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Redeconstructivist 2011

In taking things apart in their entirety, Paula Louw leaves very little unsaid. The works of art, these objects of meticulous, excruciating detail, seem to embody their own meaning. It is the act of witnessing the end result of her process that I find startling and compelling. The meaning of Paula’s work lies inextricably linked to the experience of being fascinated by it, caught up in the act of witnessing it in all its complexity.

When looking at her work, I find myself drawn into it; compelled by it. And the nature of the experience is fascination. I cannot help but be aware of the huge amount of work—intensive, physical labour—that has gone into the work. Her labour is an act of revelation, of simultaneously discovering and imbuing meaning. This is the nature of creating art from existing objects; the end result refers both to existing (historic) meanings, and yet-to-be-discovered, new meanings.

Art, here, is the practice of bestowing upon an ordinary thing the gift of beauty. Of turning it into a source of admiration; of reviving our fascination for a dead object. Art, here, gives new life. The dismantled pieces are now objects of veneration, ready to be regarded in new and different ways.

As we look at the work now, we are confronted with something new and profoundly different from that thing we previously presumed to know and understand. We experience the sensation of being drawn into the moment—an act of meditation, perhaps; a freeze-frame opportunity that allows us to concentrate on the object and observe its difference from the thing it once was, the thing which it resembles now in only abstract ways, requiring complex intellectual processes of which we are not even aware. It’s an act of contemplation resulting from the studiousness of the project; the opportunity to witness a moment in time, and—thanks to the physical form of her work—witness this moment from multiple angles.

Continuing this metaphor, it is apt to point out that this is precisely what Paula does with her deconstructed/reconstructed artworks: She stops time in order to get to (or expose) the meaning embedded in banal, everyday, ordinary objects. I experience this as a bit of a trick, though, because when she takes them apart and transforms them, they cease to be banal. I say “trick” in the sense of being an a act of magic, rather than an illusion. She transforms objects into artworks that are fascinating in and of themselves. So, whereas this piano might previously have been fascinating because of what could be done with it (producing music when played by an artist), now it is an object of fascination in its own right. It has attained multiple new meanings, repeatedly refigured by everyone who views it. Transformed in this way, it necessarily refers to its former life (as a piano), but draws us into an altogether different discourse around its present state. Now we look at the piano in a reverential way, as if it were a disembodied, spectral version of its former self.

Or perhaps, rather than seeing the ghost (of a piano), we are seeing its corpse…

Perhaps it’s because there is so much to look at. Minutiae and intricacies revealed within the objects she dismantles seem to suggest the presence of the sublime in even the most banal objects. If you look around this gallery, it is really nothing more than a vexingly-shaped room with vast walls and a magnificent approach. But insert Paula’s dismantled piano, and suddenly this space becomes a surgery for the practice of visual dissection. And the piano is suddenly not merely a dysfunctional instrument that has been put out to pasture, but is now hallowed; revered. As watchful eyes gaze upon it, its nature is transformed, and as light falls upon it, the shadows on the walls become objects too; and sources of intrigue. Paula says that in pulling apart old things she is breaking apart an established order, but I think she is also paying tribute to that order, she is reminding us (and no doubt herself in the process) of the value of that order. After all, in order for the piano to produce music the way it does, it must necessarily be put together in a certain way. By taking it apart, she reminds us of the genius of human creativity, just as dissecting a human body reveals the brilliance of Nature. To come up with a piano is to have produced something magical. There is magic in order. Yet, when she restages the piano in a new and unexpected way, we are forced to consider the piano in all its parts, a bit like the way in which a person is considered differently after they are dead. The way you look at the re-imagined piano might echo the experience of reading or hearing an obituary. You will grapple with the piano in profound ways that might not have been possible—or permissible—when the piano was “alive”. In its original form the piano perhaps loses meaning, fades into the realm of the ordinary, gathers dust, and is potentially forgotten. Paula has bestowed new life on this object, and this act of resurrection fascinates and enthrals.

Her work may suggest to us something like a disembowelment or autopsy, but I find Paula’s work life-affirming, a reminder of the human potential to create, to imagine, and re-imagine. And, by displaying the many parts or components of an act of creation, her work become a meditation on creative process itself. “Don’t just see a piano,” this piece seems to be saying.

Look at the piano; stare at it and be reminded of the human potential for fascination. It’s an invigorating study; captivating and pulsing with life, even as it invites us to contemplate the afterlife of an ordinary object.

by Keith Bain

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