Monthly Archives: May 2015

dot 38: [hind]sight

The most fertile source of insight is hindsight.

 – Morris Kline –

I started thinking about hindsight after reading an article about Deborah Bell’s current exhibition Dreams of Immortality. Having met her briefly many years ago, I was taken by her humbleness. This has stayed with me, as has the memory of her deep sense of spirituality as an artist. There is resonance here. It is particularly interesting to read how Bell reflects back on her work as an artist. Hindsight, as Robyn Sassen writes in the Sunday Times article, has given Bell ‘perspective into her own thoughts’.

The thoughts Sassen are referring to here, is Bell’s own self-reflection as she contemplates her art-making from an earlier time:

I thought my early stuff in the 1980’s was about being caught in South Africa. Being caught up in that claustrophobia, that kind of desperate embrace; but looking at it all now, I realize it was about my fear of being trapped in the material ( …) At the time I thought I was making political and sexual commentary. I thought that was what I was doing.

These are brave words by Bell. It speaks of honesty as well as the ability to accept a previous process which may now seem somewhat distanced and even foreign. Having said that, it is clear from the exhibition catalogue that for Bell her artworks are connected and inter-connected. One work leads to another and then turns back onto itself again. Perhaps this is because, for Bell, thought itself ‘is in the realm of the spiritual, not the material.’ Thought therefore takes place in an ever-flowing state of present awareness.

Perhaps I am also writing about hindsight because of a shift that has occurred in my own work. I seem to have moved from one space to another, leaving me anxious at times. I wonder whether I am more or less authentic by flowing with this process? I wonder where that places my previous work? At times I wonder how this change is viewed from the art sidelines? Here I can take my lesson from Bell:

My art making is intensely private, closer to a spiritual discipline than an engagement with the contemporary art world. At this stage in my life, I am less interested in looking at what others are doing, and more concerned with my own transformation through the act of making.

 (from exhibition catalogue)

Perhaps the key word here is transformation, indicating a process taking place on a continuum rather than the experience of an edited time-frame.

Hindsight becomes both foresight and insight, taking place in a connected embrace: such were the insights that Bell’s magnificent installation The Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones (2013-2105) evoked in me. The interaction with sound, time, myth and spirituality allowed me to experience not only the present moment, but also the interconnectedness of what it is to be human. As I navigated endlessly between the five, Monumental Beings, I connected and re-connected to Phillip Miller’s composition, set off by my own presence. In my mind’s eye I was drawing invisible points with my own body as I circled the Ancient Ones.

One of my favourite writers, Kazuo Ishiguro writes in The Remains of the Day:

But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight one begins to search one’s past for such ‘turning points’, one is apt to start seeing them everywhere….”

Installation view of Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones (2013-2015)
Installation view of Return of the Gods: The Ancient Ones.       Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

Hindsight is most certainly fertile, yet it requires the awareness to recognize the turning points and then to join the dots.

Dreams of Immortality is showing at Everard Read Gallery:JohannesburgCape Town.

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dot 37: listening

How can you record the emotional volume present in the art of listening?

– Maya Maljević –

I have always thought that I listen well. That is, until I decided to selectively listen to my immediate environment. In 2013 I decided to switch off radios and music in order to actually start listening to the sonic world surrounding me. This decision has payed off as I am now able to discern and navigate between various soundscapes as I listen consciously. A recent artwork that reflects such listening is silence 1 (2015) shown at pop-up art exhibition Silence held in Cape Town. In many ways I have had to un-learn what it is to listen.

There is an analogy to be made between un-learning in listening and un-learning  in art making. Both indicate previous training in either thinking or the acquiring of skills or techniques. In essence the ‘previous’ belongs to a narrative that does not belong to the self. Looking at the work of Maya Maljević one would not think that such a talented artist would have needed to unlearn how to draw. Having been trained at the University of Arts in Belgrade, Maljević is firmly grounded in an academic and classical arts education. It is important to note that in creating her artworks, Maljević moves from a predominantly formal position as Jacqueline Nurse noted in David Krut Projects Maya Maljević (2012). What enthralls me, is how Maljević is able to move beyond the cognitive and into her imaginary space in the way that she does.

In viewing her paintings and drawings, I hear sounds. I hear singular instruments at times, but mostly collective, orchestral soundscapes not in a formal sense, but very much in the way that instrumental groups within an orchestra tune up: vibrating in energy and dissonance. In an interview with Nurse,  Maljević describes her creative process:

When I combine objects, it is … how they clash , feed from each other, create chaos and from that chaos a perfect sound is made …

 Nurse – comparing Maljević to Kandinsky – notes that ‘through her own version of gestural abstraction,  Maljević … allows action and conflict to occur between the different elements with which she is engaged.’ This level of engagement requires the art of listening.

The avant-garde artist and composer John Cage stated that ‘Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around.’

listening to movement
‘ listening to movement ‘                                                                   Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

For more on John Cage, listening and sound visit Open Culture.