Dissonant, jarring and inaccessible, Heavy Metal is the visual equivalent of its musical namesake. This eclectic exhibition features buoyant work by some of South Africa’s top designers. Unfortunately, it fails to consistently develop the richer metaphorical parallels between design and rock music.
Heavy Metal takes place upstairs and down, inside and out and sprawls across multiple rooms. This renders the design endemic to the Foundry but unfortunately, the bohemian panache of the venue makes it difficult to know whether one is stumbling across items from the exhibition or miscellaneous in-house collectables. The work is poorly sign-posted and thus threatens to fade into the scenery of this chic Woodstock venue.
The Southern Guild exhibition show-cases high-profile work by Cheick Diallo and Bad Machine, but I was most captivated by the Cape’s Ceramic Matters. The company have a background in ceramics, print-making and fine-art but their input was some of the most thought-provoking of the metal-inspired display. In particular, their series of “Kiss” plates, a reference to the rock band of the same name, dexterously play upon the title of the exhibition and affix metal to ceramic in rousing ways.
This art is potentially radical and brings to mind the devastating gun abuse both in South Africa and abroad. In this regard, one of the most fascinating plates seals a teddy bear and a small rifle with the word “Kiss”. Teddy bears are an emblem of childhood and the confluence of these disparate symbols underlines how unnerving it is for violence and innocence to be part of the same world. Furthermore, to view both these figures on a plate, traditionally a household, eating vessel, gestures to the way in which guns pervade the everyday environment.
Other plates depict similarly contentious themes such as two guns embracing or a banana taking up the place of a gun. These pieces tacitly allude to the phallocentric roots of much social conflict whilst the use of bananas highlights the way in which violence is for many, a source of sustenance, food and livelihood.
Is it morally objectionable to place guns on a pedestal and uphold them as paragons of visual beauty? Possibly, but these plates slyly mock their own aesthetic through labouring the absurdity of cramming guns, fruit, rock stars and stuffed animals into a single theme.
Heavy Metal remains a challenging exhibition. Exploratory design propels the commonplace into the realms of the conceptually complex. At its best, the work at the Foundry is a salient reminder of the astonishing qualities that saturate both raw materials and elements of utility. It is regrettable that the venue’s avant-garde lay-out masochistically camouflages some of the most consummate work on display.
Heavy Metal runs at The Foundry, Woodstock from 27 February – 9 March