Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Emotion Pictures

I find myself haunted after seeing the image of little, three year old Syrian refugee, Aylan Kurdi (as well as the bodies of other children) washed up on the Turkish beach.
After discussing my relationship to images in a recent blog post, I mentioned that I have a very good memory of the images I see, even from when I was very little.
Images have a profound effect on me.
I think in Images, I remember in Images, I dream in Images, I communicate in Images. I live my entire life visually.

This image tore my heart out.
I find myself crying when thinking about it.
It is the single most powerful image I have ever come across.
It haunts me.
It disturbs me to the core.

It made me wonder how this little boy, and the other parents of these little toddler bodies -which were photographed and posted- must feel.
The night I saw it, I immediately climbed down the steps and went to Luke, where he was sleeping on his little toddler bed.
I can only imagine the pain these parents must feel.
It made me question the ethicality of posting such imagery.
Images with such power that they change the world, yet so personal.

I thought about ignorance.
That of humans as to what is going on around us.
Is this what we need to see in order to feel a connection to fellow human beings?

It made me think of the right to have a choice in what you see.
Social media has stripped us of this right.
It made me question whether it would have been better if I did not see the image, because I can not get the image out of my head.
It has consumed me.

I thought about the ways we view things, and my sister that now lives in the states.

She lived here in South Africa till two years ago. Recently she mentioned (pre the Syrian image) that she was affected terribly by the amount of beggars etc. around Johannesburg during her last visit.
It was strange to me as she was not that affected by it when living here.
Do we become de sensitized according to the amount of time we witness something -in the same way we don’t easily laugh as adults like we used to as children.

It made me think of ways to try ease the horror this image has made me feel.

If I draw an image do I become more sensitive to it?
If I had to draw these little bodies, I will have to intently focus on each line.
I will have to capture the round soft innocent limbs only toddlers have.
I will have to focus on each little part so hard in order to truthfully portray them.
I would look intently at each part of the image/s hundreds of times till the drawing is finished.

I usually use the reference of an image I chose many times in the beginning of the drawing- the further I am the less I use the image. As the drawing starts taking on a life of its own, becoming free from the clutter of its surroundings, the picture/reference becomes less relevant.

I want to say that through drawing the image I am set free in the same way I usually free the subjects of my references. However, I think this image is simply too powerful.

I wonder what would happen if I had to draw the same image over and over. Would I not need the reference at all?
Will I become de sensitized to this image in the same way South Africans have become towards beggars at street lights.
Will it do the opposite?

I wish I could forget this image, but it is too late.
I won’t hesitate to draw the image a hundred times over if someone guaranteed me relief.
But there is no guarantee, it might get worse, and I don’t know yet if I can risk having to look at the image/s so many times in order to draw it.
I have been avoiding any links or anything related to the image, as I cannot bare to look at it.
It breaks my heart.
I can only hope that drawing the image/s will help, and that I will build up and maintain the courage to view it over and over when drawing the tiny bodies.

For the parents who lost children, as well as parents of suffering children around the world, I have no words to describe my empathy.

To the parents of the Syrian toddlers who drowned, and to those whose children were photographed I can with certainty say that your children’s lives changed the world for the better.
These pictures are very personal, and I am not sure how these parents must feel about the pictures being made public.
I can only say that I am sorry Humanity failed you.
That I hate war and I have no respect for soldiers.
Violence is not acceptable.
To the victim of these wrongfully socially constructed borders, my heart goes out to you.
I am so very sorry.
I am certain nothing will erase this from a parent’s memory.
I hope somehow you will find some comfort.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

#tbt #7 Drawing out the subject

I have unexpectedly been included in a group exhibition next week, at a gallery where I am hopefully having a drawing exhibition later on next year- in Johannesburg.
I am not sure what the other artists on the show will be exhibiting this coming week.
I do however know that I am included so that the gallerist/s can see exactly what kind of drawing or painting skills I will exhibit.

The thing I am struggling with here is a concept…
How will I produce a single drawing that will stand strong amongst other works by other artists?
The challenge lies right here- the same challenge I wrote about in my previous blog post… The conceptual catwalk.

