Oh! Sweet Nothing

Jaco van Schalkwyk’s travelling solo show, DOLCEFARNIENTE, explores an ideal state of mind. 

Cape Town-based author-artist Jaco van Schalkwyk’s 2014 Burroughs-redux debut novel, The Alibi Club, is an apt entry point into DOLCEFARNIENTE, the artist’s 2017 solo show at David Krut Projects. Like the book, the exhibition is about finding freedom in unexpected places, and then realising that freedom only exists in comparison to its antithesis.

This almost-inversion is repeated in the oddity of the multimedia show’s title, Dolcefarniente – improbably, an Afrikaans word derived from the Italian concept of finding enjoyment in idleness. How did the lexicon of a Calvinist people shape itself around this idea? Van Schalkwyk’s revels in the tension of contradiction and opposition, but also in the the dolcefarniente directive, which incidentally echoes Burroughs: “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

Exhibition Interior at David Krut

Like the dive bar in The Alibi Club, the white cube is a liminal space for Van Schalkwyk, who still seems to be searching for the “Afrikaans American Dream”. Here, a smoke machine hazes the room and can be activated by any passer-by. Likewise, tugging on a doorbell-like contraption crashes a microphone into a guitar with a shudder of reverb. A neatly folded American flag hugs a corner, opposite a ladder on which hangs well-worn blue jeans – from the artist’s ‘Blue Period’, of course.

Exhibition Interior at David Krut

This constructed space is outside time (as Van Schalkwyk notes in the title of his short film, “art years are like dog years”), yet it (re)produces the feeling of the terrifying present: a time we live, and love, in, a finite time; an end time. It is also the fleeting quality of time that the artist contradictorily captures, and restrains, so well.

Van Schalkwyk’s work is sharp and often political, but has the benefit of being beautifully decorative too. His abstract prints have a dreamy quality, the colours and offhand mark-making suggestive of a headspace free of news-induced anxiety. As such, the exhibition space takes on another, less barbed tone. As one gallery-goer noted, “there’s so much fun here.” And ain’t that the ultimate truth?

This article was originally posted in Elle Decor on 10 October 2017, written by Alice Inggs.