Between Subject and Object

  • 07/08/14 – 30/08/14
  • Time: 18:00 – 13:00
  • Venue: Michaelis Galleries, UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31 - 37 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town
  • Contact: 021 480 7170 or

Michaelis Galleries is proud to present Between Subject and Object, to accompany the Medical Humanities in Africa Conference, from 28-29 August 2014. Exhibition Dates: 8 – 30 August 2014

Between Subject and Object: human remains at the interface of art and science

Curated by: Josephine Higgins, Kathryn Smith and Penny Siopis

Michaelis Galleries is proud to present Between Subject and Object, to accompany the Medical Humanities in Africa Conference, from 28-29 August 2014. The first of its nature in South Africa, this group exhibition, including the work of both South African and international artists, explores the depiction of human remains at the interface of art and science.

In the representation of the dead, there seems to be a continuum, or sliding scale, between an emphasis on the subject-ness of the deceased individual and the object-ness of the corpse. In this exhibition, the curators wish to draw attention to this continuum as an analytical tool to explore and deepen discussion regarding the depiction of human remains, drawing out similarities and differences between photographs, illustrations, films, performances and objects of scientific and cultural interest.

Whilst the exhibition began with a consideration of contemporary postmortem photography, the focus grew to incorporate a set of concerns around the idea of the ‘real’, whether articulated through objects, performance or modes of representation that are perceived to a particular kind of visual ‘truth-telling’. Photography functions as a key reference then, emphasizing the acts of looking, thinking and questioning.

The curatorial process has been openly dialogical, with the three curators bringing their particular interests, experiences, institutional affiliations and personal concerns to bear on the selection of artworks and objects. In so doing, the ethical imperatives of working with human remains and the representations thereof, have been a primary consideration, and have actively informed the artworks and objects that form part of this temporary collection.

Death is a universal topic, yet is often inhibited by controversy and sensation, or taboo and nostalgia. In addition to the exhibition itself, panel discussions, a film screening and a catalogue will seek to further explore the difficult subject of representations of the dead/fragmented human body. The project as a whole thus serves as an exploratory gesture, an attempt to approach and perhaps even challenge the ‘fixed’ frameworks we have about dead bodies.

Featured artists: Igshaan Adams (ZA), Jordan Baseman (UK), Maeve Berry (UK), Jack Burman (CND), Jillian Edelstein (ZA), Sue Fox (UK), Paul Greenway (ZA), Pieter Hugo (ZA), Gerhard Marx (ZA), Nelson Mukhuba (ZA), Colin Richards (ZA), Walter Schels and Beate Lakotta (DE), Jeffrey Silverthorne (US), Buhlebezwe Siwani (ZA) and Kathryn Smith (ZA).

The exhibition also includes selected items from the Collection of Medical Morphology Museum (Stellenbosch University) and Pathology Learning Centre (University of Cape Town).

The curators wish to thank the artists, collections, galleries, companies and institutions that have contributed to this project and made it possible.

* Josephine Higgins (b. 1988) is currently the Curator of Michaelis Galleries, Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town. Higgins holds a BFA from Rhodes University (2011), and a MAFA from University of Cape Town (2013), both with distinction. Shifting between research, writing and curation, Higgins’s interests include contemporary photography, portraiture and the representation of death.

* Kathryn Smith (b.1975) is an interdisciplinary visual artist working at the interface between studio, research, curatorial and scientific practices. Her education includes an MSc Forensic Art (University of Dundee), and an MAFA (Wits). She has a sustained interest in spaces of risk and experimentation, socially responsive creative practices and forensic aesthetics. She has produced distinctive, multimedia and installation-based projects that have been variously exhibited and published in over 20 countries, including the 2012 Havana Biennale. She was named Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art (2004), and is a fellow of both the Ampersand Foundation residency programme (New York) and the Chevening scholarship scheme (UK). She is currently senior lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University.

* Penny Siopis (b. 1953) has a MFA from Rhodes University (1976), and is an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Siopis works in painting, photography, film/video and installation. Her work since the 1970s has covered different foci but her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’ characterises all her explorations. She has exhibited widely, both in South Africa and internationally. Solo exhibitions include the curated show Red: The iconography of colour in the work of Penny Siopis at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban (2009), and Three Essays on Shame at the Freud Museum, London (2005). Siopis has taken part in the biennales of Venice (South African Pavilion, 2013), Sydney (2010), Johannesburg (1995 and 1997), Gwangju (1997), Havana (1995) and Venice (1993).