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Alastair Whitton

LEFT Alastair Whitton, Protector, from the series “Patmos and the War at Sea”, 2009, giclee print on photo rag with hand-stamped, hand-stitched, laser-cut Braille, 28 x 56cm RIGHT Alastair Whitton, Rain, from
the series “Patmos and the War at Sea”, 2009, giclee print on photo rag with hand-stamped, hand-stitched, laser-cut Braille, 28 x 56cm

Alastair Whitton’s show, Patmos and the War at Sea,     that “textual” cipher. Within each agglomeration                                                                            two very similar, but incomplete, ideas sit close to
consists mainly of fifteen works in black frames        of holes lies a tiny set of letters (the titles of the                                                                      each other we often have an urge to find congruency.
mounted within a very prominent, horizontal stripe      works) sometimes resembling a known word and                                                                                Although in the case of Patmos the signifiers look
of jet-black paint skirting the gallery walls. Inside   sometimes non-words like “ANGELE,” “RE(A)D,”                                                                                vastly different, but their heightened indeterminacy,
each frame floats what looks like a double page         “LANDER,” “TARGET” or “GANTELET.” The                                                                                       proximity to each other and provenance in the field
spread from a book. Tons of small, Braille-like,        placement of the framed works within the black                                                                              of war makes them similar enough to spark this
laser-cut holes pepper each left page and a grainy,     stripe makes the ensemble resemble frames on a                                                                              intense narrative desire.
leaden section of a war photograph lies opposite        continuous strip of film.                                                                                                   The impossibility of snatching meaning from these
                                                                                    The first experience of                                                                         spreads and the initial, interminable oscillation
                                                                                    seeing Patmos may be                                                                            from left to right, and back, is like low-level trauma.
                                                                                    likened to watching                                                                             There are also impossibilities associated with using
                                                                                    The World at War with                                                                           grainy, cropped war photos and Braille as primary

                 the loop
                                                                                    the volume off while                                                                            motifs. Both are so over-burdened with associations
                                                                                    simultaneously trying                                                                           and meaning that one has to be fastidious in their
                                                                                    to snatch up a cuddly                                                                           appropriation, or run the risk of them detaching
                                                                                    toy with a robotic arm                                                                          from their intentions and drifting aimlessly. This is
                                                                                    – hard to articulate.                                                                           the case with a short, looped, “archival footage” video

                  art foundry
                                                                                    This is because meaning                                                                         entitled Bleed which runs behind curtains adjacent to
                                                                                    is obfuscated by both                                                                           the show propre. As a didactic bridge between the
                                                                                    the cut code and the                                                                            film footage and the work it feels misplaced.
                                                                                    grainy      photographs,                                                                        There is not much variation in the intensity of the
                                                                                    and also by the way in                                                                          spreads, and the juxtaposition of photographs whose
                                                                                    which the show avoids                                                                           legible content differs greatly makes for a somewhat
                                                                                    reassuring      modalities                                                                      clunky transition between works. The rewardingly
                                                                                    associated     with     an                                                                      unclear relationship of Patmos to film, photography
                                                                                    established medium like                                                                         and video could have been exaggerated by a more
                                                                                    photography.                                                                                    nuanced relationship between these aspects of the
                                                                                    Subsequent         perusals                                                                     work.
                                                                                    of Patmos make clearer                                                                          Alastair Whitton was trained as a sculptor and the
                                                                                    the nuts and bolts of                                                                           installation of framed photographs on the black
                                                                                    the show’s conceptual                                                                           Mobius stripe is smart and effective. The imposition
                                                                                    framework.        I    am                                                                       of this sculptural sensibility allows the work to
                                                                                    reminded of an early                                                                            insinuate itself between photography and film. The
                                                                                    work of Jeff Wall’s called                                                                      quality of the framed work is also top notch and
                                                                                    Stereo, which also utilises                                                                     indicative of much care and thought.
                                                                                    the double page spread,                                                                         The book for which the works have been made does
                         t 27(0)13 7582409 f 27(0)11 5075747                        symbols and a photo.                                                                            not exist, and the facts and figures surrounding the
                                                 On the right in bold                                                                            content of the pages are unfixed. Both in its form
                  &                            is written “STEREO”                                                                             and in its content Patmos is truly at sea. But trying
                                                   and Jeff lies naked on a                                                                        to moor one’s relationship to this art brings great
                   striving in our passion towards excellence                       red sofa on the left page                                                                       reward.
                                                                                    with headphones on. A                                                                           (For thousands of years the Greek Island of Patmos
                                                                                    couple of things can be                                                                         has borne the brunt of marauding seafarers.)
                                                                                    deduced from this: 1.
                                                                                    Canada is cold. 2. When                                                                         Dave Southwood is an artist living in Cape Town.

82 a r t s o u t h a f r i c a

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