Substance of Shadows :: In-person viewing

UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA), together with celebrated artist and the first-ever Ampersand Fellow, Paul Emmanuel, will open Substance of Shadows on 11 September 2021 at the UJ Art Gallery and UJ’s Moving Cube.

Inspired by the Human Shadow Etched in Stone at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima, Japan, this solo exhibition tracks his continued personal fascination with the tenuous nature of memory. “The only certainty is change. We try to hold onto memories in the hope of maintaining some coherence and continuity, but our memories are largely inventions, and they too change over time. We commemorate our invented pasts in an attempt to fix them in the present. We even impose them on the generations that come after us, linking them to the past through anniversaries, memorials, pilgrimages and rites of passage, in an attempt to bind their lives to ours. Ultimately, we know more about the grand narratives we create about the past than the past itself. We cannot hold onto the substance of the past. It has been recycled, re-purposed and reinvented. Our memories are poor, distorted, sentimental and superstitious copies,” he explains further.

Since 2014, Emmanuel has pursued a deep interest in the shadows of people that had been burned onto the ruined city walls by the heat and light of the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – events that ended World War II. What remained were carbon shadows, ghosts of the past, fixed onto ruins in the present. This resulted in the 2015 exhibition Remnants which premiered at the Freedom Park Museum, Pretoria, South Africa. Substance of Shadows continues his pursuit.

“This research led me to the Pelindaba Atomic Research Facility north of Johannesburg, South Africa. There are rumours that the enriched uranium used for these bombs originated there. These rumours enhanced my sense of connection as a South African artist to Hiroshima,” he explains.

“I later had a dream, perhaps linked to this, in which I saw myself peeled from my own skin, as if I was discarding a burnt, blackened outer covering. This stimulated my ideas of scratching away a thin black layer from a piece of diaphanous, skin-like carbon ‘paper’ or film – the carbon paper, reminiscent of the burnt, soot-like residue left on the walls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although some of the works are essentially two-dimensional, Emmanuel gives them a three-dimensional quality, sometimes flat and hanging freely in the gallery or crumpled, torn, pierced and irregularly cropped. Most of the works are never displayed flat and always mounted in a way that allows ambient light to permeate the paper from both sides.

“These carbon ‘shadows’ are all metaphors for carbon copies and products of one of life’s greatest narratives – the carbon cycle” says Emmanuel of the exhibition. Using carbon paper as his medium, Emmanuel works from dark to light, delicately incising images into the fragile, semi-transparent film. He leaves the carbon residue to collect below the work as ‘discarded information’ or ‘lost memory’.

The physical exhibition held at the UJ Art Gallery ends on 2 October 2021 while the 3D virtual walkthrough can be viewed on Moving Cube until August 2022.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic no public opening events will be hosted at the UJ Art Gallery during 2021. A virtual walkabout with Paul Emmanuel and Michelle Constant will be streamed online on 11 September 2021 from 11h00.

The physical artworks can also be viewed in person in the gallery by appointment for the duration of the exhibition on Wednesdays between 09:00 and 15:00.

Physical walkabouts with the artist will be hosted on 15, 18 and 22 September and 2 October 2021 from 10:30 for groups of ten people.