A friend lets me know that Minnette Vari's 'Songs of Excavation' is disturbing in a way I'm going to enjoy, which proves true. The first installation is a series of photos done in the style of those portraits of dead relatives that occupy the foyer wall, freaking out dinner guests and children who come to visit. Vari adds her own twist, and the effect is pleasantly horrific.
Further into the exhibit, a guy stares pensively at a piece entitled 'Treasure (abandoned)'.
"Man, I wish I was stoned seeing this," I tell him. "It would really get under my skin."
"I am stoned," he replies.
Vari's work is dark and dense, delving into themes mythological and visceral, and also material. She explores what I interpret to be the impact of the extraction of resources on the South African psyche.
She brings to the surface stuff of the earth and of the subconscious, delving into often opaque and always entrancing imagery. As a writer of mythological fiction and a resource-extraction practitioner myself, her work bridges schisms I didn't know existed within me.
Bits of space-craft, antique diving helmets and other beautifully twisted pieces of metal occupy the central exhibit, drawing me deep into thoughts about the meaning of modernity. Her exhibit delves into the parallels and discontinuities between things material and things deeply symbolic.
Nestled into an unassuming nook on 1st Avenue West in Parkhurst, At The Table is a small venue for hire for conversation, occupied entirely by a large, wooden table. Dreamed up by Hermi King and Elmi Le Roux, two sisters with a passion for fine cuisine and the sharing of ideas, the décor is tasteful and simple, leaving the centre of your attention to be taken up by the conversation the venue was designed to facilitate.
I arrive late, instantly befriending a group of foreign nationals working for the International Monetary Corporation. We talk about our shared Ukrainian throwbacks, literature, politics and our non-famousness.
Vari herself is soft spoken and insightful, offering us glimpses of the melding of myth and modernity that goes into her art. The guests offer their interpretations of her work, which she neither confirms nor denies.
She speaks of the myth of the goddess Baubo as a symbol of the intellectual female and of the meaning of polluted landscapes. She speaks of the uncomfortable process she has to go through to create her art and of the raping of the earth. Though Vari is a genius, she is humble and offers up her words freely to the group around the table. Not one of us, I think, left without having discovered something new about our country or about ourselves.
We're treated to fine wine, homemade bread and assorted cheeses which we gobble down absently, too enthralled by the conversation to concentrate on anything else. Still, I must say, At the Table served me the best salmon I've ever had.
It's an experience I would unhesitatingly recommend... Luckily, At the Table hosts regular nights like this. The idea is they get in a guest speaker of a particular talent who provides a topic that lubricates banter.
For under R500, you'll have an unforgettable experience and make the kind of connections that no amount of money can buy.
To prove it, I voluntarily signed up for their email spam list so that I don't miss the next one. Keep an eye on our event listing
to stay in the know about the next event.
by Yelena Calavera