Emerging sculptors who buck the current trend towards installation and cutting-edge new media still need to keep one foot firmly enough in the avant-garde camp to remain on the contemporary art world radar. Nandi Mntambo, who last year graduated from UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, has managed this balancing act with aplomb. Graduate shows are traditionally combed by talent-spotters and Mntambo was last year singled out. Her work conveyed strong visual impact, technical skill and conceptual depth along with its striking medium.
Mntambo moulded partial casts of female figures in cowhides, which were inspired by a dream and picked for their multifarious cultural associations. The preposterous but successful proposition of sultry female figures covered in long hair was both attractive and repulsive. In the centre, a woman crouched on all fours. A series of five figures hung like clothes in a cupboard and a torso from the wall. Three pairs of crossed legs sat on high chairs as a comment on female interaction.
Mntambo says: “It’s about how females are ‘supposed’ to behave towards each other. A lot of people prefer to remain silent or watch from a distance because it is safer… It also challenges stereotypes of what women should look like – the hairy wife or girlfriend. It’s both disturbing and sexy.”
Her work speaks volumes of her character. It is engaging, funny, challenging, subversive and off-beat. “I’m not precious about my work. It’s easy to stop and start again,” she says.
Mntambo is also interested in how perspectives are influenced by perceived history. She will this year study towards an MA in Fine Art while researching the role of black women in South African art history. At this rate, she will most likely become part of that very same canon.
Kim Gurney is a freelance journalist and Western Cape Editor of ArtThrob.
SIFTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE
Dineo Bopape recently completed her B.Tech Degree at the Durban Institute of Technology (DIT) Fine Art Department and is one of the more promising artists to have emerged from this institution in recent years. Having majored in sculpture, Bopape is a versatile and articulate young artist equally at home working in installation and video. She is due to appear on two notable exhibitions in 2005: the NSA Young Artist’s Project, and a show curated by Kathryn Smith for the 2005 Klein Karoo Arts Festival.
Much of Bopape’s practice thus far is concerned with her obsessive collecting and packaging of mostly insignificant stuff. Her neurotic collecting, safekeeping and obsolete archiving becomes an inquiry into the unsaid and repressed, a metaphor for lived history and experience. The physical result of her hoarding and unstructured interior mess is loose, oozy and floppy structures that barely hold.
For her final year show Bopape presented an installation in an empty retail space located in a shopping centre in Durban’s CBD.
The space was dominated by a half collapsed tent-like structure filled with masses of sealed plastic bags, papers, notes, balloons and “secrets”. Collected from the public, the works were sewn into pockets, pinned up, tucked away and strewn around.
One of the two-dimensional works on display bluntly juxtaposed hardcore pornographic images of black women and genitalia with glossy fast food images. A brave and shocking work, it proved unusually frank given the wider context in which the imaging of a black woman’s bodies is such a contested terrain.
“My work developed out of a paranoid expression of drawing boundaries between things private and things public, and an obsessive safekeeping of such,” says Bopape. “However, this process invariably leads to suffocation. History is baggage that we carry and often it is a burden too that we cannot escape. I am interested in revealing the grotesque, off-key and the disgusting in the mundane, in order to also reveal the secrets (the unsaid/unmentionable) within spaces intimate and seemingly public/private.
Storm Janse van Rensburg.
ANTI MASS-PRODUCTION OBJECTS
Stefanus Rademeyer’s singular brand of sculpture entered the public domain unannounced. Deferred Reconstructions (1999) and Mimetic Reconstructions (2000) nonetheless exist as seminal examples of an art that is ever so subtly eclectic. Drawing on influences as diverse as leftfield electronic music, minimalist architecture, poststructuralist philosophy and systemic metaphors, Rademeyer’s art is an unusual aggregate comprised of many parts. That said, it is best to keep reference to his influences to a bare minimum. After all, Rademeyer’s is first of all a conceptual art where objects are meticulously renovated, rebuilt, or – as the titles of his early work suggests – reconstructed. Rademeyer’s seductive surfaces are rarely just meant to present a copy or an illusion. When he recreates an object, it is through a working process dotted with a number of intentional obstacles. And if he plainly says “I create structures, subject them to various stresses, and then carefully map the emerging mutations,” it is a way of explaining that his re-enactments are marked by a calculated disturbance which unsettles the composite cells within the system.
