Monthly Archives: April 2015

dot 36: trace[s]

I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that is recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire. But what is it that provokes in me this pursuit of the impression of fire?

Why must I search for its traces?

– Yves Klein –

This question resonates with me. The quest to capture invisible traces fuels my art making. It is what draws me. It is what inspires me. Like Klein, I have often wondered what the driving force behind it could be. From where the impetus…?

Klein was drawn to use fire as can be seen in this short film where he performs his 1962 ” Fire Painting” series. Here, the traces of pouring water are clearly visible, capturing the tracing as it happens in real-time. It is a mesmerizing moment. It is a moment of truth.

The act of tracing is a spiritual experience for me. It is distanced from the ego-self. It requires a humility in order to channel and be channelled. It is soundless, silent, happening, movement, journey, pathway and time. It is anchored in the corporeality of being.

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing a specific image by the late Namibian photographer, Paul van Schalkwyk. Having noted the image in an article on van Schalkwyk by Tiara Walters in The Sunday Times (April 12 2015), nothing could have prepared me in seeing the actual Etosha Pan (2010). This image, depicting gemsbok moving across a dry Etosha Pan records the traces of the gemsbok’s movements. It is vast, isolated and lonely. It is reflects hardship and endurance, set in temporality. The driving force here is the search for water, the giver of life in the Etosha Pan.

Perhaps it is a similiar search, the search for traces. It’s the search for life.

Etosha
Etosha Pan (2010)   C-Type Lightjet Print   80 x 120 cm    [The Sunday Times]
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dot 35: [art]speak

It becomes extremely hard not to speak in the language in which you are being spoken to.

– David Levine –

I recently became intrigued with the idea of what ‘artspeak’ is after having read an article about the South African ceramicist Lucinda Mudge. Mudge’s recent pieces have been chosen to be shown at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao later this year.

What I find interesting about Mudge’s story is the fact that she is able to combine both global and local references whilst suspended in a treehouse in the vicinity of the Keurbooms area. The article sketches Mudge’s working environment as one in which she is surrounded by nature, highlighting the fact that she is totally removed from “artspeak.”

Re-reading Emma Jordan’s article ‘Firing our paranoia in clay’ in The Times I started wondering whether the production of unique artwork requires keeping artspeak at bay? Put differently, does artspeak influence originality negatively ..?

David Levine and Alix Rule explored the impact of artspeak in the art world in their extensive 2013 research project International Art English (IAE). In an interview with Levine and Rule by  Andy Beckett, Levine says:

 “You can’t speak in simple sentences at a museum and be taken seriously. You can’t say, ‘This artist produces funny work.’ In our postmodern world, simple is just bad. You’ve got to say, ‘This artist is funny and …'”

Yet there are artists who are seemingly able to manoeuvre themselves through and beyond artspeak’s net. An artist I can relate to for her thought-drawings and interest in sound and movement is Claire Cote’. From her Manifesto 2: I am for an able-art (2008), inspired by the form of Claes Oldenburg’s 1962 ‘Statement’, Cote’ writes:

I am for an art that is…..
open-able-close-able-soci-able- whimsic-able-politic-able-compos-able-recycl-able-understand-able-land-able-float-able- edib-able-simpl-able-complic-able-flexib-able-sandwich-able-fabrica-able-slam-able-clam-able-flam-able-ram-able-cram-able-frame-able-unit-able-beautif-able.

Elsewhere, in her Manifesto 3: I am for an able-art (2008), Cote’ writes that:

  • I am for art that lives in silence, but knows when to yell.
  • I am for an art that draws thoughts and maps ideas.
  • I am for an art that excavates thoughts and puts them haphazardly on universal shelves.
  • I am for an art that catalogues thoughts with made-up systems that take a lifetime to learn.

Cote’ is clearly able to think freely, imagine freely and speak freely. Her creative expression has not been netted by artspeak. Perhaps in the same way Mudge, safely hidden from artspeak in her treehouse, therefore is able to create her subversive pieces. At least here, language is hers to speak even if spoken differently in the [art]world.

LASERS IN THE JUNGLE: An Exhibition of 27 Vases by Lucinda Mudge, The Gallery at Grande Provence, Franschoek South Africa. 20 April 2014
LASERS IN THE JUNGLE: An Exhibition of 27 Vases by Lucinda Mudge, The Gallery at Grande Provence, Franschoek South Africa. 20 April 2014

For Claire Cote’ s full manifesto: here.

dot 34: empathy

And how does it feel as a viewer to be shown how that war felt to them that survived it?

 – Mariama Ross –

This question applies as much to us today in South Africa as it did to viewers of the exhibition Representations of Violence: Art about the Sierra Leone Civil War (2005). Here, the art coordinator for the show, Dr. Mariama Ross, questions the position of  those  ‘bearing witness’ to images of violence.

