Michael MacGarry – The System Absorbs All Opposition

On show until 27/07/2024

Everard Read Gallery

A conversation with Michael MacGarry about his latest solo exhibition offers a glimpse into his mile-a-minute mind. He ricochets between erudite comments about hierarchies and the abstractions of economics, to ideas behind individual pieces and responses to questions. At first it seems you’re trying to keep pace with the rapid-fire thoughts of an artist who has a scattergun approach to what he does. It is, in fact, absolutely the opposite.

Even the design and flow of The System Absorbs All Opposition exhibition has been painstakingly thought out by MacGarry. His precise proportional diagrams of the exhibition space illustrate the manner in which  he’s interrogated exactly how he wants certain artworks to speak to each other in specific rooms, or – alternatively, to not relate at all.

“There is absolutely no question of chance in how they’re made”, he says, describing the way he creates an image on a computer, plots it on paper, and then hand-stitches multiple layers of other paper onto the “canvas”. Case in point: meticulously attaching the pieces of reclaimed packaging paper and gold foil onto his work, Mercantile Capitalism. The process was lengthy and painstaking, and the specific mark-making of the stitches, intentional.

The show is divided between these paper works, two-dimensional wall-based pieces, and sculptures. “I’ve been making these paper pieces for years – they were completely abstract for ages, but now have become incredibly detailed and very, very representative”, says MacGarry. He adds, “They’re all collectively part of the Tontine series, which is named for what was essentially a Dutch pyramid scheme in the 17th century.” These works act as a sort of thematic “glue” for the exhibition, which is why there’s pretty much one in every room, and then there’s a kind of deliberate lunacy to the rest of the display. “For example, sticking a gun on everything – it’s performative, they are beautifully made but they don’t work”, he says.

As is often the case with MacGarry’s art, there’s a humorous though biting socio-economic commentary stitched into these paper works, but he is loath to be drawn into specifying exact meanings or neatly identifiable themes in what he’s created. He’ll do, as he calls it, “a ranty abstraction on capitalism” along with the opening of the show, but he’s not going to explain it all in neat boxes. Rather, the artist is much more interested in how the audience is going to experience the exhibition. “It is a very material and tangible show – It’s not ephemeral conceptualism, it’s a Disneyland conceptualism. And a lot of these things are just stuff”, he says.

The seeming dichotomy of order, of a gestalt, pierced by the craziness of things – decommissioned homemade shotguns, a hammock, a tiny rotating adult skull and spears fashioned from old circuit boards and bamboo – it’s a beguiling palimpsest of ideas, art and relationships that we can interpret ourselves.

For more information please contact Stephanie Le Roy stephanie@everard.co.za

Artist bio

Michael MacGarry is a multi-award winning visual artist and filmmaker based in Johannesburg. He holds a Masters Degree in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand, where he is currently a PhD. candidate (History of Art). MacGarry is a fellow of the Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) at the University of Cape Town and a recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2010.

Michael’s political and poetic oeuvre is realised across a diverse range of media – including sculpture, photography, installation and film. His focus is on the tension between marginalised and so-called centralised narratives; the postmodern micro and the modern macro in spaces where contemporary life is in a state of invention and flux.

Michael has exhibited internationally for more than ten years including TATE Modern, Guggenheim Bilbao, Kiasma Museum and Iziko South African National Gallery. He has published four monographs on his work. As a filmmaker, Michael has written and directed seven short films, having featured on more than 30 international film festivals and is a recipient of an El Ray Award – Excellence in Narrative Short Filmmaking (Barcelona Film Festival 2015), a finalist for the Huysmans Young African Filmmaker Award 2015 (Belgium) as well as Jury Awards from 19th VideoBrasil (Sao Paulo), K3 Internationales Film Festival (Austria) and 13th International Festival Signes de Nuit (Paris).