Review by Johan Myburg
Exhibition: “Something Left to Save”
Artist: Cedric Vanderlinden
National Arts Festival: Trinity Hall, Hill Street
In the genre of landscape painting, the landscape is traditionally presented as an image of stability, of permanence in a fleeting world – a notion purported by the 18th century’s invention of the topographical print, depicting more or less accurately a “real view” to the extent of portraying an objective reality. Principally derived from Newtonian physics of the time linear notions of causality informed human understanding and translated landscape into a manifestation of the sublime.
The unravelling of this Romantic ideal came with the realisation that understanding is determined and restrained by the receiving context for the event, that is, by the network of premises and presuppositions that constitute presentations of the world.
An exhibition presented as Landscape can therefore hardly offer the viewer any real view of the world, of landscapes, of places or of topographical memories. We are dealing with perceptions mediated by the nervous system but also by means of social and/or societal interaction. What we think we perceive is not there. What is “out there” is in fact “in here”. The landscapes presented in this exhibition are the perceived realities of three artists; and readings of their paintings are in turn our interpretations, informed by our own social interactions.
In Something Left to Save Cedric Vanderlinden presents large-format skyscapes to reflect on the landscape – in most cases an absent landscape. Vanderlinden’s paintings prove to be the opposite of the traditional landscape as an image of stability and permanence in a fleeting world. In We Don’t Belong Here, one of a handful of paintings with a substantial landscape below an overpowering sky, the sense of impermanence becomes tangible. The motto by American author Neil Strauss supports this sense of instability: “Our society, which seems so sturdily built out of concrete and custom, is just a temporary resting place, a hotel our civilization checked into a couple hundred years ago and must one day check out of.” The viewer becomes the witness of a barren Goyaesque landscape dwarfed by an ominous looking sky filled with smoke rather than rain clouds.
In spite of the façade of tranquillity exuded by the paintings, a lingering dystopian quality prevails. It manifests in traces of an untenable lifestyle (Where Will You Be When the Light Dies), of disillusionment with consumerism (Remember When This Was Fun, with the faded M of a fast-food franchise vaguely visible) and premonitions of a cataclysmic event (Ash and Shadow and It Ends with Fire). Even in renditions where the sky is crisp and bright (The Dead Will Keep the World) the darker periphery is creeping in. Land is portrayed as the sublime without the subsequent elevation or elation, without safety (Safe as Houses), without arable land (Point of Contact) or without clear thinking (For a Slice of the African Pie).
The beauty and strength of Vanderlinden’s paintings lie in his gentle dance with ambiguity: In the hope that in this consumed world there might be “something left to save” he seems to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
Although the landscape features as the starting point in Vanderlinden’s Landscape the focus is less on the landscape “out there” as an attempt to depict a “real view” to the extent of portraying an objective reality. His work in this exhibition is far more concerned with the interpreted landscape, the landscape “in here”, in the overtly subjective rendering of an internalised landscape – with individualised commentary. Although Vanderlinden highlight’s different aspects concerning the landscape, he speak’s in a visual language that contributes significantly to the developing genre known as South African landscape painting.