Walking into Mandy Coppes-Martin’s studio in Newtown, Johannesburg was… strange; like walking into an apothecary’s back room in mid-century Europe. Life-size rats made of the finest Madagascan silk and antique lace imported from China by Mandy’s grandmother, seemed to be lounging comfortably on tables and chairs.
The pungent smell of Chinese starch glue filled the air and bizarrely mismatched and seemingly unrelated objects were hanging from the walls and windows.
A concoction of silk thread slowly unraveling from cocoons, soaked in coloured water on a stove in the corner of the room and webs of thread seemed to be growing in size as they aged overhead. Intricately woven figures lay in a mass grave waiting to be resurrected, while human images were under construction next to photos of Mandy’s ancestors taken in China before the second world war.
It felt like a deeply personal journey of remembrance was unfolding in front of us that day in the studio. Mandy was searching for clues amongst the fragments of her family history only captured in the photos that fill the few tattered albums that were left behind.
This is a theme in her work; how fragments of information are used to create meaning, how this meaning shifts and changes with time and how the instability of our understanciing of our position in the world around us, is expressed in our fragile relationship with nature. Mandy’s work is uncanny; it is eerie and makes you feel uneasy, while being strangely beautiful at the same time. It feels like every fibre in her work is alive and inviting you to engage.
Mandy’s extensive background in academia and research is evident in the maturity of her approach to these latent questions. Nothing in her work happens haphazardly. Everything is pondered and thought through. How meaning is constructed and relationships taught are questions that she brings to our attention through her use of familiar materials like silk and lace loaded with meaning and history.
Once you have seen Mandy’s work, it will never leave you. Disconcerting and exquisite all at once; sending shivers down your spine. Disconcerting because she dares to occupy that, more convenient to be avoided, uncertain, minimal space where everything is open-ended.
Everything we, as humans can’t quite label and put in glass jars, with descriptions and definitions all set in stone. Exquisite because you so desperately want to touch and experience with your hands the fragile threads that have withstood the epic journey from all corners of the earth and in many cases the vast amount of time that has passed since their original creation.
Mandy is captivating, her work enthralling and her million-dollar smile contagious. Wherever you see the name Mandy Coppes-Martin, please go and experience this reconstituted work inspired by nature. It is fascinating and truly breathtaking!