Yellow Bile (or Work in Progress)

For the past six years, Mikhael Subotzky has been systematically pulling images apart in an attempt to “get inside” them and understand their representational function. Working with found images as well as his own photographs, these have been radically re-contextualised, smashed, split in half, and reconstituted into forms that Subotzky sees as being a more honest reflection of these images than their original form.

At Maitland Institute, Subotzky continues this process, working for the first time with paint and ink on canvas, as well as in collaborative performance with The Brother Moves On. These new formal constituents are wielded around Subotzky’s personal iconography - images that he has both found and made that resonate with his memories and experiences, as well as certain texts foundational to his understanding of the world.

The collaborative performance with The Brother Moves On, titled Four Rehearsals in the Yellow Bile, will take place within the exhibition on the opening night (14 September). It too will “pull apart” the underlying texts and images of Subotzky’s works, while also introducing the narratives and imagery of performance and collaboration synonymous with The Brother Moves On. Four Rehearsals in the Yellow Bile features Thantaswa May as our female protagonist stuck in the Bile, under the watchful eye of our current reality. Her story, an ode to Nina Simone’s Four Women and the Marikana widows amongst others, will be sung in counterpoint and conflict with TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (read by Subotzky) and accompanied by a percussive and musical score created by Zelizwe Mthembu.

This “work in progress” exhibition thus introduces a new stream in Subotzky’s work, a cross-medium attempt to illustrate and understand T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets. Drawing on a long history of artists’ “illustration” of classic texts - Rauschenberg’s Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno and Robert Crumb’s Holy Bible for example - Subotzky seeks to get inside a text that has been fundamental to his aesthetic and philosophical understanding of the world. It is a project that he estimates he will be preoccupied with for many years to come.