyond Yi Fu Tuan’s diagnosis of place as security and begin to exist in a space (private or public) of rest and leisure undertaken freely by all?
As you enter the exhibition space at 99 Loop Gallery, where Salinas’s exhibition is located, you are met with this dark yet vibrant green covering the walls. Going against any traditional notion of the white cube, the choice of colour assists with making visible the unusual use of colour that runs through Salinas’s art. There is an invisible yet continual thread in the colour palette as the eye moves from one piece to the next – hues of pink, green and blue are unavoidable, even in instances where the hyperrealist in us wants to scream: “The earth surely cannot be pink!” Salinas describes her process with colours as meditative, stating: “I love to explore. I never use colours from the tube, it’s always mixed on a palette or straight on the canvas. There’s something magical when a colour just pops next to something else unexpected.” It is evident that the colours come into existence through the artist’s leisurely journey to find those that evoke just the right mood.
There are particular works that the eye cannot seem to resist, namely Girl and her pets. The use of oil paints does not result in the heaviness we usually ascribe to it. Instead, the fluidity in colour and style come together to depict a young woman lying in bed with her pink cat and dog. With an averted gaze, and the clear indication that this is indeed a private space, the viewer is left to feel as though they are intruding on an intimate moment. Historically, the position of the viewer relative to the subject often turns into a power battle as women have largely been depicted in submissive roles. This can leave the viewer with a feeling of subconscious control, especially when it comes to the depiction of women by white cisgender male artists. However, when you realise you are observing a moment of unadulterated relaxation, you begin to feel envious. Here Salinas quietly toys with our gaze, leaving us feeling as though we are intruding in this private setting, yet also longing for (more) moments like this in our own lives.
Adjacent to the wall of Girl and her pets, you are confronted with the work of Hot Boys. The tones of solid dark and light greens in this work serve as the backdrop for men lounging on the beach in swimming briefs, taking in the sun in a moment of friendship and fun. This image recalls an impressionist style. Freedom underpins the manner in which the men are depicted as they seem at ease and only concerned with what is occurring in their circle on a decorative beach towel.
Where previously with Girl and her pets you felt you were intruding on a private moment, the context of Hot Boys exudes a feeling of empowerment – or it is detectable to the female viewer. The curatorial element becomes pertinent here as on the opposite wall the work Sister in law depicts a woman bent on her knees on a beach towel staring into the distance. If you trace her stare, it connects almost perfectly with the scene taking place on the opposite wall in the Hot Boys. This placement reads as an almost world-making attempt on the part of the artist – the locales possibly separate, yet still connected through meaning-making.
World-making becomes an important theme in this particular exhibition as the viewer cannot help but project their own narratives and lived experiences upon the subjects, landscapes and moments of repose Salinas depicts. In conversation with the artist, she noted that she wanted to convey a sense of ambiguity in her depiction of the subject matter and location. You have an impression of place and person rather than any definitive characteristics. Working in the medium of painting, Salina draws from photographic archives, whether her own, on the internet or old photographic material. This means not one specific locale can be attributed to the body of work. Although the artist may have not intended for a political nuance to be drawn from this rather universal theme of rest, one cannot help but question who is present in these moments of leisure and who is not.
With the consistent hues of pink and “flesh” tones, it is impossible to not examine the relationship between whiteness and who has historically been able to freely access rest and leisure in public and private spaces. In the context of the exhibition showing in the city centre of Cape Town, it would not be far-fetched to observe these moments of rest and think about the shores of Clifton Beach in the context of Hot Boys, or an apartment in Green Point in the context of Girl and her pets.
Salinas is an Australian-Chilean artist based in Cape Town who has lived and worked in London and grew up in Australia. Moreover, as stated previously, her work draws from a plethora of contexts with no specific locale. Yet it is difficult not to extend one’s imagination and fill the gaps of what may not be said but is seen. Could this be a biased misconception or is it to do with the lack of visibility of bodies that lay outside of whiteness that we do not regularly see enjoying moments of rest, particularly in the realm of (South African) visual culture?
Curator Koyo Kouoh attempts to lay this to rest in the exhibition When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration In Painting, which chronicles black figurative art from our continent and the diaspora on a scale that has not been seen before. What is particularly important about this exhibition currently on at Zeitz MOCAA is that it showcases the visibility of black figures in a multitude of contexts, even in one section of the exhibition titled Repose.
Here are images that defy the assumption in art historical contexts that blackness is relegated to positions of violent objectivity almost always, rather than autonomous subjectivity. When standing in front of Salinas’s Girl and her pets, you cannot help but redirect your thoughts to Zandile Tshabalala’s Two Reclining Women, which features in When We See Us. Although Kouoh’s monumental undertaking gives a freshened understanding of where black figurative work lies in the white normative silos of figurative work at large, reading Salinas’s exhibition against this, highlights the assumption of who we envision to hold space in places where rest and leisure occur.
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As a debut solo exhibition, Salinas gives us a taste of what we are likely to enjoy in her future endeavours as an artist diligently honing her artistic voice which is characterised by an impressive use of colour. Beyond the impressionist mode of her practice, Salinas’s Repose reminds us that no matter the ambiguity in subject matter, place or figure, reading between visual lines is second nature to the eye. Although the excavation of the missing narratives became unavoidable, it also points to the importance of bodies of works such as Salinas living beside the greater ecosystem of contemporary art in South Africa and the continent that will hopefully continue to probe how we see ourselves and others in spaces of freedom – in this context, freedom of repose with reckless abandon. DM/ML
This text was produced during an independent journalism development project by African Arts Content focused on the Church Street art node in Cape Town. Reposed shows at 99 Loop Gallery until 26 April.