Songs Beneath the Surface : Carolyn Parton
Songs Beneath The Surface continues carolyn parton's philosophical fascination with hypostasis - that which makes up the underlying or fundamental reality of things. she is known for working with the discarded remnants of art making, particularly the paint and paint tubes from renowned artists and local industry. these materials are reconstituted in an alchemical and archaeological sense in her practice that speaks to a larger human story of creation and destruction.
'Carolyn Parton has worked with a consciousness of environment trauma for many years. The impact of human activity upon environmental realities is little disputed by scientists and biologists but renewable approaches to this impact differ. Parton focuses her practice upon altering the value of what are considered 'waste' materials. She believes that discarded materials have a philosophical hypostatic integrity and that working with them can reveal a truth that is contained in their materiality. She has predominantly focused on painting, using the discarded paint debris of artists and industry as a sculptural material laden with the archaeological story of the creative process. Her works challenge traditional conventions of painting and sculpture, playing with the format and nature of painting in sculptural ways. In some of her works, surfaces are woven entirely from discarded artists' paint tubes or paint remnants while others reveal stacked layers of accumulated paint deposits. Songs Beneath the Surface continues her practice of interrogating the inherent material nature of painting, with a shift towards the material implications of art history.
Within contemporary culture, the control of images has shifted from one of censorship, to curb civil awareness by forbidding sight, to one of gluttony. Rather than curbing the flow of images civil society is rendered blind by the sheer volume and unaccountability of them. This reality was brought to attention in the 2015 to 2016 student protest action by the #FEESMUSTFALL movement, which was begun by students on University Campuses in South Africa to push for an increase in government funding of tertiary education. A host of grievances emerged in the wake of the movement at the University of Cape Town campuses. Most notable for Parton was the critique of colonial knowledge systems and teaching methods in a Postcolonial nation particularly by the #RHODESMUSTFALL group. This critique extended to the canon of art works on the campus with a host of paintings being burnt by protestors on the campus grounds. Through her creative process Parton begins to reflect the deeper cultural issues in the environment of art history, most notably the material glut and repetition of images sanctioned by the art canon. The student movements extended Parton's understanding of an environmental trauma. The impact of discarded materials in our landfills results in a very real poisoning of natural spaces. The student movement sought to discard historical materials in an attempt to engender change. Parton attempts a processing of these materials in order to avoid the creation of a toxic cultural history.
Waste spaces are embraced by Parton as physical and physic strata that all except archaeologists prefer to ignore. Hidden in material strata are the stories of our culture. By focusing on the residue, the discarded, that which is often considered debris, she confronts the uncomfortable binaries of desire versus disgust and reverence versus rejection. The small accumulative gestures of treasuringand discardingenacted by society have collective impact upon that society's reality. The canon of art history was a record ofwhat entereddominant knowledge systems and with what level of importance, thus defining the landscape of art production today.
In a 2004 New York Times article Susan Sontag eloquently discussed the role that images can play in confronting civil society with its shadow nature. Throughout the text she challenges us to look beyond the superficial depiction in images to the deeper social and political implication that the image illuminates (Sontag 2004). In light of this context, Parton's choice of art history books as the latent material of her creative process carries much socio-political relevance. Many of the FALL-ist protestors advocated for the removal of colonial objects and knowledge systems in order to create the space for what they perceive to be an African tradition within Universities. Parton inherently views the impact of historic and material traces as something the artist can transform in a positive way (Parton 2010).
The act of sorting and sifting material is immediately evident in the works on Songs Beneath the Surface, asserting Parton's position as one of tirelessly looking. Her act of organising and reconstituting debris is political in both its environmental and socio-political implications. Layers of found paint from artists' studios make up Silent song. In Eyedancing in deluge discarded artists' paint is worked into a cloth-like entity, while in Dust in the Wind (verse 2) dried paint remnants from discarded industrial paint tins form ecological layers. In the works on paper, Parton's act of looking is evidenced as a potentially destructive act, a 'looking through' the canonical art image and deconstructing its reality. Thought of another way, her process is one of visualising a deep looking in line with Sontag's assertion to look beyond the surface of an image to it's social and political implication, an act of dismantling hierarchies of sight. Sunflowers, page 69 (Van Gogh) and Toneel, page 19 (Pierneef) systematically unpick the visual elements of historical paintings in a process of sifting their parts.
Parton's processing of the art history book reveals something different to her processing of the artist paint debris. The fragmentation of the original art image also begins to speak to the trauma response. This is a biological response that results in a person storing the memory of a traumatic experience as disordered sensory fragments. Mirroring her own experience of trauma, in some works the image fragments are quite systematically arranged while in later works such as Letting go of Gertrude Stein, page 53 and Exhale, standing by the rags, page 333 the fragments become an image of their own volition. In her processing of materials Parton appears to reach a new vocabulary with chaos. In the destruction and creation inherent in her process a new equilibrium of composition is reached. Works such as Song of unseeing and Descent into liquid moonbeam begin to describe an acceptance of the new landscape evoked by her practice as a landscape containing the possibility of both reform and beauty.
Parton's practice could be described as enlisting a subterranean awareness to the process of creation. Her insistence on a relentless looking, a refusal to look away, is a process of confronting the mire of that which is deemed 'useless.' By tirelessly sifting and sorting the debris she enacts the reclamation of a culturally hypostatic material. The demands of the FALL-ist student movement have been experienced and perceived by many in the community as a traumatic experience: cries for change are often experienced so. Parton's creative empathy with the impulse to redress social and political material by means of creatively confronting social debris is a powerfully positive gesture.'
