Paper: An Installation by Luan Nel at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet
Cape Town: Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, 1997
Luan Nel’s Paper: An Installation accompanied a 1997 solo exhibition of the same title in Cape Town. The tiny 3½” corrugated cardboard box contains forty tiny prints, 2⅞ by 2 inches, like a little deck of cards. These cards are details of the prints on view in the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet gallery. They serve as a miniature take-away--wrapped in an ordinary little box.
A deck of tiny cards
Thirty-two of the prints are black sketches on gray paper;
the other eight are color prints, all printed at The Artists’ Press, Johannesburg. Most of the black-line sketches depict figures kicking up their heels, wind surfing, climbing a rope ladder, singing at a microphone, posing in bridal dress, and other ambiguous figures or enigmatic drawings. The color prints, based on gouache paintings, fill the space, leaving a narrow white border. Two of the color prints have backgrounds of pages from classified ads seeking gay partners and an image of a male at the center of the page.
Other color prints feature a piano player, sailors, an astronaut, a couple dancing, a couple on a balcony, and a murky underwater picture.
All these lively vignettes are expressed with a visual economy that allows the viewer to imagine the narrative or shuffle the deck of cards to find patterns and sequences. These apparently whimsical, light-hearted images veil stories and experiences of Nel’s life—being gay, being Afrikaans, growing up in the stringent Dutch Reform Church, and being called up by the army in apartheid South Africa.
Fascination with Miniatures
Luan Nel (born 1971) studied art at the University of Witwatersrand and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam. Nel likes working with miniature things and found objects, whether in sculpture or installation and reproduced in prints. “Nel is preoccupied with scale, proportion and the possibilities of interpretation, and in his work the meanings of everyday objects and materials are simultaneously made, dismantled and transformed. He is fascinated by the making of memory and its intersection with place, and themes of nostalgia and loss are threaded through his work.”
Greslé, Yvette. “Luan Nel,” Contempo (Melville, Johannesburg, South Africa) no. 1, April-May 2006, page 18.
Luan Nel website: http://luannel.com/
 Yvette Greslé, “Luan Nel,” Contempo, no. 1 (2006): page 18.