Between the folds – Keith Dietrich

Between the folds: Drifting among shadows
Keith Dietrich at The Toffee Gallery

To view the catalogue for Keith Dietrich's exhibition, Between the folds: Drifting among shadows, click here.

Currently on at The Toffee Gallery is an exhibition by Keith Dietrich; one of South Africa’s masters when it comes to art that is not only beautiful to look at, but also highly intelligent and conceptual.

Between the Folds: Drifting among Shadows is an exhibition presented in the form of a book, as is often the case with Dietrich’s works. The exhibition is based on a series of walks that the artist undertook in Leipzig and Dresden in 2014 where he followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, or what Dietrich calls his “shadows”, between the places where he lived before he emigrated to South Africa in 1861.

The exhibition is the result of Dietrich’s ongoing fascination with the stories that make up his family history. In Dietrich’s case these stories involve his ancestors trekking across continents stretching from Europa, the East and the southern tip of Africa, during times in the past where globalisation saw the rapid movement of people between different parts of the world.

Dietrich became fascinated by his own family tree and those nodes of connection where family, culture, religion, language and race came together in unexpected ways that often challenge and transgress ideas of what is ‘normal’ when people define themselves in relation to others (‘us’ versus ‘them’).

The exhibition speaks of Dietrich’s experiences of these two cities; Dresden and Leipzig, in the context of his family background by visually mapping out and documenting his walks through these cities. Since the city environments that the artist explored through his walks relate directly to his own ancestry he has, in this way, woven himself into the works.

The artist’s interest in presenting his work in the form of a book, also known as an artist’s book, came about because of his interests and studies in Graphic Design, Painting and Art History. As Dietrich says: “In my work I draw considerably on historical research, the challenge being to transform and distil this into a visual form. For the past two decades I have been interested in exploring the artist’s book as an alternative form for bringing together and visualising sometimes seemingly random though intertwined relations and information.”

The way the book is constructed involves a lot of folding, layering, and stitching; techniques that closely relate to what the exhibition is about; narratives about the past, presented as layers, or palimpsests. The pages of the book are constructed with both tracing paper and thick cotton paper and in such a way that the texts and images are partly concealed by being imbedded in blackened pages or by being bound and partly hidden between the folds of the pages.

The book invites the reader to engage with and participate in it by paging back and forth and by peering between and underneath the pages to discover images and fragments of texts hidden between the folds. As these pages unfold, traces of one image is read through others by way of transparencies or punched holes. To comprehend the book, one is encouraged to physically interact with it by paging forwards and backwards and by separating the pages to peer between them. Given this, the volumes work against the grain of linear reading by disrupting its sequential flow and so bring about a dialogue between the past and the present, and between the self and the other. As Dietrich states: “By weaving myself into the entanglement of the past, I wish to explore new ways of understanding the world folded into the self.”

The exhibition will be opened by the author Marlene van Niekerk on Saturday 31 March, 11h30. The exhibition ends on 13 May.

The artist will give a walkabout of the exhibition on Saturday 14 April, 11h30.

To view the catalogue for Keith Dietrich's exhibition, Between the folds: Drifting among shadows, click here.

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