STEVENSON is proud to present Never The Same Water Twice and Feral Figurations, two solo exhibitions by Penny Siopis, each offering new perspectives on the films and paintings key to her practice.
Taking place in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the exhibitions work independently and in tandem to articulate the artist’s long-held and continually redefined philosophies around materiality, found forms and radical contingency. Since the late 1970s, Siopis has worked across various media in innovative ways that merge the visceral and the conceptual, consistently engaging with the shifting social and political situations in South Africa and beyond.
In Cape Town, Never The Same Water Twice: Nine Films (1997-2021), a survey of Siopis’s found-footage films, is titled after the well-known quote by Heraclitus, Greek philosopher of change. The exhibition takes place across the Cape Town gallery, with individual works shown as projections, on screens, and within an ad-hoc cinema. The earliest work on view is My Lovely Day (1997), made for the second Johannesburg Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor. Using her mother’s home movies shot in the 1950s and 60s to craft a narrative about displacement and migration, Siopis describes this work as establishing found footage as the ‘mode of all my films to follow, especially in how text hooks contingency into narrative’. It also sparked her interest in the home movies of strangers, acquired sight-unseen from thrift shops and flea markets wherever she travels, forming an ever-expanding archive that Siopis ‘mines’ whenever she makes a film.
The most recent film on view is her most allusive; Celluoid Body, created in 2021, makes reference to the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant fears and uncertainties. Here, the errors and burn marks on the aged celluloid become the focal point, metaphorised into a viral protagonist. The range of films between these reflect Siopis’s spectrum of concerns and visualities, encompassing pivotal events in South Africa’s political history and semi-autobiographical commentary on migration, climate change and gender-based violence. In the introduction to a forthcoming publication on Siopis’s films, the book’s editor, Sarah Nuttall, writes that, in all this work, ‘Siopis reaches in formally arresting ways far into the subterranean lives of others, elaborates the readymade as filmic form, arrives at a kind of cine-writing which is entirely her own, and draws celluloid to its most vital and often most broken edges.’
Never The Same Water Twice and Feral Figurations foreground the ways in which Siopis’s practice is both canonical and contemporary, recognising her expansive, groundbreaking contributions to the field in this, her 70th year.
Never The Same Water Twice opens Saturday 18 March, 11am to 1pm. A discussion with Siopis, Sarah Nuttall - editor of a forthcoming book on Siopis's films - and contributor Sinazo Chiya will take place at the Cape Town gallery on 1 April at 10.30 for 11am. A walkabout for the Friends of the South African National Gallery will take place on Saturday 15 April at 11am.
The exhibition is accompanied by a booklet with new writing by the artist on film and painting - read here.