Osart Gallery is delighted to present the first solo show in Italy by Katharien De Villiers (South Africa, 1991), Echo Me / Here I am / Ecco Mi.
Starting from the title, the show is the confirmation of a physical presence and the sign of an echo from one hemisphere to another, of a message that reverberates. Katharien’s message traverses time and space with a multitude of references: objects from the past that remodulate the perception of the present, images of distant worlds that coexist within multimaterial works that merge painting and sculpture.
One of the devices that all the works on display refer to is the diorama. The word, which originated from the French diorama (1822), is a composite term deriving from the Greek δ ιά, “through”, and ὅραμα, “sight” or “view”, on the model of panorama. It is used to refer to scenic devices, full-size or nearly, in which lights are used to create illusions of perspective, and also to models of natural landscapes or historic scenes often set up, for instance, in museums of natural history. The diorama was invented in the 1820s with a recreational purpose that also had a marked educational content, it combined elements taken from real life with sculptures and mannequins, historic exhibits and period-style reconstructions. As the artist writes, they were conceived to show animals in their habitat or to illustrate the way of life of our ancestors, but often – through the combination of reality and fiction – in the end what they actually illustrated was man’s complicated relationship with his roots and with nature.
The works on display manage to move through time following the paradoxical example of the dioramas. Images of personal journeys are superimposed on encyclopedic illustrations consisting of drawings set within anonymous landscape photos taken from the popular science book series The Emergence of Man (Time Life Books, 1972).
The setting acts on the subjects, overlaying, camouflaging and transforming them. The canvases that the artist paints on are often covered with a camouflage print, and the subjects blend into them, changing their meaning. As in the nineteenth-century dioramas, the pretext of showing men and animals in an apparently everyday context brings to light the gap and the clash between reality and our perception of it.
Katharien De Villiers’ artistic research aims at decontextualizing materials and images drawn from the most remote contexts. She uses enamels and glitter, printed fabrics (usually camouflage prints), lace, trimmings and other materials drawn from reality, integrated by a painting with a distinctive three-dimensional quality. The works of Katharien De Villiers disclose visions of a dazed, ironic and colorful reality. Paradoxical mise-en-scènes of the everyday that include numerous collages, fragments of her own and other people’s experiences and memories, objects taken from reality and included in the composition.
The experiences transform our gaze, memory models the vision of the real and vice-versa. The artist interrogates us about our relationship with history, the representation we tend to make of it and how our perspectives remodel the past – and the present – layering reality and fiction, new and old narrations. De Villiers ponders our relation with the environment we find ourselves in, but also that with our roots and our myths, and how our gaze continually modifies them.