I have tried to stretch my thoughts about what drawing is, what is it that inspires me to draw, and why I choose the subject matter I usually draw.
The answer is this.
I like to draw the organic.
Bodies, animals, plants, water - things that move.
Things with emotion.
Things that make me feel.
I then exclude everything else.

I often get asked why I do not draw much of a background.
My figures and subject matter are almost always floating - anchored to the space around it with a few loose lines.
This line always differs in boldness, in frequency and in style according to what the subject makes me produce.

I draw things from real life.
I have always loved paging through fashion magazines.
I love drawing the figures of the models.
I love drawing the animal bodies from National Geographic magazines.
I love drawing sportsmen and women.

The way a person stands, an animal’s muscles flex, or mouth moves when stalking prey…
The way the bones of a thin model protrudes, a hand clutches a bag.
The way the tree roots press through the ground.
To me these little things tell a whole story.

It’s these little things that demand an emotional response.
They reveal and at the same time try to conceal a weakness or strength.

Most often it is not a story at all, but a small thing that serves as a reminder.
Often the pose or position of the subject matter can be related to other things, Iconic things.
In a drawing I just finished for next week, I paged through ‘The Lake’ Magazine.
I immediately knew I wanted to draw a diving figure in a Billabong surfer advert.
Drawing the figures feet, it reminded me of Jesus’ feet nailed to the cross.

Iconic depiction of a crucified Christ figure..

One of the nights I was working on the drawing, I joined a few photographer friends whilst they edited their pics. They are out-doorsy, sporty, skateboarders and surfers with an insatiable lust for life and a marijuana habit.
This reminded me again of the free spirit this figure in the pic had. Diving, in bubbly blue water, long hair, free spirited in appearance.
Yet he was possibly also a teenager with religious constraints. someone that sins, some model that hated diving into the freezing water, and that just wanted the shot for the ad to get paid.
A person tortured like the rest of us by everyday demands like religion, forgiveness, making money and surviving.
Surrounded by the smell of marijuana whilst I was drawing made me think of how they were also just trying to escape these daily demands and the monotonous routine of survival in a modern world.

From there I thought of how similar and different people are, all at the same time.
The title I decided on was INRI/IRIE.

Both titles are Iconic in their fields. One religious and the other part of Rastafarian belief. Both are born from cultural beliefs, and similar in many ways. Bringing calm and peace, but both can be so destructive.

There is nothing more tangible and revealing than a figure outline, or a pencil line on a white sheet of paper.
I love seeing a figure almost breaking free from the paper.
I love to focus on the organic.
I say ‘I love’ quite a bit, but that is purely because I cannot point to one thing that makes this so pleasing to me.
It makes me happy.
I feel like I am ‘freeing’ whatever I am drawing in a way.
I have also realised that I have never drawn anything not ‘alive’ or organic willingly (still lives at school doesn’t count);).

If I choose, I exclude the rest, and always just draw the live subject/s.

I remember three things we were taught in art school:
I do not believe there are rules- so these to me is a complete load of shit, but they were:
1. Never ever use paint colours straight out the tube.
2. Never ever draw with an HB pencil!
3. Do not use a National Geographic magazine as a reference.

I am adamant to do all 3 of these things, in three different exhibitions or in one exhibition. The last point “Never use a National Geographic Magazine” made me think.

My magazine stack always include National Geographic J

I used to study with a guy (a painter) who used to paint in quite a traditional realistic way.
He often used the National Geographic Magazines - and our one lecturer really could not stand this.
He always tried to push this guy into a more abstract and ‘loose’ way of painting.
So did everyone really.
I saw this guy recently, and to my relief he is still painting!
And in very much the way he used to.

I have met so many artists over the years that feel their work is too "tight".
Some even do rituals to try loosen their approach.
Things like dancing or listening to music whilst painting or drawing.

This to me has never made sense.

