30 July - 10 September 2022
WHATIFTHEWORLD presents Showing Skin, a solo exhibition by Strauss Louw. Continuing the methodology developed for his recently completed Master of Fine Arts degree from Stellenbosch University, Louw has created a series of new photographic works on hand sewn fabrics – a visual exploration of desire, environment, the gaze and the importance of surface.
The title, Showing Skin, is deliberately used for its veiled gendered connotations – part of the artist’s research and interest lies in the representation of the male nude body and its historical homoerotic narratives. The experience of this show is, however, one of languorous romanticism rather than academic analysis.
Desire is a pivotal force in Strauss Louw’s practice. He captures his images instinctively, not by staging a scene or posing a model but by welcoming desire into the environment of his practice and reacting to it. His desire to photograph is motivated not by its potential for possession but rather as an agent of production. The objectness of the photograph in the world is braced by his understanding of the surface as the site of sensory interplay – in this exhibition, through the intimate tactility of silk and cotton. The cropped, semi-naked body of the artist’s subject is superimposed into landscapes and lakes in pinky browns and soft greys. His guileless figure emerges subtly throughout the exhibition, the surrounding frames of foliage and water creating an intimacy verging on the voyeuristic. Each artwork may include images from different dates, sometimes years apart, an archive operating a little like memory (or a filmic montage of it) would.
Louw’s palette is determined by the complex interrelationships of the different elements in his practice, the (im)balance of each leading to results that slip in and out of the artist’s control. Experimentally based on 19th century salt print process, Louw highlights and heightens the latent poetry of his materials: Sea salt, silver, and sunlight. The lengthy process of printing includes soaking the cloth in the Atlantic, the dried down salt turning photosensitive when combined with a silver nitrate bath. Encased in custom frames, the squares are directly exposed to the sun – surrendered to the seasons, subtle differences emerge in clarity and colour. Quoting the artist: “Each of these materials possess their own vibrancy, but as separate things they have little to no affect, for there would be nothing present that these parts could react with. It is only when these material parts come together in very specific ways that the effect they have on one another is activated.”
Finally, the individual scraps are carefully tacked by hand with gossamer threads, reassembling the fragmented image. The finespun fabric is left mostly unstretched, moving with even the slightest breath and ensuing in a transient environment of exquisite tenderness, longing and love.
The exhibition is produced in collaboration with RESERVOIR.
Strauss Louw was born in 1992 in South Africa. In 2022, he completed a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Stellenbosch, and currently lives and works in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Group shows include: The Phoenix Runway, presented at Whatiftheworld in Cape Town, South Africa as well as Falling Awake at The FOURTH, both curated by RESERVOIR; and Hot House, curated by Jana Terblanche at Sixty Six in London, UK in 2022; Emphatic Whispers at SMITH Studio, Cape Town and 2k.2‘Untitled’ at No End Contemporary in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2019 as well as Close Encounters at SMITH Studio in 2018. His work has been included in group presentations at the RMB Turbine Art Fair in 2020 as well as Latitudes Online in 2021.
Also in 2021, Louw presented a small body of work titled Bitter-Sweet-Salt as part of his Master’s degree for the Artist Room programme at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Showing Skin at Whatiftheworld in Cape Town, open from 30 July 2022, is his first solo exhibition.