Multidisciplinary South African artist Frank van Reenen’s latest solo exhibition, playfully titled Cunning Stunts, features a collection of old and new sculptures, paintings and prints. The exhibition, which opens on Thursday 2 February, is hosted by HUB at its inner-city gallery at Union House in Cape Town until 31 March.
In Cunning Stunts, Van Reenen unpacks themes of satire, human fallibility, nostalgia and cartoon culture in a subtle consideration of human nature. The Loerie Award-winning artist, who exhibited at the Design Indaba Expo in 2015, incorporates childlike forms into his pared-back pieces that question the human condition.
Design Indaba spoke to Van Reenen about Cunning Stunts and what to expect from the exhibition.
Why did you choose the title Cunning Stunts?
I found the word ‘stunt’, meaning a dangerous, life-threatening act for mostly entertainment purposes, to be a very good metaphor for the human condition. Then there’s the clever bit – ‘cunning’.
What was the inspiration behind the exhibition?
Years and years of ‘cunning stunts’ that mostly failed, but then sometimes not.
How long have you been working on this particular exhibition?
Some of the works in the show are twelve years old, so ….
Give us insight into one of the pieces featured in the exhibition.
‘No Man is an Island Except for this Guy’, which is 24-carat gold leaf on epoxy with carbon fibre and stainless steel, is a sculpture of a person snorkelling underwater in the very cold Atlantic Ocean, like at Llandudno, with his bottom sticking out of the water. On his gluteus maximus is a perfect little island scene, with a sad castaway and a palm tree that has found the perfect place to grow, with two 24-carat-gold-leaf coconuts.
It's a symbolic metaphorical interpretation of the fact that humans actually don’t know that much about the universe – where we come from, why we’re here, etc. Who knows, maybe we’re all just stranded on someone’s gold-leaf butt.
You’ve previously stated that you’re influenced by childhood toys. Is this a theme prevalent in Cunning Stunts?
Yes. Toys definitely have a danger element to them. When I was a youngster, we would build stunts for our toys and see if they would survive. My brother had this doll that he called Jesus, and he used to tie it to fireworks rockets to try to ‘send it back to heaven’.
What do you hope visitors will experience at your exhibition?
I’ve realised it’s impossible to direct a viewer's interpretation, but what I always hope for is that there is a communication with the psyche in a singular manner so that the viewer can think about nothing else ever again, ever. Imagine sitting in a padded room, rocking to and fro, repeating, ‘No man is an island except for this guy,’ ad infinitum. That would be a win. I think that’s what every artist hopes to achieve.
Photographs: Frank van Reenen.