'1997 Ongoing' by Penny Siopis at the Michaelis Galleries

22 Feb 2023
22 Feb 2023

1997 Ongoing, an exhibition by Penny Siopis, curated by Jade Nair, presents three works by the artist completed or started in 1997: Charmed Lives, Will and My Lovely Day. 1997 was a critical year for South African art. 

In the context of South Africa’s newly instated democracy led by Nelson Mandela, whose image features prominently throughout Charmed Lives and Will, the country’s art industry opened itself up to the international arena and The Second Johannesburg Biennale ‘Trade Routes: History and Geography’, curated by Okwui Enwezor, was a key event. My Lovely Day was made specifically for this event.  The work related to an installation of found objects Reconnaissance 1900-1997 which became Charmed Lives and Will.   

Charmed Lives consists of objects from Siopis’ personal collection that relates both to her individual biography and public history and memory, including pieces inherited from her mother which spans generations and continents. The installation operates as a kind of archive where the tension between the materiality of these objects and the conceptual and emotive process involved in making meaning with them is not meant to be resolved but informs an ongoing process and force in Siopis’s work.

Will is an installation that encompasses the objects that the artist has singled out from her vast collection and bequeathed to individuals all around the world. Some are familial, some acquired or received as gifts or souvenirs, some have been used as references and props for the artist’s paintings and other works. Siopis sees this work becoming alive only on her death: Upon her passing each of the objects will be sent out to its recipient. The work comments on the lives and perceptions of objects that could function both as art and heirloom, representing different values for those who possessed them before the artist and those who will end up owning them in the future.

The objects in Charmed Lives and Will stand as testament to Siopis’ lived experiences and the passing of time. The objects on display, like the ones we all collect throughout our lives, become proof of a life lived- travels, relationships, routines. Memories made tangible.

My Lovely Day, a video installation, uses 8mm reel film footage inherited from and filmed by her mother. The video uses this perspective to tell the story of her family’s migration. The film, as a memory-holding object, brings voices and scenes from the past into the present, making memory physically present, allowing for memorialisation.

These installations point to how memories and objects both out live us and extend our narratives beyond death. This exhibition, in its title, prompts us to think of the production of these installations and the socio-political contexts in which they were made. The objects on display, in their vast diversity, prompt us to think, not only, of their ecologies and provenances, but more generally, the ways in which we choose to express our existences materially. Will, in this way, functions as the ultimate time piece.

View the Virtual tour of the exhibition here


With thanks to:

Kayla Krepelka

Pamela Bentley

Daniel Tucker

Georgina Clark

Klaré van Heerden 

Stevenson Gallery 

Fabian Brown & team 

UCT Honours in Curatorship class

Painting team: Pumzi, Frank & Simba 

The Michaelis School of Fine Art staff

Russell Jones and the Scanshop team

Ebrahim Lawrence and the Joseph Stone Auditorium


14 - 21 February 2023