Sorrel Hofmann at Irma Stern museum, February 2017.
Instead of geographical images on the pages in an Atlas, we have an Atlas of images filling the gallery. In both we experience the vastness and language that is not familiar; we find a word or a river, a point of location to start our journey. In the art works the abundance of information is refined into shapes, picture planes and surfaces touched by narrative. Informed by experiences, the work becomes the reality of the artist. Reality challenges preconceptions and opens us to journey with another, freely. Then “we will be what we are”, located at the beginning of a visual journey, Atlas surrounding us.
Beside the tactile facture there appears to be a “matter of factness” about the artist’s approach to her work. This is of the nature of a person with a divining stick in their hands. She wonders until the quivering starts and the divining stick vibrates with the subterranean streams. Or of a person who stands with a telescope and views the length of the desert, moves up to the horizon and across the sky, day or night, new moon or full moon. We are asked to zoom in, pull visual information closer in order to then “be what we are”.
This is the first solo show of work by Sorrel Hoffman. On her website, she writes;
“we will be what we are until we are no more.”
Navigating this exhibition suggests that we could reword this and say; we are no more, until we will be what we are.
The geography is expansive and overwhelming, the connection when it is made is specific and intimate. (Large shapes describe spaces and marks gathered hastily give definition; they seem to say, be here, on this surface.) Shapes give us direction and make places; we can say, “we will be what we are until we are no more” because the making of the image has begun and the shapes find their way into the shape of the format and tell a story, the story of why it is being made. It is a purposeful journey story of wanting to share with us and show us geographical situations.
The “matter of factness” that is apparent initially, changes to urgency; (the divining stick vibrates and we need to dig for water) Yet there is a slowness and deliberation in just how to relate the shapes to one another. There is not much overlaying, the shape is placed once, the line is drawn and left. Something is added or not. The images are built with an elegance and they are not about a particular thing or object. These references, these markers are skeletons for us to explore, stop, wait and resume our wandering. There are objects and the spaces between become places for the eye to glean and travel. Time is measured and temporal, directions unspecific.
Shapes describe place. The place in the shape of the format, a place within the shape, a shape within a place. Landscape.
The sense of happenstance is inverted by that of reality; in some of the images we are taken into the distance, (over stretches of earth, around places/objects, towards a mountain, over the horizon…) or we journey as if on the face of a compass, or we are directed left to right, bottom to top, top to bottom. There are no short cuts. The artist has been there, witnessed the place physically or through a lens. Her eye has been there and she leads us in this body of work to journey with her.
John Berger writes about “the shape of a pocket”; this is about a small pocket of resistance, resistance against inhumanity. In Atlas, this exhibition of collages, drawings, mixed media, prints and installation, we are presented with little pockets of information. They speak of the need for humans to respect the wonders of our world. The earth and especially the deserts, the clear skies, the shadows; the mysteries this all holds are shown to be so very precious. “we will be what we are until we are no more.”
The world in these images, is not empty but magnificently full, vibrating with a skeletal significance that we are encouraged to quiver with and absorb. We are asked to resist any interference or indignities that humans are possible of imposing.
These images describe Sorrel’s reality, her way of resisting the preconceived notions of the world. One of her fellow students in a drawing class observed that Sorrell “encourage us to be faithful to our way of seeing”.
Indeed, she is practising what she encourages in others and suggesting, gently what we too can shape up to, “until we are no more.”