Acclaimed local photographic artist Tim Hopwood will make a rare public appearance with a thought-provoking solo exhibition entitled Perish at the Underculture Contemporary fine arts gallery in Port Elizabeth from May 27.
For this showing, Hopwood, who is known for his documentary-style photography, makes an interesting departure from his own lenswork to manipulate frames from historic Austrian newsreel footage from the late 1940s.
“The films were found in a box on an ostrich farm in Malmesbury, and have, through exposure to heat, and probably some moisture, decayed in the most bizarre and unusual ways,” said Hopwood.
“The subject matter deals with Austria’s economic recovery after the war, with much of the footage devoted to industry, factory workers and politicians, as well as parades and leisure activities.”
However, he said, the interesting part for him was how the degradation of the film’s emulsion had created some strange and unsettling transformations of the people depicted.
“I think they speak, in a strange oblique way, of something of the human condition.”
“They resonate strongly with the notion of mortality, and since this is a theme that runs through much of my photographic work, perhaps this is why I was drawn to them.”
He said the film for him represented Austria and Germany’s conscious efforts to obliterate the past and not understand what had happened and why.
“But, despite every effort to bury them, our submerged histories insist on breaking through the fog of indifference.”
Hopwood said he had spent months going through “miles of film”, isolating individual frames for prints and splicing sections of footage.
The result, he said, was effectively disruptive.
“So when the films flicker on the screen and these violent bursts of decay and mutilation disrupt, momentarily, the footage of serene vistas of ballroom dancers in great halls, or scenes of Austrians diligently rebuilding after the war, or viewing fashion parades, I cannot help but ponder that these are symbolic of the violent eruptions of memory that threaten, at any moment, to burst through our cosy narratives of progress, happiness and prosperity, especially in those corners of the globe like ours.”
Underculture Contemporary director Cedric Vanderlinden said it was a pleasure to reward Hopwood followers with a dedicated exhibition and also introduce his talents to a new audience.
“The body of work he is presenting contains all my favourite elements: history, nostalgia, art, and, most importantly, the concept of chance and the ‘happy accident’. When all those elements come together, they work very powerfully to take you to a contemplative space.”
Hopwood’s work has been selected for some of South Africa’s most prestigious art awards, including the Sasol New Signatures and Absa L’Atelier Art Competition. His photographs of Port Elizabeth also form part of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum‘s permanent collection.
The exhibition takes place at Underculture Contemporary on Park Drive and runs until June 26.
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