The Scent of Joss sticks: Vanessa Berlein
Embedded in a time of increasing technological and industrial change, society is in a state of rapid, constant redressing. We open ourselves to an array of costumes tailor-made to perform in unique or a vast range of contexts and circumstances. We fulfil certain roles in the play of society, changing between the political, social, cultural and environmental as one would do during scenes. And as a result of a constant and somewhat almost-automatic state of adaptation, we are presented with very little time to breath, look back and revel in what we have progressed from.
Vanessa Berlein’s body of work meets the viewer by baring gifts of celebration, while providing a space that allows one to simply appreciate and be in the moment. The Scent of Joss Sticks stages her parents’ 10th wedding anniversary set in 1971, a time pertinent to her artistic and personal journey. Painted scenes of individuals caught in opulent times of joy and celebration juxtapose feelings of pure excitement and inner peace, tightly bound to a sense of nostalgia.
Her paintings personify and evoke a cathartic process, like the sigh or breath released when one remembers a particular time of sentiment.
Her body of work appears to create a time lapse, as she combines jubilant subject matter with bare edges of canvas and paper with distressed surfaces, revealing the ageing presence of time and process. And like the split seconds between inhaling and exhaling, she places the viewer in a space where the progression of time and the passing of it briefly congregate. It’s as if she stages a dubious moment of farewell rather than goodbye. Although she presents the viewer with a realization pertaining to the decay of time and matter, she too offers an opportunity to preserve what is left and what one can take from the moment. – Kirsten Arendse
Art Times Feature Article
November First Thursday
“The body of work presented in the exhibition “The Scent of Joss sticks” deals with the sense of nostalgic longing for a part of childhood that is long since past and that shall never again return. It is a wistfulness that nests deep in the soul and is stirred by certain light, music and of course the scent of joss sticks.
The images referenced are from photographs taken at my parents 10th wedding anniversary in 1971. We lived on a farm in Kiepersol, far from tarred roads and big city lights, and for the most part isolated from much of society. Parties were a time for reconnecting with the outside world and a coming together of friends from far away. What I remember best was the excitement within the preparation, and the arrival of a cast of characters who came from far away. Eccentric characters often, filled to the brim with stories of wayward lives and places I as a child could only imagine.
As children we would spy with fascination these wondrous characters, hide ‘neath tables and crawl out to dance, and nick cigarettes and sips of lost champagne. Scandals we would listen in on and in our ever-grow- ing imaginations, would invent entire lives for each character. And music…music played constantly. Songs of
a love so huge, my heart would swell and ebb in my childhood bed and tears would spill into my pillow as I fell in love over and over and over.
And for moments in time, the world was majestic, my parents, Queen and King of a fantastic court.
…and the scent of joss stick would fill the air.
The process of creating the body of work was for me a bittersweet one. Over the months my studio filled with people from that brilliant time of my life. My parents, larger than life, and some of their dearest friends in a ‘cracker-jack’ time of their lives, I could hear them laugh and their voices grew loud and resonant in my head. I remembered so very much, and within the process , I listened to the music that had soundtracked my childhood, and there came a chance to once again immerse myself within a time so precious that in moments I laughed out loud before realizing the thief of time and tears sprung.
The works I decided to present untrimmed, to allow the viewer to see the working marks staining the sides of the paper, this for me sym
-bolizes the reality of the now, juxtaposed with the romance of the paintings.
The use of the patterned background against which the characters are set, is suggestive of the opulence and sumptuousness of the time. The realities of their lives in retrospect, was very different to what my childish imagination had conjured up.
The drops of distressed wallpaper works are an expression of a time having past. Rooms now empty of the glorious characters that no longer revel within them. The distressing of the surface illustrates the crumbling and decay of time, and the suggestion of the pattern still evident, hints at the beauty of what once was.”