(Natasha Norman 'Material Remains')
Natasha Norman is a lecturer, arts writer and practicing artist. Her research is centred on Contemporary South African Art and the techno-social language of contemporary images.
Carolyn Parton, Silent song, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Breathing under water, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Descent into liquid moonbeam, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Siren song - Wheatfields, 2018
Carolyn Parton, I wrote a song for you, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Asleep on River Bed, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Between you and me (Verse 1), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Between you and me (Verse 2), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Carmine heart beat, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Exhale - Standing by the rags (Page 333), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Eyedancing deluge, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Indigo heart beat, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Inhale - Les demoiselles (Page 50), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Invisible chords, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Last dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Plate 16.6), 2018
Carolyn Parton, LeForze Di Una Strade - Boccionni (Page 65), 2017
Carolyn Parton, Letting go of Gertrude Stein (Page 53), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Lyrics for Venus of Willendorf (Page 23), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Magenta heart beat, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Ocean crescendo, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Quartet for Van Gogh, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Siren Song (Wheatfields), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Slow dancing in shadowless light, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Solar Soundtrack, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Song of unseeing, 2018
Carolyn Parton, Toneel/Scene - Pierneef (Page 19), 2017
Carolyn Parton, Untitled - Maqhubela (Page 285), 2017
Carolyn Parton, Unwinding Ivory black (Starry night), 2018
Carolyn Parton, Freedom song, 2018
Sulger-Buel Gallery cordially invites you to attend the opening of our next solo exhibition featuring Carolyn Parton (South Africa), titled Songs Beneath the Surface. The exhibition will be opened in the presence of the artist on Tuesday 04 December 2018 at 18:30 and concludes Friday 28 December 2018.
About the Artist:
Born 1964 in Cape Town, South Africa
Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa
Carolyn Parton is primarily a sculptural painter, innovatively extending the medium through her exploration of paint as physical matter; embedded with memory.
Her research article Extended Traces: Tracking the impact of painter upon environment was published in 2010.
Collecting spent paint - particularly that which has a backstory - from local housepainters to acclaimed international artists, she develops methods to reclaim this paint, incorporating it as a remnant of environment and history.
Like an archaeologist, Parton explores crucial moments of human evolution to understand who we are in the present, as we stand at the cusp of an environmental challenge that will determine our legacy. Her sculpted paint cascades, landscapes of cosmic paint dust particles, stratified paint fragment installations, paint cloth mosaics with pallet remnants and clustered jewel like paint tubes, become the archive.
Her most recent project is influenced by the current debate in South Africa around decolonisation. Exploring this moment has led to her taking apart the works from books that were a part of her art studies over decades - cutting, and re-arranging them. The project is part of an ongoing process of re-thinking her sociocultural/environmental context.
Parton holds an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design, Cape Town University of Technology and a Bachelor of art in Fine Art (cum laude) from the University of South Africa, 2008. Her solo exhibitions include Emergence (1997), Release (2009) and This Remembering Land (2015). She has taken part in numerous group exhibitions throughout South Africa and in London and Rome. Her work is included in permanent collections such as Southern African Foundation for Contemporary Art, University of Cape Town, University of South Africa and The Constitutional Court of South Africa.
About the Exhibition:
Songs Beneath the Surface
Songs Beneath the Surface continues Carolyn Parton's philosophical fascination with hypostasis - that which makes up the underlying or fundamental reality of things. She is known for working with the discarded remnants of art making, particularly the paint and paint tubes from renowned artists and local industry. These materials are reconstituted in an alchemical and archaeological sense in her practice that speaks to a larger human story of creation and destruction.
The work in this latest solo exhibition uses this practice to respond directly to a series of both personal and social traumatic triggering at the time of the South African Universities #FEESMUSTFALL movement. During this movement, which constituted both violent protest and open dialogue, issues were raised with colonial knowledge systems and teaching approaches in tertiary institutions in a postcolonial nation. At the time, Parton was confronting her own personal traumas. She had amassed a collection of outdated art history books that she began to work with. Her personal responses to images and art historical references began to gather socio-political significance as the student protests extended to the burning of paintings.
As with the other arts debris she works with, Parton's use of books begins to confront larger structures of value and waste in a contemporary context. In light of the student protests, the drive to destroy as a tool for liberation is echoed through Parton's creative practice where a new visual language emerges from the dismantling of an existing structure, situating the creative act as the greatest form of both protest and renewal.
Parton's practice could be described as enlisting a subterranean awareness to the process of creation. By refusing to look away, by confronting the mire of that which is deemed 'useless', by tirelessly sifting and sorting the debris, she enacts the reclamation of culture and material from the toxic landfill of history.
Details of Venue:
Address: 51 Surrey Row, Unit 2 La Gare, London SE1 0BZ
Telephone: +44 203 268 2101
Duration: Tuesday 30 October 2018 at 18:30 - Friday 30 November 2018.
Gallery hours during exhibitions: Monday - Friday: 10:00 - 18:00. Weekends or other times by appointment only.
About Sulger-Buel Gallery:
Sulger-Buel Gallery is positioned as part of a new approach in understanding the trajectories of contemporary art from Africa and the diaspora. Our belief is that the socio-cultural and economic transformations of Africa can be better understood through the analysis and interpretation of cutting-edge art. Furthermore, contemporary art in Africa is relevant in understanding the broader socio-political context of the continent. Sulger-Buel Gallery offers a strategic partnership approach with artists and a highly individual approach to clients. The gallery accompanies existing and new collectors to this emerging market. We are dedicated to the long term success of the collectors and artists we work with.