Having been exposed to the atrocities of the current South African xenophobic attacks via the media over the last 2 weeks or so, it has been horrifying to witness the level of unchecked hatred for fellow Africans by other South Africans. Reminiscent of the 2008 xenophobic upsurge I am again at a loss to understand how a nation – having exited from apartheid themselves – are able to inflict the same evil towards their fellow African brothers and sisters.

Monday April 20/2015  Photograph: James Oatway
Sunday Times: Sunday April 19 / 2015                                          Photograph: James Oatway

As a fellow South African, this image depicts one African murdering another. The victim is Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole. How, as the viewer of such an abominably violent image, should I feel? What have I borne witness to? In ‘Bearing Witness’ Ross’s article in the exhibition catalogue and conference proceedings of the afore-mentioned exhibition, she asks:

How can we attempt to grasp what these images are saying? How can we begin to understand them in ways that make sense to us and our circumstances?

Disappointingly, there seems to be little response to this issue coming from the fraternity of art and image makers. Perhaps the preparations for the South African Pavillion for the 2015 Venice Biennale has taken up time and focus. A person who has clearly spoken out however, is the political analyst, Justice Mahala. In a brutally honest article entitled ‘We are the barbarians’, Mahala takes issue with those that are guilty of witnessing the Sithole murder. Making no attempt to intervene the fatality as they watch, a singular man stands out in a heroic act to stop the killers. This man, simply referred to as ‘The man in the leather jacket’, does what no-one else does.

The Times: Monday April 20 / 2015  Photograph: James Oatway
The Times: Monday April 20 / 2015                                                 Photograph: James Oatway

The leather-jacketed man is mobilized through empathy for the victim. Moving from her position as art educator, Ross suggests the following:

I believe empathy must be achieved before understanding is possible. But in this case our empathetic reactions are also for ourselves as we contemplate the reality of our conjoined existence with the rest of the world.

As South Africans we are in this xenophobic upsurge together. We share a conjoined existence, seeped in apartheid, yet this can never excuse the current state of xenophobia. As witnesses to what is happening around us, it would stand us in good stead to remind ourselves with Ross’s parting words:

What we do with [the] information in terms of how we think, talk, teach and act is yet to be determined by each of us, but we can no longer say we did not know.

As artists, are we trying to understand …?

dot 34: in[cub]ation

‘I waited for the idea to consolidate, for the grouping and composition of themes to settle themselves in my brain.’

– Claude Monet  –

I’m assuming that most creatives are ‘waiting’  for works to settle and consolidate in their brains, much as Monet expresses.  I know that this is certainly true for me. But how long does waiting take, and, if nothing it forthcoming, ought one to abandon such an idea ..?

Listening to what the composer Steve Reich has to say about the imaginative process, my question has been answered. Recently speaking about his haunting composition WTC 9/11 at the Harvard School of Design two weeks ago Reich offered to share the temporal creative process with regards to the 15 minute piece, which he wrote during the construction of the 9/11 memorial.

Although Reich was approached to create a work about 9/11 years previously, he had declined at the time. When approached by Kronos Quartet in 2009 to do a piece on pre-recorded voices, Reich accepted without the remotest idea of what he would do. Then, several months later in January 2010 it came to Reich that the voices would be from 9/11, and from that point on he started creating this memorial piece played here by Kronos Quartet.

The point for me is the 7 year time ‘wait’ taken by Reich. Even though his own home was a mere 4 blocks away from the World Trade Centre at the time, Reich didn’t push himself into creating a piece that wasn’t ready for birthing. Instead, he allowed it to happen at its own time and as the work revealed itself to Reich instead. Having to ‘represent absence through sound’ of a human tragedy of such an enormous scale must have been incredibly challenging, yet Reich writes simply that:

In this piece it was to be, and is, the means of connecting one person to another – harmonically.

Another artist who responded to his New York experience was the French painter, Francis Picabia. In contrast to the tragedy of Reich’s personal response to the 2001 twin-tower tragedy, Picabia responded to the experience of his first impressions of New York in 1913. In an article entitled How New York Looks to Me, Picabia feels the need to ‘… express the spirit of New York as I feel it, and the crowded streets of your city as I feel them, their unrest … I absorb these impressions.’

Like Reich, Picabia needs time to absorb the impressions, whether good or bad, and expresses the need for incubation of such impressions:

I am in no hurry to put them on canvas. I let them remain in my brain, and then when the spirit of creation is at flood-tide, I improvise my pictures as a musician improvises music.’

Incubation pays off the moment creativity flows:  I need to remember this.

Currently exploring the possibilities of sonification of my thought drawings, I am inclined to push too hard instead of allowing it to ‘remain in my brain’ and consolidate.

Current explorations  Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Current explorations                                                                                  Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

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Futher reading of the connections between music and the visual arts:

  • Vergo, Peter. The Music of Painting  (2001) Phaidon Press Inc, NY. ISBN: 978 07143 6386 3