Monthly Archives: August 2015

dot 42: identity

To live is to construct an identity bit by bit .

– unknown –

What is a true identity? What is a projected identity? Are these polarities of one another or are they intertwined? Does a fixed identity – if it exists at all – expand beyond itself or is it a restricting boundary? These are ideas that the South African artist Barend de Wet have often challenged and which are highlighted in his current exhibition Projected Identities showing at SMAC Gallery (Cape Town).

Identity is something that I have explored myself. The video piece I am an African (2008) exhibited at Dak’art 2008, investigates the lived reality of being white and African. Of particular interest to me in Projected Identities is de Wet’s exploration of how others perceive the self which he explores through the role of dress.

My heightened awareness of the construct of identity is directly linked to what I’m currently reading. Exploring the relations between societal constructs and brand identity in Brand Management is an entirely new field to me. Although struggling somewhat through the marketing approaches and linguistics, I am quite fascinated by the idea that ‘brand is a construct formed by society.’ In a way this resonates with what de Wet attempts to explore in Projected Identities. Here, however, the viewer is asked to deconstruct the societal construct of identity.

As I understand it, brand identity relates to the way the brand sees itself and brand image is the way the brand wishes to be seen. Applying that to what it means to be an artist the questions then become: What is my own art identity (brand identity), and, how would I want my art identity to be seen (brand image)?

Agreeing with the idea that identity is constructed bit by bit through the lived experience of life itself, branding experts believe that this organic approach cannot be enough to stand out in the global reality of cluttered, competitive noise. Your (brand) identity as an artist needs to offer something of value to be noticed above all the din. According to Klopper & North:

The value of a brand  … is defined by who its stakeholders are and by what they need and want. A brand’s identity is in essence defined by the value it adds to people’s lives.

We are back to the viewer here. It resonates with de Wet ‘s approach to the assigned role of the spectator, viewer or stakeholder in the relationship of what is being perceived.

Obliquely linking to my previous blog purpose I need to ask myself what value my art is adding to those who see / experience it?

Still image from Projected Identites
Still image from Projected Identities                                 Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 41: purpose

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.

– James Baldwin –

 When I started my blog in July 2014 my sole purpose was to reconnect with my fragmented creative-self.  I have since then reached that purpose and am deeply grateful for it.

My current status is one of art-making again and I now find myself re-contemplating the idea of purpose in art. Exploring this idea via a Google search it is clear that there are diverse viewpoints loudly echoed from Creatives. Pablo Picasso felt that purpose in art could allow ‘the dust of daily life’ to be washed away, whereas Glenn Gould (pianist, writer and composer) said that the purpose of art was ‘the lifelong construction of wonder.’ Neither these artists seemed particularly perturbed by purpose itself, yet developed an art brand that was not only unique, but sustainable and relevant over time. I believe that I can draw from advertising here. Although a somewhat foreign environment to me, I realize that the development of powerful branding purpose is an area of advertising’s expertise.

Mark Di Somma is a creative strategist and writer who sees brand as a powerful lens to explore issues one may grapple with in a broader context. It’s the big picture that counts here yet strongly connects to each day, to today even. The big picture concerns itself with ways one’s brand (read: your specific art) will change the world for the better. This is one’s ‘statement of  belief, of hope, of pursuit.’ In other words: the purpose of one’s art-brand. One’s focus should be ‘on the passion, on the biggest belief you share and on the implications of holding that belief for everything that you do.’ That’s the big picture which Di Somma creatively sketches in Developing A Powerful Brand Purpose.

But how is one’s (larger) purpose framed for where one currently is? How is one’s brand purpose brought back to the here and now? Referencing Steve Jobs, Di Somma says that instead of Jobs asking people to think differently, he would frame the question as: ‘What are you doing today to think different?’ 

It’s easy for me to ask myself what I’m passionate about and what my biggest beliefs are. My answer would be to say: my continual interest in invisible connectivity, which could include movement, sound and/or energy. I know what I intensely pursue and have pursued over time, and to me this pursuit is more than evident in the drawing below.

purposeimage1But let me take Jobs’s question back to this drawing that got me thinking about purpose initially. Starting as an exercise the idea was to connect 11 dots made randomly on paper, allowing the process of mark-making to unfold as the process evolved. In the midst of the drawing I started wondering what the purpose of joining random dots could possibly be in the context of global art. How could this drawing contribute to making any fundamental change to the world,  a question that Di Somma urges one to translate into a statement.

Asking myself Steve Jobs’s specific question is far more difficult to answer than what my overall purpose is, surprisingly enough. Yet posing this question is vital according to Di Somma:

Such questions bring the purpose right down to what anyone is doing at any given moment. If you can’t frame a benchmark question from your purpose, it isn’t personal enough and therefore risks being irrelevant.

It is certainly something I will ask of myself today as I work. To this, I would add James Baldwin’s benchmark question: ‘What questions have been laid bare ..?

dot 40: boundaries

I’m very conscious of the fact that I need to reinvent myself, really need to see what boundaries I can find.

– Diane Victor –

 This statement has stayed with me since reading the article  Second Life in The Times last month. Exploring the creative impact a recent kidney transplant has had on one of South Africa’s greatest artists Diane Victor, Oliver Roberts playfully engages with what could be viewed as a near-death experience.

What strikes me as I re-read this article is how focused and determined death can make us. I am reminded of Austin Kleon that suggests artists should read obituaries because they are ‘like near-death experiences [but they] aren’t really about death; they’re about life’ he states in his book Show Your Work! Kleon rightfully quotes the late Steve Jobs in this regard:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything … just fall[s] away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

As a previous ICU nurse I was confronted with potential death on a minute-to-minute basis. I can honestly say that this 20 year experience truly altered me, and I was never in doubt as to what was essential. Life and death were translucent ends of the same continuum. The boundaries were clear.

Now, sitting in my studio as an artist, that thought has become a lot fuzzier and less defined. I find myself longing for that clarity of conviction, wondering how I could re-find that space as an artist?

Is it at all possible to find such boundaries within art making ..?

For Diane Victor, the seeking of boundaries, of reinventing herself has led her to rework previously failed etchings. Apparently somewhat unsettled by this process (of shameful sentimentality) it has allowed her the means to reinvent herself again creatively. My mind wanders off and I contemplate reworking artworks that I would deem as failed. It might potentially be a place to start from.

Moving in from the outer boundary …

'sound boundary'  Aquatint etching
sonic boundary (2015)                          Aquatint etching                          Sonya Rademeyer

dot 39: beauty

 

Throw away as much as you can of what you know, and you might at last be able to see.

– David Rothenberg –

Matopos
Matobo Hills view                                                                         photograph: Sonya Rademeyer

 

‘We have to investigate, to delve into beauty; rather than pick it apart in such a way that it dies, we must inhabit the wonder that is in the world, recognize it, love it in moments of both bliss and investigation.

The beautiful is the root of science and [of] art, the highest possibility that humanity can ever hope to see.’

Taken from Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution (2013) by David Rothenberg.