When I draw or paint I relate to the figure/subject in my own unique way. For instance focus especially on the part where I put the line down.
I concentrate on the pressure I apply to the line I am drawing.
Where the subject needs to be stronger and weaker.
I guess one can say that I try to exploit these strengths and weaknesses within the subject.
Almost like I want to free the subject from everything around it. I want to isolate it and make it speak louder - so that everyone can see the truth in those little muscle twitches, or broken branches, or clenched hand.
If an image is from a magazine, I will often crop out a hand clutching a bag, I will leave out any body part or clothing. I feel that any part that conceals or alter my interpretation of the truth is unnecessary...

My favourite magazines are those thick, fancy overseas Vogue magazines and National Geographic magazines.
I love images, I can literally flip through thousands- often taking pictures of parts of the pictures in these magazines.
I immediately know when I see a subject I am drawn to.
It is then when I try figure out exactly what drew me to the subject. How does the subject stir me? What part of the subject does this, and why.
I do this sometimes with television too.
I will pause and draw a figure bending, moving or doing something specific.

I still find drawing to be the most relaxing form of art.
The process is painstaking and a little torturous.
I, for instance, avoid music when I draw. I concentrate very hard on the subject and intensity of it in the purest of ways. I find music disturbs this intensity.
After I have drawn a subject I always feel a great sense of relief – the struggle is always worth it.
When a drawing is complete I feel a sense of freedom in a way.
I feel a sense of calm.
Like taking something out of chaos that was concealing or abstracting it’s truth/beauty.
Like birth- rebirth maybe (producing images from images).

Since I can remember I cut out images- little things.
I spent hours pasting snippets in my diary- drawing over them- pasting them on my cupboard.
I could never wait for my mom to buy her monthly magazines.
I still love going to the hairdresser, where there are piles of those thick fashion magazines.
I sit and drink tea and take pictures of the pictures.

These Images are from a book I picked up at a market the other day. We had the same book when I was very little… they stuck with me all these years. I knew they were in that particular book before I even opened it!

How cute is this little frog!

And the bubble and colour of this one..

And this baby babboon..

In the beginning of this post I was worried about a single drawing being strong enough to stand by itself in an exhibition with many other pictures.
I wanted to create something punchy, striking and memorable.
Thankfully, I remembered the three rules art school tried to enforce on me, and the struggle of my painter friend- being too ‘uptight.’
Maybe seeing him reminded me to search for the real reason I draw what I draw, and how I draw it.
I found that reason writing this post.
I free images.
That in itself is enough for me.
I can and want to forever do this.
The same way I have forever been excited to receive a pile of old magazines from a friend, my mom buying her monthly mags or going to the hairdresser.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

#tbt #twentyjourneys #6

I found myself attending a documentary style photographic exhibition by three young photographers the other night.

At first, seeing the exhibition title “Twenty Journey”, to be honest, I was not intrigued.
It was only after I saw twenty guests attending on my friendship list on Facebook that I started becoming interested. However I was still sceptical.

To me artists like David Goldblatt laid the foundation in terms of documentary style photography in the History of South African Art, and younger artists such as Guy Tillim, Pieter Hugo and Zwelethu Mthethwa challenged these aesthetic foundations. Rodger Ballen is perhaps the artist who set the foundation for a stylised, posed, more contemporary ‘studio-non studio’ type aesthetic.

To me it seemed near impossible that these three young men, one white English, one white Afrikaans and one black, could produce challenging photographs with titles and subject matter such as ‘Born frees’, ‘Land’ and ‘Idiosyncrasies’. To me it seemed like these phenomena have been used and reused, visited and revisited so often post-1994 that there was little left to explore. I was even a bit taken aback by the poster displaying all three of them in what looked like a ‘stereotyped’ characterised depiction. It appeared to me like some kind of politically correct (almost satirical) marketing stunt.

To my surprise, I was blown away (and I have to admit very wrong).

Sean Metelerkamp, Sipho Mpongo and Wikus de Wet challenged and changed my entire view on documentary photography in current South Africa.

I obviously did not like all the photos but overall I was very impressed. Influence from one or all the above mentioned older artists was visible in the images these new guys produced. They just did it in such an honest open and revolutionary way.

The strongest image of the exhibition to me personally was this one by Sean Metelerkamp.

 The other two images that really stood out to me were these by Wikus de Wet:

These images struck me as the best for personal reasons which I won’t go into detail about here.

I do need to explain Metelerkamp’s image (the first one) though in order for my story to make sense. 

I will do so later on in this post.

To me de Wet had the strongest body of work.

Upon arrival at the gallery I was surprised at seeing de Wet in Khaki clothing. They were relating to their poster, an attempt to create 3 diverse characters as part of a satirical marketing stunt - almost Leon Schuster inspired!!!!

I met de Wet after the show, and I have to admit (again) that I was wrong.

This man is as true to his work as one would ever find
He really wears two tone Khaki shirts, and he does so with pride.

A humble, insightful, pro-active, sensitive and most importantly true artist if I have ever seen one.

Anyway, back to the story …

After the exhibition I went out with some friends who had contributed to putting the show together with these artists. The artists would join us later at the bar, when I would realise my wrongful prejudice ;)

At the exhibition, I could not pinpoint exactly what it was about Metelerkamp’s image with the Likkewaan that intrigued me so much. It was only at the bar when a friend held out his bank card, asking me if ‘’I would like to break it’’ (the bank card) in a tone that made it sound like it was a pleasurable, satisfactory thing to get rid of something in a destructive way.

This immediately made me think of an occurrence that happened a while back, when keys to a locked bedroom door at my house were lost, and I mentioned this to another friend at the time. His reply was almost exactly the same. In the same excited-by-the-opportunity-to-destruct tone as my bank card friend, this friend asked if he could: ‘’Please kick the door down?!…”

Needless to say, I let my friend kick the door down (back then) and I did snap the bank card (at this bar).

As soon as I snapped the card it occurred to me…

The reason I relate to this image of Metelerkamp so much was exactly this:

With a dad farming cattle in the Limpopo province, and me growing up in a culture where animals, domestic and wild, was and is still today often seen as only ‘for profit’, I have witnessed a fair share of animals being mistreated (often in a playful almost sadistic way).

What comes to mind is an instance (I must have been 22 or 23) when me and my boyfriend at the time visited some friends of his in Bloemfontein.

His friends stole a smallish crocodile from a nearby crocodile farm.

The animal was already stolen and in a bathtub with tape around his jaws when we arrived.

The guys showed off the crocodile to us (almost as if it was some kind of achievement).

I remember peering into the bathtub and seeing the reptile looking so scared.

I will never forget how this made me feel.

I felt sick, very guilty- I am not sure why - because of my humanity perhaps, or because I was helpless.

I wanted to leave, phone the SPCA or get the crocodile some help. Nevertheless, with pressure from my boyfriend and his one friend, I failed to do so in time. Maybe that is why I still feel so guilty.

He was killed the next day without my knowledge. I will rather spare the details of how they killed the poor animal.

I have witnessed (maybe not to such an extent as the example above) animals being killed.

Once my cousin killed a huge black mamba the dog was aggravating on my dad’s farm.

I remember crying whilst witnessing his shrieks of joy as he repeatedly yelled out with pleasure every time he struck the snake.

I will never forget the snake swinging what was left of his body around with such fight.

It broke my spirit.

It made me ashamed to be human.

It has only ever been in environments like these (farms, farmers and around often drunk ‘Afrikaner’ men) that I have seen humans getting such pleasure from hurting and/or killing a defenceless animal.

Please note: I am not saying all men are like that, nor am I saying all Afrikaans men or all farmers or Afrikaans farmers are like that. That would definitely not be true. Nor am I restricting it to only Afrikaans men. I am purely referring to my experience and how it relates to my interpretation of this image of Metelerkamp.

My father is one of the biggest lovers of nature and animals I have ever known.

He is both Afrikaans and a farmer.

The boys in Bloemfontein with the crocodile were farmers, but not all of them Afrikaans.

I think what I am trying to say has nothing to do with this particular image of Metelerkamp’s even.
I am trying to say that sometimes one event (snapping the card) can remind you of other events (such as the locked door) which in turn is all shaped and interpreted by personal experience.

What makes one image (artwork) better than another, one artwork more ‘valuable’ to one viewer and not another is a result of personal experience.

For the above reason I believe the only way an artwork can be strong and good is if an artist creates art from a very personal place.

In this case titles such as –‘Born frees’, ‘Land’ and ‘Idiosyncrasies’ relate to a generation or generations of many races and diversely different people.

The style is documentary and universal, yet all three artists had three different bodies of work, interpreted by hundreds of fellow South Africans in hundreds of different ways.

Metelerkamp, de Wet and Mpongo in my opinion succeeded to put together a powerful show, depicting an issue, or issues us South Africans relate to in so many different ways. At the same time you cannot see their story, their journey, their experience without confronting your own interpretation of their images.

A very powerful exhibition indeed!

You guys have proven to me once again that art that comes from within is the real deal.

Well done guys!


P.S: You have also made me remember not to judge before investigating… ;)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

#tbt #The Conceptual Catwalk #5

I now find myself planning a drawing exhibition.

I approached a gallery I like (there are not many) on my visit to Johannesburg. Having done a lot of conceptual art of late, I had to ask myself why and how; do I suddenly turn to drawing.

There is this weird thing- conceptual art often seems to conceal (to an extent) in an often mysterious way. Whereas, I find, something physical like a drawing or painting (that is a 3D expression of a concept in shape on a paper) has some physicality that kind of demands attention, and speaks the undeniable truth and attitude. Fuck your concept, but it better present and clearly visible or the work is weak because what you see plays a huge (if not the biggest) role in what you get.

I had to be honest with myself. I have done a lot of conceptual art- art that often only exists momentarily. Art that often happens, and then it is over. The process that builds up to a fleeting moment is often the most important in such a work.

On the contrary to most of my conceptual works that take a lot of planning and often are very physically demanding, I have always found drawing or painting quite therapeutic. Meditative in a way. To me, so much gentler than my conceptual artworks.

I always push the boundaries (this comes naturally to me). I am not sure if it is my controlling nature that does not like to be told how, and what to do, but ever since I did my first painting in school I always had to be free of boundries. Maybe it was exactly these boundaries that taught me how to challenge.

The first painting I was proud of was the second one I did when I was 15. The project was to replicate a piece by some artist- in acrylic on A3 board. I chose to paint an Irma Stern ‘Eternal Child 1916’ because I love the painting and the little girl in it. I wanted to challenge myself.

The paint was applied in an expressionistic way. I wanted to feel the little girl when I painted, at the same time I had to pay incredible attention to detail to ‘copy’ Stern. I did not, like the other kids, use acrylic to replicate what I chose.

How could you? If it was painted in oil, to replicate it one would need to surely paint it in oils again? And so I did. I only bought the five primary colours, I wanted to teach myself to mix any colour I could ever imagine. Sometimes I look at the painting, and wonder if it was not my best- it was so honest. I certainly learnt the most from this piece.

The process of trying to balance the emotions I was feeling, re-capture the spirit of the little girl (from a painting  where Stern had already, in my opinion, captured her spirit so beautifully and honestly - from my biased 2nd hand interpretation), to put my own signature on my painting- yet to copy the Stern painting to the best of my 15 year old innocent (naïve) perfection.

The title: ‘Eternal Child’ seems highly ironic now, almost mocking the conceptual path my adult life has taken since creating a replica circa 2001. 

 Irma Stern’s : ‘The Eternal Child’ 1916

      My: 'The Eternal Child' 2001  

I gave the painting to my aunt- she used to fetch us from school. I felt like I could never thank her enough for transporting me and by siblings.

(A few years later seeing it in a cupboard at her house, I immediately asked for it back.)

My parents worked very long hours- 6 days a week, and we would often wait in front of the school from when school finished till they would arrive often only after 17:30.

This was one of my biggest frustrations in life. We were just told to wait unsure of whether my parents would arrive in 5 minutes or only hours later. This taught me to have an incredible respect for people’s time. Money can be made, but time can not.

I participated in some sports to kill the time, and when I discovered art in high school I use to sit in the art class and paint and draw. I was obsessed with creating. In the same vain I can also add that I just loved the conversation, I often created alone, but spent hours socialising in art class, sometimes (unknowingly to the others) drinking wine whilst talking away. Being social, being in love and being around other people has always been integral to my functioning. I love people! I love to love! I love to be loved! I want to create, eat, sleep and share every life moment possible with fellow human beings. I want to be able to talk about it all! All the time! We here once only, and we better make it interesting.

For most of my high school career we only did drawing and painting. My art teacher was the most amazing young lady,  we are still friends. My school embraced me- let me test boundaries and excused my absence from almost anything not related to Art, almost all of the time. I went to the art class most days for the entire day of school, only going to the classes of subjects I enjoyed, and teachers I enjoyed.

It was a social paradise.I loved school! I still dream about making art in that class- with my teacher. I respect and love her beyond words. I guess painting and drawing for me was where it all started. Today,it is still therapeutic to me.

The school environment was care free -hormone fuelled- but care free. No real worries, no real responsibility. A platform to create innocent, honest and no hidden agenda art. Painting and drawing was the main form of practice. I firmly believe it is these two things that shaped even my most complex conceptual works to date.

Whilst busy finishing this sentence hours ago , the school of my son, Luke, phones to tell me he is ill- a whole day gone. Poor little man -exhausted and diagnosed with infected tonsils L  This #reallife reminder inspired me to write this. ;)

When I spoke to the gallery I am planning to have my upcoming show at (a drawing exhibition), they immediately mentioned the size of the space and that the work need to be in light transportable format as the gallery is in Johannesburg – boundaries* I hate to love them and I love to hate them.

Apart from being practical for the works being showed in another city, I am also really keen to challenge myself to put together a drawing exhibition that is equally conceptually and visually strong.

I have never before done this, and it feels to me that it will force me to colliding these two separate parts of my existence- this carefree innocent, somewhat naïve, yet resilient school girl who could paint and draw and the, divorced, mother, x-wife who creates these sometimes dramatic, sometimes very large, sometimes very loud conceptual works..

I would love to create art that is both gentle and powerful, that conceals and reveals at the same time. Reality also forces one to look at the commercial side of art.

What sells? I have never been one too concerned with sales- as my work mostly is not sellable, conceptual and even not tangible in some cases. I enjoy business, and the challenge of making money, and I would never change my art to a formula in order to make money through it.

I always explain conceptual art to people as a catwalk. I make couture clothing, but in the shop you get the interesting jeans and T shirts form the same label/designer- it is just more practical- but also unique. It still carries the signature and edge of the creator. It is a reflection of the couture creator genius on a more practical level.

I hope for my art to take me in that direction (for a while). I hope to revisit my younger artist, to show this older artist the spontaneity, innocence and gentleness of a decade ago. In turn, I want the older artist in me to teach and inspire the younger one where she faltered and succeeded or was perhaps too naïve or ignorant.

I also want my art to take me places, therefore I need to give galleries something more practical. I want to travel with purpose!

I want to stop worrying about making money on the side, starting new business and focus all my energy on the ‘shop’ part I want to sell my ‘high end fashion’  inspired pieces from. I want to keep it all alive with new ‘couture’ shows, but at the same time have an exciting and unique expression of me represented in the more practical pieces.

A more practical, yet gentler, innocent and naïve self. I want my art to become more and more honest.

I want to create something equal in concept and presence. In a way I am tired of the terrible force I had to live by the last few years. I want to balance it out in the most non boring and ever changing, organic and hippy way I probably can, whilst drawing inspiration from some Hipster, and still keeping it undeniably unique! ;)


Friday, 7 August 2015

Filling the conceptual void..

Over a lovely Troyville hotel lunch (one of my favourite spots whilst I lived in Johannesburg) with some fellow artists ,and art collectors, I realised exactly what it is that keeps me creating and being enthusiastic about art and art practice.

The artists that joined me for lunch (12-30 years my peers) seem to have politics and socio economic issues as the underlying concern fuelling most of their art practices.
When speaking to one of these artists -a widely travelled and exhibited individual- he mentioned a fellow female artist he befriended years ago. He told me about a painting she made of her and her mother naked on a rooftop. He asked this friend why she created the artwork. Part of her reply stated that the most challenging part of the artwork to her, was being faced with the awkwardness of her and her mother being naked together, posing for the reference from which the painting was made.
This in particular struck me, and made me think of what Ryan Schulz said in an interview I read about his painting, a while ago.

He Wrote:
''I don't do paintings of pretty girls smiling with flowers in their hair. I rather do a pianting that delves into the psyche of the individual that literally and figuratively raises people up. When I painted Jakub, lying on a carpet, by painting him, he's raised up on a wall where you have to look up at him. His eyes literally looking down on you. That totally changes the context.''

On first seeing an image Schulz's painting (before reading it).. One could almost t(if you not careful) mistake the painting for being a mere photographic imitation of reality - a copy of a copy of a moment. Yet on closer investigation, one can explain why you 'feel' something when you look at the image...

The painting of Jakub, lying on a carpet by Ryan Schulz..

The parallel Schulz draws in his statement above, between the physical and conceptual, literal and figurative explains what fills this conceptual void.

The fact that the physical presence of what the artist creates and how this is integral to the concept, is so beautifully pointed out by Schulz. I would go as far as saying that he highlights that even the space around what is created should be considered when creating an artwork. One cannot exist without the other..
The one thing whether physical or conceptual influence the next..
A great artwork considers it all (this symbiotic relationship between literal and figurative), even beyond these borders.
It is those little things that intrigues me..that keeps me appreciating, creating and exploring art and art practice.
The way subject matter can ‘stare’ back at you, or talk to you during the creation of art. An array of emotions such as ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable’, bought on and experienced by the creator or viewer by the physical or conceptual.
This is what keeps me creating!
These little things that fill this conceptual void.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015


‘Love The Way You Lie’ is definitely one of my more difficult artworks  to write about, if not the hardest one. I like to think the reason behind this is the power of the artwork- I guess mostly it is the effect or power this artwork possesses over me.

Creating this monumentally large and very poignant sentence on the Karoo horizon challenged me personally in the most life altering ways.

If someone told me anything I thought of, and/or created (apart from another human life), will have such a dramatic effect on my life I wouldn’t have believed them. I say this as a true believer in the power of art.

         'Love The Way You Lie'' - Splendour :)..

As I said in previous posts: Art that is displayed and interpreted through the public eye obviously gets dissected and interpreted by each individual in slightly, and in some cases dramatically different ways. After all; the artwork came from a very personal place. I will stick with my emotions, feelings and interpretations specifically around the process of the creation of the artwork.

 The concept in this artworks has proven to be equally important to the process of creating the artwork itself. Although the concept and reason for this artwork came from a very personal place, my view and outlook during and after the build and burn of the piece was shaped by the people that helped me physically erect it.

I guess one can look at it as a piece of clay I wanted to sculpt a specific emotional face from, but every little bit of input from those around me made me think and re think my understanding of that particular emotion, and left me with different ways of reading and responding to the final product.

I can truly say that this extended far beyond the artwork and into a more concise understanding of myself, my life, my purpose and my own humanity.

My concept for the sentence was born from a very dark, sad and lonely place. I had lost the biggest connection I have had with another human up to that point in my life. The emotion that I felt after this loss was almost unbearable, and I felt the need to express this in some way to try cope. At times felt larger than me, consuming me.

I like to be in control, and I felt like I had to produce something- something that would challenge me in more ways than these emotions I was feeling. Something that would make these feelings seem less prominent/over powering.

