At sand’s edge, dancing with doubt, venturing forth

Dancing with Doubt, 2017, oil on acrylic on canvas.

At Sand’s Edge – Virginia MacKenny

Barnard Gallery, Newlands, Cape Town

Luan Nel

At Sand’s Edge is Virginia MacKenny’s hauntingly beautiful exhibition of paintings and watercolours produced during the time of #FeesMustFall-campaigns and upheavals on university campuses across the country. Her oils on acrylics on canvas as well as watercolours comment on levels of uncertainty: uncertainty regarding a daily existence, uncertainty in a time of climate change and uncertainty stemming from socio-political conditions.

In this body of work the motif of the dog is used as a recurring theme. It appears in various forms and guises. Dancing with Doubt, done earlier this year, portrays a healthy well looked after domestic pet at play, possibly barking and jumping for joy.

Dark Light, Against the Glare, 2017, watercolours

Opposite the dog is a dark, formless shape, painted in impasto onto a deep green field in washes and layers. Possibly also dancing as there is movement in the thick brushwork. The title assists in one’s reading, it is doubt, made visible. Or as visible as possible. It lends a sense of disquiet to an otherwise beautiful, skilled portrait of a favourite pet at play. This tension one finds throughout the exhibition.

Great use of light, both in terms of observation but also in the metaphorical sense gets employed in most of the paintings. In Dark Light, Against the Glare it is so pronounced that the face of the person in the painting is completely washed out, leaving an almost ghost-like figure, a blank white silhouette.

In The Dying of the Light this light appears again. The light as beacon of hope comes to mind. In this painting, an oil, on acrylic on canvas, we see the dappled light filtered through foliage somewhere on possibly a forest floor but the construction beam indicates an urban setting, or the human hand. It could simply be a puddle on a construction site somewhere in an industrial area of any city.

Trees are chopped down as there seems to be evidence of felling in the work. It is as much a study of foliage in the late afternoon sun as it is about the end of the natural order of things, climactically, possibly wider. Again change is a key, mutibility always a factor.

As indeed it is in the title to the exhibition, At Sand’s Edge. Sand being a state between solid and liquid, unstable by its very nature. In biblical terms we are advised not to ever build on sand. Yet here we are, at sand’s edge, dancing with doubt, venturing forth. This show is about unchartered waters.

Laika, 2017, oil on acrylic on canvas.

We are also reminded that it is not the first time humankind is entering the unknown with a painting of another dog, Laika, the first living creature in space. It is disconcerting knowing Laika also became the first to die in Earth’s orbit after the craft overheated five hours into the Soviet mission.

This uneasy peek into our current collective psyche leaves us with no answers to the many big questions, it mainly amplifies that uncertain feeling we all experience to various degrees, a very natural reaction in times of upheaval, change and transition.

Ending 28 November