The results are surprising. Materials become alien to their tacit properties. Solid masses are stirred up into semi-fluid states. A virtual cathedral becomes a dragon-like apparition in a 3D-animated sequence overlooking a welded steel version of itself (in Deferred Reconstructions). In a parallel series, light boxes fitted with mirrors fracture the coherence of graphic symbol sets by infinitely multiplying them. Faced with one of these pieces, the viewer encounters an endless visual field, sinuously shifting into unpredictable patterns. Another animation piece from 2001, Tabula Rasa, puts these agglutinating patterns in motion.
In Rademeyer’s most ambitious work to date, the massive timber floor pieces presented as part of surface depth (Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, 2004), the intricately segmented faces of his wood sculptures pulsate with an optical complexity that competes with, and defies their material properties.
STEFANUS RADEMEYER IN CONVERSATION WITH FRIKKIE EKSTEEN
FE It is difficult to decide whether your light box pieces are sculptures or light drawings. They do not ‘displace space’ in the way that conventional sculptures do, and instead, seem to create a new kind of illusionist space where there is none. Likewise, you have at times referred to the monumental floorpieces on surface depth as screens. Are two-dimensional illusionist principles or concerns an important aspect of the work?
SR There are definite concerns with dimensionality in my work. It is, however, very different to “illusionism” as seen in traditional painting, where the canvas becomes a window to the world. I am more interested in mathematical notions of dimensionality. For instance, how the properties of a threedimensional object can be described in terms of a two dimensional surface, or how a hypothetical four-dimensional object can be mapped in three dimensions.
FE You’ve jokingly referred to yourself as a “structuralist” in one of our conversations. I know that your working process is very much about examining structures – be they philosophical, architectural or aesthetic – but you have also mentioned avant garde electronica as a prominent influence. Does thinking about musical structures inform the work in any apparent way?
SR I am interested in the notion of “novelty” – discovery and creation, as opposed to representation. I also think that avant garde music explores expressive possibilities that are truly pioneering. The flexibility of the sound medium allows one to construct and deconstruct extremely complex or even fictitious structures. But my interest in the relation between visual art and sound is not just about translating sound into image. It is more about looking at the operational motives of the musicians as well as the physical potential of the medium and applying that to my theoretical and aesthetic working method.
FE Seeing that the floor pieces created for surface depth were the result of a tremendous hands-on effort, do you believe the time invested in creating an artwork is somehow inferred by the viewer?
SR The time invested in the work speaks about a personal interest in the sublime. For me, an expression that cannot be quantified or approximated – that somehow eludes comprehension – can be called sublime. It is an invocation of boundlessness. One of the mechanisms I use in my work to suggest the sublime, is immense complexity. And most of the time visual complexity can only be created in painstaking constructions that contain thousands of components.
FE The surfaces of the objects you create often appear untouched. Newcomers to your work might even be fooled into thinking that they were industrially produced. Is disguising your physical involvement in making the work a conscious choice?
SR The sculptures have unique optical and structural qualities that are fundamentally dependent on very precise execution and construction. For me, the work celebrates a very dedicated kind of physical involvement, where every component is individually cut and carefully incorporated in the larger structures. It would, ironically, be impossible to simulate the timber works on surface depth with an automated mechanical or robotic process. It has to be done by hand. I see them as anti massproduction objects. Frikkie Eksteen is an artist, freelance writer and a visual arts and multimedia lecturer at UNISA
Frikkie Eksteen is an artist, freelance writer and a visual arts and multimedia lecturer at UNISA.
Langa Magwa, Amabhabhathane, 2000, details of installation, dimensions variable.
Langa Magwa is a sculptor in the traditional sense of the word: he produces three-dimensional objects out of metal, wood and skin. His interest in human and animal skin developed out of a sensitivity as a child growing up with his mothers’ Xhosa family in the Eastern Cape. Carrying the scarification of his father’s Zulu/Swazi clan marked him as ‘foreign’ amongst his peers, who took to endlessly teasing and mocking the marks on his face.
Growing up with little knowledge of this marking led to an ongoing interest, fascination and research into traditional ritual and practice, particularly relating to the use of animal skins and matter for medicinal and ritual purpose. The absence of credible research information in libraries during his undergraduate days at the Durban Institute of Technology has led to a gathering of information directly from rural elders through documented interviews. This information has subsequently been fed into his various art projects.
A recent work, Imibuzo Yethu, offers an example. This work, which documents the highly metaphoric and idiom rich Zulu spoken in rural villages as well as that spoken in township, functions as a musing on the loss of traditional information and the impact of language once translated.
“Imibuzo Yethu is a call to all Africans, especially the youth, to revive our epistemology,” says Magwa of his project. “Even though I have benefited from a western education, I also feel this type of education has failed to locate itself in Africa. In South Africa, the words of historians and anthropologists have had a very damaging effect on the psyche of indigenous cultures. Words in books have formed, not only the basis of how Europeans look at Africans, but also how we, as Africans, perceive ourselves. Our inferiority complex is well documented.”
The interpretation and reading of Magwa’s work is not bounded by a reductionist identity politik; his is a sustained and sophisticated response to the value of language and traditional practice in an emerging global monoculture.
Already a prominent young artist, Magwa’s recent accomplishments include: participation on the traveling exhibition Group Portrait: SA Family Stories; nomination for the 2002 DaimlerChrysler Sculpture Award; an artist’s residency at the 2003 National Arts Festival, in Grahamstown. He has completed numerous public and private commissions, and is currently completing a large work for the Africa Centre in Mtubatuba, in northern KwaZulu Natal.
Storm Janse van Rensburg is a curator based in Durban.
THE VOCABULARY OF AMBIGUITY
Over 10 years ago, Jacki McInnes worked as a radiotherapist at Groote Schuur hospital where lead was a useful protection from potentially harmful radiation. Today, she bends strips of the soft grey metal over a piece of drainpipe to weave together a sculpture in her Woodstock studio.
McInnes took a more winding route to her vocation. She studied Fine Art through Unisa while working in the medical field and in her second year began experimenting with salt and lead, which have become her trademark. McInnes enjoys their powerful visual and ambiguous metaphorical associations. “Salt has impurities, which create pigments … and it has both healing and corrosive properties,” she says. This synergy between medicine and art also developed thematically. Disease recurs in her work and issues like abortion have fueled much creative output. Her visually compelling art is not made to pretty up the lounge.
McInnes derives great pleasure from creating labour-intensive pieces and rarely outsources production. She will work on various projects at once, gestating ideas and drawing inspiration from around her. Somewhat surprisingly, sculpture was a hurdle rather than an obvious first choice in the early Unisa years. But clearly an affinity developed over time. She says: “I create an image using an object as opposed to using a line.
McInnes acquired an MA from Michaelis in 2003, followed by an acclaimed solo show a year later (Bell-Roberts Gallery, 2004). Her work certainly intersects well with an international aesthetic but she thinks South African contemporary art has compelling prospects
McInnes, who recently returned from a residency in Switzerland, admires the creative grappling that leaves visible traces of human intervention. She says: “A lot of American and western European art seems quite clinical with very modern technical processes. My perception of South African work is that it’s taken from a lot of different sources and put together in a uniquely South African way.”