1 October - 6 November 2020
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Maja Marx’s newest exhibition, There There.
I take them in, breath at a time. I put my
breath back out
onto the scented immaterial. How the invisible
roils. I see it from here and then
I see it from here. Is there a new way of looking—
valences and little hooks —inevitabilities, proba-
– Jorie Graham
I moved the stones for days on end from the river to the forest with the shiny steel wheelbarrow. It was with only this sound that I entered and re-entered the quiet winter forest. My aim was to produce a large stone text work on the frozen surface of a small lake. All alone, I hauled stone by stone onto the surface of the ice. A few days in, the weather shifted, the temperature rose, and I found myself in mid-sentence when I heard the crack of the ice, my body already jumping towards solid ground, as if separate from my ears, my eyes, my logic. My heart beating loudly, my body shaking, I marvelled at my foreign foolishness – no one knew where I was, what I was doing, my closest friend on another continent.
I did complete the artwork, returning a few days later when the weather settled, and managed to write a large text on the ice. Much later when spring returned to the valley, the words that I wrote in stone on ice probably dropped through to the muddy bed beneath. I never saw this happening, but as far I can imagine, those words are still on the bottom of the lake – ‘I am the world on which I walk’.
“I turned; & felt, before I looked ‘It is gone’.”
– Virginia Woolf
Underwor[l]d : I still hold on to a small collection of letters that she wrote to my father in the late 1960’s. As a child I deeply longed to understand these, but the tiny scrawling Sütterlin script always eluded me. They now remind me of the developmental writing of my own daughters, and I hold on to their scribbles and scratchings in the same way that I keep my great-grandmother’s illegible hand piled in a small box in my studio.
“Painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, in the stomach, in the lungs (the painting breathes…)”
– Gilles Deleuze
Downcast eye: He could no longer close his left eye, the eyelid refused to synchronise with the right. This remained the case even after the successful removal of the tumor. The doctor’s proposed solution to the drooping eyelid – the insertion of a small gold weight into the soft pink bed of the eyelid to weigh it down. A gentle prodding, a calming instruction for the eye to let go, to accept what the closed eye sees.
“If I touch a piece of linen material or a brush, between the bristles of the brush and the threads of the linen, there does not lie a tactile nothingness, but a tactile space devoid of matter, a tactile background.”
– Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Sometimes the weight of the paint on the brush can tell me about the thickness of the line that is to follow.
“There, there”; something said to calm, to hush, to compose.
“I see it from here, and then I see it from here”, writes poet Jorie Graham, marking the persistence of herself as observer as she exhales to watch her breath momentarily made visible by cold air. “How the invisible roils”, she says, “I see it from here, and then I see it from here”.
In my work, all is surface. When I paint, I find myself in midpoint, I am balanced between looking and touching – every intake of air; a measurement of what I can find on the skin of the canvas; every exhalation, an extended stare, a consideration of the place between the surface of the painting and my eye. I am in arbitration, in passage, in the middle of it. I am in between my intention and my reaction to the marks that I have laid down before.
To paint is to enter milieu – a place of mingling, a middle ground, a contact zone, a borderland. It is the middleplace. Here, I am both in and out of place, both here and there – it is a place of double consciousness, on the one side I can carefully measure time through action, placing one mark next to another, one colour next to the previous.
On the other side, I can forgo control, giving over to the sway of optics, I step back to watch the colour combinations sing, I stare myself out into the shimmer of the field between my eyes and the object that is the painting. I watch that space become visible, I watch it come alive. I get to see myself looking.
In building dense visual fields, illusive textures form and bridge the space between the visible and tactile; between what is perceived and what becomes suggested by the mechanics of the eye. Visual overtones, after-images and other flickers play out on these charged optical surfaces. To that extent I am painting at the edges of the visible, at the point where what is seen crosses into what is imagined, where the physical, tactile surface becomes spectral.
This emphasis on the surface follows an interest in the inter-relationship between textile|texture|text. My constant reworking of the flat linen or cotton surfaces allows the eye to weave line into line, colour into colour; to construct an optical texture that transcends the surface of the actual canvas and the factuality of marks. My interest in Helen Keller’s “tactile seeing” or “blind sight” fuels a mode of looking that crosses into touching, the eye reaches out to the textured canvas, seeing is a physical, tactile activity that reaches across and weaves things together to make things visible. Surface loses solidity, becoming more like a veil, screen, filter or skin, an intermediary through which things are seen, or from which the visible shines. My interest in the relationship between the looking, staring, reading, and imagining eye comes in to play as the work combines different modalities of image-construction.
I have worked fragments of text into these images. The texts are extracts from handwritten letters passed between previous generations of my family in a hand and a language that I can no longer read or understand. My eye wants to read the text, but is left seeing only the flowing line on a flat surface, desperate to reach, or read, across and through the indecipherable marks in front of me. I am now passing those gestural lines on through other visual languages – the optics of pointillist mark-making, the digital pixel, faint static, the stuttered stitches of woven cloth.
I am painting the image in the moment before it coheres, I am painting the image as it dissipates into translation.
I am painting what is seen with a closed eye. I am painting from behind the closed eyelid.
There is the soft flickering of an image beneath the fleshy surfaces, a slow fragmentation of oily content seeping gradually into the eye. A tender decomposition. This mode of looking asks for time – a lingering gaze, a focus-blind stare. The moment of translation happens from the corner of one’s eye – with images equally dissolving, atomizing and settling into colour frequencies in corporeal pinks, mid-skull purples, folds of Caput Mortuum. I am painting remains, after-images; what you see when staring at an empty surface, when looking at a blank page, an illegible text.
There There: this is the middleplace – the shimmering place between the eye and the surface, between foreground and background. At once a double presence, and a double elsewhere.
Text by Maja Marx
Graham, Jorie. Notes on the Reality of the Self. 1993. In: Materialism. Ecco
Bell, Ann Oliver & Mc Neillie, Andrew. 1980. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. 1925 – 1930. Vol 3. Hogarth Pree: London. 339-340
Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. London: Continuum
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge
Born in 1977, Maja Marx is currently living and working in Cape Town. Marx is a South African contemporary proponent of abstract art; approaching painting as an optical activation of surface. She has featured in both South African and international exhibitions, with her most recent solo exhibition, There There (2020), being her fifth to be hosted with WHATIFTHEWORLD; succeeding Chorus (2018), Glare (2016), Block (2013) and Fold (2011).
Other solo exhibitions include Crease (2010) at Outlet, Pretoria and As Far As The Eye Can Touch (2007), at The Premises Gallery, Johannesburg. Marx is a fellow of the Ampersand Foundation (New York/ Johannesburg) and a participant of MAPS (Master of Art in the Public Sphere); an exchange between the Wits School of the Arts, Johannesburg, South Africa and the Ecole Cantonale d’art du Valais in Sierre, Switzerland. Since receiving her MFA in Fine Art (Cum Laude) from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2008, her works have been included in a range of public and private collections. She has also participated in the South African Pavilion of the Venice Biennale (2013), and the ELIA Exhibition, Cuenca, Spain and Gent, Belgium (2006).