MICHAELA YOUNGE

Artist Room

17.10.20 – 14.11.20

Cape Town

Things are never as they seem in the worlds of Michaela Younge’s imagination. 

Through her felt tableaux creations, she reflects intricate scenes where rudiment is contrasted with dreamlike details that create a spectacle around the mundane while emphasising the bizarreness of life. Playing on the balance between perception and reality, Younge’s entanglements of the humdrum with unlikely placings challenge the viewer’s consciousness to either locate parallelism or dwell in the disorientation. 

Her piece titled The lyrical content of the music was in question, but the new dancers made it work depicts a clear day on Cape Town’s Sea Point promenade. It appears to be windy as the sea is choppy with white foam. A dog licks a fallen ice cream cone, and seagulls fly overhead looking for opportunities for food. As it usually is on a sunny day, the promenade is packed with pedestrians, joggers and, unexpectedly, a clown. All are spectacles to observe in equal measure. In the sky, the notorious plane from a nearby strip club, Mavericks, flies overhead advertising a new intake of dancers. A phenomenon that Younge says fascinated her as a child who once asked her mother what it meant, feeling illicit despite her mother’s straightforward answer. 

The locality on some of these textiles also implores the viewer to contemplate the reality of the city of Cape Town– where Michaela Younge was born and raised– being one of the most unequal societies in the world and how these scenarios may not be complete fabrications of the mind. The subtle social commentary presents a tension between reality and perception. 

In another image, titled Fervour and Weakness Go Hand in Hand, Younge depicts a kitsch television dating show. The presenter stands next to the contestant on the left, and three bachelors sit behind a screen on the other side of the stage platform. There is an aspect of seeing something you should not be privy to, as the camera crew is visible, and a handyman on a ladder is in the centre of the stage. The three bachelors are dull, except that one has been sliced open by the letter ‘D’ in the background text, and the man on the far right has turned to bone. Allowing the viewer to contemplate the complexities of romantic partnerships by pointing to their petrifying nature as well as how unexciting one’s options may be in relation to expectation. The setting is reminiscent of the performance of romance that we all tend to become beguiled by. 

With each tapestry, Younge acquaints her audience with chaos in varying extremities. One work depicts a burlesque strip show where the venue is unclear but seemingly picks up on the story of Mavericks plane with the dancers. A one-armed woman commands the stage with her routine, accompanied by a dog in a blonde wig. The dark blue floral wallpaper and turquoise curtain lend a feeling of glamour. The wall is plastered with event posters that contradict the painting The Dessert: Harmony in Red by Matisse. A monkey sits alone at a bar table drinking a beer, looking out of the scene to the right; a red boot enters the scene. Is this who the monkey is looking at? The floor of the club is littered with green beer bottles, dirt and a pink handbag. A police officer handcuffs a man dressed as a chicken at the bottom of the frame. This scene brings across an understated element of humour that somehow brings stability to a moment of absolute bewilderment. 

Following on the theme of ‘behind the scenes’ as it shows a dressing room, The director condemned happy people by creating miserable plays, shows a clown and a trapeze artist getting ready next to two ‘showgirls’. A large duck applies their make up with a brush and there is a forgotten and trodden-on red rose on the floor, the remnants of a good show. It is unclear what the dressing room is for, yet each unlikely character does not come across as in conflict with the other.  

This body of work by Michaela Younge is of the time in how it counterbalances the mundane with a dazing reality. How it makes the viewer question perception and reality feels well-placed in a year where some of the most unlikely world events have occurred and made us all rethink normalcy and our relationship with routine– and the performance thereof. Her use of irony also places her perspective in a South African context where social dynamics are routinely questioned with a tinge of satire.

Text By Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha