These are made of tiny pieces of coal bound in copper wire. This combination of materials refers to the production and transmition of electricity and information.
Each face is presented with eyes closed, and lips parted, as if taking a breath referring to the idea that peoples consumption of materials has become as naturalized as breathing. This moment represents the potential they embody through inhaling.
Literally suspended, and figuratively frozen, in a moment of potentiality, the result of which is unclear. The works are meant as a gentle reminder to take cognisance and responsibility for what we consume and generate through this consumption.
For these works I used googled, snap shot images and combined them with images of friends in an illustrative style, iconographic of pop-culture imagery.
View the embedded image gallery online at:
It's an honour to be here, and to have been asked to say a few words at this exhibition of beautiful work.
I'd like to start with the genie in the bottle.
I was always fascinated by the genie in the bottle when I was a kid, in the playground. I was particularly gripped by the idea that, logically, the first thing you should ask for is another genie in a bottle. If you do this you're sorted for the rest of time. You're not restricted to three little wishes. Of course when I presented this idea in the playground I was shut down immediately. 'You can't do that, it's against the rules. You're killing the game if you do that!' was the response. I found this a little frustrating. 'Who makes these rules anyway? And why are these rules the rules? Why can't there be other rules?' I asked.
Looking back I think these questions were the nascent artist in me. That thing that all artists have inside them that must question ideas. I think this is one of the reasons I'm a bit of a fine art junky. Good art, for me, lays down a path to explore new ideas. I experience good art as a button being pushed at the back of my head somewhere. The button is pushed and my brain releases that art chemical that puts me into an altered state. The power of the visual experience creates a heightened state where I want to know more about the artist: what they were thinking when they created the work, and what they're all about in terms of ideas and art. This process can set you off down a very interesting path. A path that allows you to question and explore ideas. This is one of the things I love the most about art. The button being pushed.
The other thing I love about art is, of course, the gossip.
The gossip is endlessly fascinating to me because we all know it's going on but it's never acknowledged - even though we all understand quite clearly that gossip is the hidden oil in the engine of commercial art. When an artist puts work out there, they are assessed by the audience according to the terms they provide, but they're also being gossiped about. It's an exquisite kind of torture, being the one who puts work out there, because you know people are discussing your art and your ambition: where you studied, what your credentials are, which gallery you're with, who your patron is, what you've done wrong, what you've done right... you're also being assessed as to the grace and style with which you go about pursuing your ambition, that desire to be seen that binds us all as artists. The desire to be heard, to be recognised... and yes, to be just a little bit famous. George Orwell, in his essay on why he wrote, called this driving force 'sheer egoism'. He gave this subject the most weight in his essay. He described it as something like 'the desire to get your own back on the adults who snubbed you in the playground, in childhood.'
Gossip plays a vial role in defining whether an artist is 'hot', or not. And artists do need to be hot. Artists need to create a patch of turf from which they can do business, and from which they can do that other vital thing: feed their ego, their sense of self. But being a hot artist is no easy thing in our era, where the structure of much of the creative economy has been removed or changed by the Internet, Facebook and Instagram. In the old days, when members of the public wanted to view art, they needed the intermediary of the art gallery, or the museum. And if they wanted to discuss art, the conversation would frequently require the intermediary of the expert, the professor. Today, this is no longer the case. Art is shared by the common man at incredible speed, digitally. Simply put, the gallery is no longer essential to the experience of art. Because art is spread so widely and so fast, art conversations now also happen on their own terms. The professor is no longer fundamentally required either. All of this makes it very tricky for an artist to create their operational patch, and to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that they are indeed professionals - that they are visibly superior in their skill with, and understanding of, art to the average joe with an iPhone.
This context has created, in my view, an increasing tendency in the formal, hierarchical, salaried structures of the fine art world toward didactic art. Towards art which, the artist believes, must do more than simply create a visual experience, but which must actually teach and send a message to the viewer. This is where, I believe, art can easily become patronising. When the artist believes they must educate the audience, the much vaunted concept behind the art becomes a trojan horse, released into the gallery so that the artist may jump out and announce his or herself as just that much cleverer than everyone else in the room.
It's a pleasure, then, to experience an exhibition where the four artists have taken an inverse approach. Where they have presented art which is the result of a conversation they have had among themselves, and a conversation they hold within themselves as they work. I think the art they have offered us as a result of this conversation allows us - the viewers - to continue thinking about the very intriguing idea of the relationship between man and his materials. Crucially, the artists allow us, through their work, to do this in our own way, and in our own time.
Mandy Coppes Martin's work has always fascinated me. In working the way she does (by sketching with silk - an exotic material with a deep history, a material I always assumed should be used to make larny things like dressing gowns) and by thinking about her relationship with her materials in the way she does, Mandy evokes the weird and tenuous relationship we all have with the stuff of our lives. Mandy managed to force me to reconsider the many inherent assumptions I have about silk - and then to realise that I didn't have any idea I had all these assumptions about the stuff in the first place. Her work is beautiful, but it is also a mediation on how transient our relationship with our materials can be.
Stephan Erasmus works with a similar notion, but from a polar opposite position. Stephan works with words. He extracts a few words from the literal tidal waves of the things we live with on a daily basis. He takes words and presents them to us as physical objects and aesthetic things. In doing so he certainly made me think about my own relationship with words, which as a writer I am surrounded by every day (so much so that I sometimes fear I could choke to death on the things). He also makes me wonder, with his art, just how primed I am to think certain things and act in certain ways by the physical structure of the words in my life. Do I react to words according to what they look like as much as according to what they mean? Quite possibly...
Dirk Bhamann addresses the nature of the relationship between our two selves - his art digs into the conversation between our interior self and exterior self, the self we present to the world. Dirk is interested in the way this conversation shapes our understanding of the world around us, and therefore the way we choose to act in that world. He refers personally to his relationship with the city Johannesburg in his art. But Dirk's work, both the work here tonight and the work I've seen on Google, often also has a science fiction atmosphere to it. This feels appropriate to me, because, looking forward, one has to wonder how long human beings will remain locked into this two way conversation. Will we, in the digital future, be holding a three way conversation between interior self, external self and virtual self? The science fiction atmosphere of his work seems very fitting when one thinks in these terms.
Mandy Johnston's work with copper and coal, and the way she thinks and talks about this work, highlights a fascinating idea for me - the notion of man's control over our materials. We have a tendency to assume that man, the active agent, will dominate the material, the passive tool. So, the artist will always dominate the canvas and the paint. But Mandy Johnston's work suggests that we need consider that it's possible for us to lose our understanding of our relationships with some materials. Indeed, when it comes to copper, her work suggests that is even possible for us to lose control over our materials.
In South African copper is a fascinating, very important substance. We need it, we value it, because of its ability to send emails back and forth, to allow us to carry on conversations about interior and exterior selves and all that, to send energy around. But we can't keep the stuff in the ground, or in the pipe. It gets stolen, and we get angry when systems crash but we also understand that people in this country often steal copper because they are starving. We have, quite literally, lost control of our relationship with copper. This is a very interesting thought.
My contribution to the conversation these artists have started builds on this idea. I believe in coming years we will all be forced to seriously consider and assess our relationship with goop. And that the man / goop relationship could well define the trajectory of our next thirty or forty years.
We all know that you can take your design file to the 3D printer and print off a remote control for your television. The 3D printer achieves the printing of the remote control by pouring plastic goop and electrical type goop into his machine (I am no 3D printing expert, and my goop experience is extremely limited, but you get the general idea). The goop is instructed by the design file to print out a remote control... or a shoelace, or a tie, or a tyre for your car, or perhaps the car itself.
One has to think about the genie in the bottle when one thinks about 3D printing. The logical thing to do when you first visit a 3D printer is to ask him to print you a 3D printer. Then when you have your 3D printer at home, and provided you can afford enough goop, you will print off a copy of your 3D printer for your parents, your siblings, your neighbours.. in short order everyone will have a 3D printer. This means mankind could face a context where all of our economic structures and the basic idea of employment, which centre around the idea of producing products and specific items for the market, have become irrelevant. Our relationship with goop is is not something of the future. This is something of right now. If you want to look into the future, you have to wonder how long it will take before we are printing human beings with 3D printers, using biological goop. And then your mind runs off in any direction it wants to.
For me, the last few days preparing for this show have been like opening those first wonderful pages of a good science fiction novel, where you don't know what's going on or where you'll be going - but you do know it will be a very interesting journey indeed. I'd like to thank the artists for this. For pushing that art button with the beauty of their work, and for approaching their subject in the open way they have. For thinking about something, creating art around those thoughts and then presenting an exhibition and an experience which allows space for viewers like me to continue exploring their ideas.
Thank you very much."