Jaco van Schalkwyk’s ever-evolving exploration of the photorealist technique may be seen to indicate a preoccupation with illusionism – a constant attempt to seamlessly capture reality in paint, to achieve perfection in surface, to master the representation of space and light. But this painterly hyperrealism points to an investigation which functions beyond illusionism, one fascinated with and attuned to the processes of representation itself. In –arium, van Schalkwyk’s fourth solo exhibition with Barnard Gallery, this consideration of the modes and constructions of representation finds its most complex and multi-faceted expression yet. Through the use of various media – painting, sculpture, installation, assemblage and film – van Schalkwyk considers questions of representation both in the artistic endeavour and in the everyday ways we construct and mediate realities around ourselves, our environment and our encounters with the Other.
Central to –arium is van Schalkwyk’s contemporary play on the concept of the cabinet of curiosities. The cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer as it emerged in Renaissance Europe, a predecessor of our modern practices of collecting and cataloguing, aimed to create a microcosm of the world in its presentation of a vast array of collected objects and specimens from foreign cultures and locales. In – arium, van Schalkwyk seeks to recreate and restage this practice – and the questions of voyeurism, power, fetishization and objectification implied within it – through the lens of our contemporary modes of engagement with the other and the exotic. Here, van Schalkwyk’s positions the ubiquitous smart phone as a modern day, digital cabinet of curiosities. Paying specific mind to the role smart phones have come to play in tourism and encounters with the “exotic”, the artist explores the way these devices function as personal archives and representational tools, in the way they allow us to codify, collect and categorize experience. The glass screen of the smart phone recalls the paradoxical allure of museum cases and vitrines, simultaneously revealing and preserving the captured experience while rendering it inaccessible.