Mariapaola McGurk’s upcoming exhibition at Candice Berman Gallery is a yearning for human connecting after disruptions caused by Covid-19

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Often when we interact with people, for an extended period of time, such as at school, at college, on the sports field as a team and certainly at work, we never realize how much of that bond will be there long after we have gone our separate ways. And here I am not referring only to the emotional bond, but the bond of memory that tends to linger on long after people have gone their separate ways.

In her new exhibition, which opens at Candice Berman Gallery in Riverside Bryanston on Thursday, March 3, 2022,visual artist Mariapaola McGurk is on a journey of memorializing her experiences of people that she has worked with and was interconnected to through a shared space until 2020 when Covid hit and disrupted many people’s social and business interactions.

The exhibition is aptly titled Finding the Pattern in reference to the medium in which she practices, which is papercutting. She uises that practice as the filler os spaces when there is no human connection, and the result is beautiful pieces of work that can easily find space in one’s home. The works are aesthetically pleasing to look at.

The artist does this by use of a medium that is quite unique, paper cut offs that she weaves together into intricate patterns that attempt in the final analysis  to tell that complex  story of interaction between people in their everyday lives, and what happens when that is disconnected..

“Initially the search for the pattern in my artworks was a technical response to the limitations of the medium – papercutting. Papercutting is a process of extraction;

there is nothing added to the paper but instead the imagery is made visible through the removal of the paper, in a similar way to a sculptor working in wood or stone. The limitation is that all elements of the imagery must be connected, or the pieces will fall out. This limitation led to using pattern as that connection. The patterns also serve as the strength of the paper – lessening the fragility of the work.

This began a thought process relating to our everyday routines, our patterns as people. Our choices. If the pattern holds us together – what patterns do we choose? Patterns, however, decoratively striking, are mundane and repetitive – not necessarily our focal point or even an area of interest.

The pattern is technically needed; it is not simply decorative but essential to the artwork.

During 2020 the rhythm of my life, and most people’s lives, was challenged and disrupted. My creative company had to close down and with it the loss of daily interactions with people working or visiting the workshop. Those faces are seen throughout this exhibition and are portraits of memory, of change, of disruption.

With that disruption has come a huge shift in my focal point and an acknowledgement of the patterns I need to find – the rhythms I need to create. It has also changed my focal point. The repetition, the connections, the threads that weave the story together – are so important, without them we have nothing.

Finding the Pattern is about finding the strongest ways to stay connected, to make the bigger picture possible….to not fall apart,” she says in a note accompanying the exhibition.

CITYLIFE/ARTS had an interview with the artist about her new exhibition curated by Candice Berman, which features 42 works the artist has created in recent years.

CITYLIFE/ARTS: .You have not had a solo exhibition for over 10 years. What does this opportunity mean to your career?
Mariapaola McGurk: Having this solo exhibition is a critical moment in my visual arts career. I was not ready until now: I had technical and conceptual issues to resolve. I am thrilled to finally feel ready for this and to be given the opportunity to showcase 42 artworks. 

CITYLIFE/ARTS:: . How did the opportunity come about with Berman Contemporary? 
Mariapaola McGurk : I remember showing Candice Berman Gallery some works about 7 years ago. They said they liked the works but I should go and continue working, come back when I have more works. That took me until now! After emailing Candice Berman in 2021 she invited me to come present my latest works to her and by the time of leaving the Gallery we had agreed to work together towards a solo exhibition in 2022. 

CITYLIFE/ARTS:. Practising art and making sure that the audience gets to see and possibly connect with the work and its message is difficult during a pandemic. How has been your experience from the process of creating the work, getting the material and working in a safe space?

CITYLIFE/ARTS: In a strange way Covid has been a grace for me and my art production. I faced bankruptcy with my creative organisation – The Coloured Cube, losing our workshop, retrenchment of all staff and no work coming in. I had no work. I had overwhelming anxiety and concerns like many people around the globe. So I made art – to focus. To connect. To breathe. To find peace. It worked and I realized in finding my pattern that making art is core to my purpose and essential to my being.

CITYLIFE/ARTS:. Also from a creativity point of view what was your experience of creating work under such challenging circumstances from both a creative perspective and logistic perspective. 
Mariapaola McGurk: I am a papercutitng artist. All I need is a cutting mat, paper and a blade. I started working A4 or smaller as it was easier. Creativity was flowing – I desperately needed hope and I got it from focusing on making. Covid took many things from me – but it reminded me of the importance of making.

CITYLIFE/ARTS:  What lessons have you learned from this experience that you will perhaps take forward to continue practising art in a meaningful way. 
Mariapaola McGurk: The patterns that fill our moments in between- when nothing amazing is happening and no ‘event’ or ‘occation’ is taking place – those patterns are what hold us together; are what we should be figuring out and giving time to. Take for example my opening exhibition – it is special and important – something I will remember for years to come but what really matters is the last 2 years. Working alone, often in the early hours of the morning making, thinking, exploring. That pattern is what has made this exhibition possible. The spaces in between is where we all actually live. 

CITYLIFE/ARTS: What institutional support do you think is needed to make it easier for artists to work during difficult times like these?
Mariapaola McGurk: I have given up hope in many ways for institutional support. We need much more than small funding – we need strategic thinkers to navigate a way forward for a future that enables creatives to thrive. We need voices of hope, direction and guidance to allow access to markets, access to spaces, access to technology. As the South African Creative Industries Incubator always states – we need to #NormaliseAccess. A stipend, funding  – it is needed but it is not enough. When can the creative economy have strategic thinkers who are knowledgeable of the sector leading us? It is time for this  
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