South African artist Vivienne Koorland’s hand-hewn, habitually recycled paintings – along with her maps, poems, songs and stories – explore the vexed problematic of language and the impossibility of narrative in painting. Eschewing conventional objective painting practice on the one hand, and pure abstraction on the other, her representations on linen and stitched burlap of highly acculturated kitsch images of plants and animals, words, musical notes and quotations address the contested terrain of collective experience through overdetermined revisions of history, while trafficking in the tropes that signify them. Regarding herself as a de-skilled ‘History Painter’ whose project is subverting prevailing constructions of history, in a collision of accident and purpose where no trace is deemed too insignificant, she re-makes drawings, fragments and markings by often deracinated forgotten persons or unwitting artists into monumental paintings as an act of triumph and validation over rupture, ruin and annihilation.
Koorland graduated with a BA in Fine Art and Art History from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town in 1977, after which she travelled to West Berlin to complete her Meisterschulerin (MFA) at the Hochschule (now Institut) der Kunste in 1981. She then spent two years at the Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris, before arriving, via Bayreuth, to Columbia University in New York where she obtained her MFA in Painting and Printmaking in 1984. Prominent exhibitions include ‘William Kentridge and Vivienne Koorland: Conversations in Letters and Lines,’ Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, UK (2017); ‘Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism,’ The Jewish Museum, New York, NY, USA (2011); ‘HomeLands / LandMarks: Contemporary Art from South Africa,’ Haunch of Venison, London, UK (2008); ‘Reisemalheurs (Travel Woes),’ The Freud Museum, London, UK (2007); and ‘Contents, Songbooks and Other Paintings,’ College of Staten Island, New York, NY, USA (2004). Koorland exhibited fourteen paintings in Okwui Enwezor’s Alternating Currents: 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, 1997.