Can playing around with spatial relationships really convey the subjugation of a large swaths of populations? Can altering space, crushing it or limiting it, create a portrait of pain and suffering? Architecture plays with space by capturing the light, guiding our flow of movement through it, adding flourishes that make us pay attention to beauty and thus seeks to both shape and echo the way we live our lives. Similarly, art installations and sculpture, by their very nature addressing spatial relations, have the power to speak volumes about the world in which we live. Spaces in general speak to the notions of constraints or freedom of movement, of sunshine or darkness, or crowded or vast, and of inviting or forbidding. So it seems that the idea of space can serve as the perfect metaphor for a society that is unhinged, such as South Africa during apartheid.
Michelle Marcuse runs with this metaphor in her potent work, entitled The Erosion, a 1/1 digital print with intervention, measuring 29” x 36” x3”. As she states: “My formative years were marked by the elitism of the South African Apartheid system and witnessing of a silent majority struggling to exist within a state of humiliation.” The duress of a country, and the mirrored agony of the individual, is evident in the amalgam of ladders, equipment generally used to climb upward in space. Ladders are literally and metaphorically a conduit to a higher position, to a better view, and to rarified air. Instead, in this case they are mashed together, incomplete, or rendered useless. And it’s not just each individual ladder that is twisted and broken, but a crush of deformed broken metal, a lump of mangled detritus that as the title suggests seems to be in the process of eroding, as land erodes and the edges of continents fall the water. It’s not even a three- dimensional sculptural piece, but a two-dimensional photographic representation of a three- dimensional work, further compressing an already unnaturally flattened image. The ideas of lack of mobility, being stuck, having no recourse, being lumped together in chaos, seem to cry out from the broken, twisted, black and white ladders in the work. That’s quite a formidable message, fashioned merely from a photo of mangled metal hanging out in space.
Marcuse received a Bachelor of Design from Shenkar College, Israel (1982). She studied at Michaelis School of Art at University of Cape Town (1983) and completed her BFA at Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia (1985). Her work can be found at the USA Embassy of Bangkok, Thailand, the University of Notre Dame, Baltimore, MD, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art collection. She lives and works in Philadelphia where she is Co-Director of HOUSE Gallery, a mixed- use exhibition space in Fishtown.