CHRIS SOAL
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS
︎ Surface tension, 2024
︎ Finds taken for wonders, 2023
︎ Remains to be seen, 2022
︎ Elegy, 2021
︎ As below so above, 2021
︎ Margins of Error, 2021


SELECTED WORKS
︎ 2023
︎ 2022
︎ 2021
︎ 2020

︎ 2019
︎ 2018
︎ 2017

SURFACE TENSION


WHATIFTHEWORLD GALLERY
SOLO EXHIBITION
3 FEBRUARY - 9 MARCH 2024
Surface tension | 2024 | Installation View


WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Surface Tension, a solo exhibition by Chris Soal.

My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed to bodies new and strange!

- Ovid Metamorphoses

Chris Soal’s latest body of work, Surface Tension 2024, is a development of his practice of the transformation or metamorphoses of quotidian objects and materials. Soal is well known for his, almost compulsive, interest with how everyday objects and materials can be rendered into uncanny yet familiar forms. Soal’s work has always engaged in the process of what Viktor Shklovsky referred to as ‘defamiliarization’. Of rendering the familiar and prosaic into the poetic. Toothpicks are metamorphosized into the gestures of fur and movement; bottlecaps into writhing serpentine forms. Soal engages in the form of art that renews our perception of objects while evoking an intriguing formal dialectic or double voice.

His latest exhibition is a further exploration of his established practice with a new focus on the material of sandpaper. Soal first began to see the possibilities of using sandpaper as a medium of expression when he was a student sanding down wood. He noticed that the image of woodgrain had transposed or printed itself through the sandpaper.

In Surface Tension he explores the possibilities of image making via this unique method. The images rendered (or in many senses, ‘printed’) through sandpaper, of the movement of water, create a sense of disorientation for the viewer. Works such as The Expanse (2024) and Index (2023) ask the questions: What is the material being used? What has been removed or applied to create the images? The works draw the viewer in, to establish answers, only for the viewer to have to retreat to view and consider them anew.

The images break through the surface, as if passing through a membrane, revealing the coloured backing of the sandpaper via a process of sandpapering. The partly absurd and abrasive practice of sandpapering the sandpaper to achieve the image of the fluidity of water has the resonance of a Greek myth, of a Sisyphusian absurd- like task.

In some ways it could be considered a reflection on his (now) local Cape Town environment. The sea and its wavering, rippling, and wearing repetitions has become an important part of Soal’s everyday perceptions.

Soal’s process of degrading the sandpaper to reveal the lurid industrial blues and yellows of the membrane evokes a sense of our contemporary industrial and environmental crisis. The fragility of the corroded surfaces, however, remains dialectally opposed to the imagery produced, arousing notions of a contemporary Romantic sublime — the mixing of the fear of environmental degradation with the delight of the image of nature’s beauty.

But where the sea and Cape Town have influenced his thinking in many of these images, it is his hometown of Johannesburg that has inspired several of his other works. The form of Joburg’s mine dumps, with their eroded kranses, enter the exhibition in the shape of the sculptural work The Things that Only Time will Teach You (2024) and Facet (2024). Again, Soal uses sandpaper, this time in the form of thousands of sandpaper disks, to create the rippling cylindrical effects of Joburg’s most iconic eroding structures.

Within the work there is a double voice. The disks, like the dumps, are discarded industrial waste — Soal has collected them from workshops and factories. The colour variation of the sandpaper’s membrane also becomes the simulacra of the dumps, reproducing the veins and strata of these man- made mountains. Like the dumps, The Things that Only Time will Teach You (2024), in a sense memorializes the notion of homo labourans, with all its attendant tragedies and triumphs.

To invert an idea from one of Soal’s influences, Francis Alÿs (who argued that something can create nothing), Soal suggests that what we consider to be immaterial can create something. Embedded in the exhibition is the notion that the tension of the surface, which we overlook, creates a tremulous cadence that erodes to reveal underlying forms. New, strange, poetic, and latent forms emerge from the ordinary and prosaic.


Text by Matthew Blackman







The Things that Only Time Will Teach You, 2024
Used sandpaper discs adhered with polyurethane sealant held by steel substructure, formation on wheels
271 x 174 x 137 cm








The Expanse (To See The World in a Grain of Sand)
, 2024
Woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper rolls held by acid-free tape,
secured with stainless steel pins
Sandpaper rolls: Norton P180.
Installation variable approx. 360 x 230 x 130 cm







Surface tension | 2024 | Installation View









Facet
, 2024
Used sandpaper discs adhered with polyurethane sealant on board with stainless steel sub-structure
87 x 76 x 45 cm






The City of Old (Rundown), 2024
Woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper sheets, held by acid-free tape, to be secured in place with stainless steel pins
40 Sandpaper sheets: Klingspor P150, 3M P150, Torkcraft P180.
93 x 148 cm

Edition of 3 + 2 AP




Dendrite (The Trickster Makes the World), 2024
Woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper pads held by acid-free tape, to be secured in place with secured with stainless steel pins
Sandpaper pads: Klingspor P600 and P800.
24.4 x 13.6 cm

Edition of 15 + 3 AP






Surface tension | 2024 | Installation View











































Index, 2023
Glass fibre reinforced concrete with used motor car oil and rebar, woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper sheets.
Sandpaper sheets: Lukas P100, P150 and P400.
81 x 61 x 10 cm







The Cultivation of Ideas, 2024
Pine wood planks and varying grit eroded sandpaper pads.
95 x 55 x 5 cm.








The Paradox of Praxis (Sometimes Removing is Revealing), 2024

Woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper sheets held by acid-free tape, to be secured in place with stainless steel pins.
11 Sandpaper sheets: Norton P180, Lukas P800, Bosch P120, Torkcraft P180, Heddle P180.









Surface tension, 2024
Woodblock impression on eroded sandpaper sheets held by acid-free tape, to be secured in place with secured with stainless steel pins
10 Sandpaper sheets: Norton P180, Ekawet P180.
65 x 85 cm

Edition of 5 + 2 AP






Surface tension | 2024 | Installation View


︎ ARTICLE on WHATIFTHEWORLD by Matthew Blackman