In hindsight maybe the scale of the work had something to do with it. The sculpture was short of 120m long and 2.4m high. I knew it was big before we started building, but never did I imagine the physicality of it.

Being a very small team of 7 people- 6 building on and off; for 3 months straight and another joining for final setup in the desert- labour was hard.

While I worked continuously on the project, everyone helped as much as their busy schedules allowed. I had a team of super intelligent, dynamic and dedicated people, ranging from entrepreneurs, photographers, engineers and  a medical doctor. An insane mix of super driven, OCD fuelled talent! Despite life’s requirements everyone performed- everyone felt just how far you could push yourself, your body and your mind.

The Dream Team!:
From top left: Me, Costa, Aaron, Liza, Nathan an  Mike..

and.. Doc Nardus, working hard in Papua New Guinia, before he could join the team again ;)! 

The process worked as follows:
Just as AfrikaBurn 2014 came to an end, I started pestering the organisers. How do I apply for a grant? - Will I be in time? - How do I register an artwork? And so on…
I  started planning- in case I was not awarded a grant.
I began sourcing quotes etc. to put together a proposal. I even did a CAD drawing…

The Initial proposed CAD drawing:

We got a grant, but it was less than a tenth of our proposal. We had no money for ply wood or any  of our initial design’s required material. We had to use something else- pallets- which we couldn't buy. We sourced, picked up and delivered over 180 pallets; all of them free.

Pallet Collecting with Nardus's Landy: (We made many trips every week.)

Nardus and Liza..

Pallets are nasty. They splinter,  are very heavy, not all of them are the same size and some were very old.
When we had to store the pallets- My house seemed to be the most appropriate as it was also under construction at the time.

Storing the Pallets in my house, lounge, garden, verandah.. EVERYWHERE!

We needed a place where we could work at night- somewhere industrial. With no budget to spend on this we found the Maker station. For three months strait this is where everyone gathered after their tiring day jobs to work into the next morning.

Some important business went down at The Maker Station:

And of course some important beers (Mike):

Ear plugs, Safety goggles and  Sawdust masks were bought, but used only occasionally. It became too big a mission, wasting precious time. We found a way to cut the pallets- with a domestic rotating saw. We went through two of them.

Safety First (not always..Time First!):

Before cutting the letters, they needed to be reinforced, thousands of screws needed to be drilled in. Off-cut pallet pieces needed to be measured and cut smaller for reinforcement.  Each letter had to be drawn onto four pallets as they lay on the floor. With strained backs we used the rotating saw to cut them out like this, and it took hours.

Planning, Drawing, Cutting, Measuring, Hammering!!!!....aaaand Repeat*:

#Planning and Drawing..

Hammering, Drilling and sawing..

Nardus and some of his weapons:


Nardus and Mike doing what they do best :):

Slowly from this..

We made this....(In 4 loose pieces):

The next step was to clamp more pieces of reinforcement to where it needed to go on the back of the pallets where the letters had been marked. Cut out pallets had to be put together to create half letter…then more reinforcement. Half letters had to be carried away… 34 letters – 68 pieces – 140 pallets! Letter halves then had to be put together into full letters and painted! This was part of the two weeks I worked alone, and the part only me and Liza did.

Letter pieces were marked and taken back to the house (in pieces of four), as sawing was done (Bye Maker Station)..

Letters were reinforced some more, and made into 68sets of half letters..

Liza and I, by this time (a little over it - We still had to make the letters whole!)

Whole letters that now had to be painted:

Painting the massive 'W': ('W' and 'M' you bitches!) 

Sometimes we had time for a treat.. in style:

Finally Letters were finished, all 34.. one by one!

It was in the two weeks I worked alone that I realised: the physically demanding tasks this project required helped suppress my emotions. There was no time to think of how I felt, or dwell on how tragic my loss was. The clock was ticking and there was a hell of a lot of work to do.

Lights and cable had to be sourced to light up 120 meters of sculpture- to look like the Hollywood sign, in a desert, with no electricity and a small budget!


OCD much????:

And then of course Support structure! That would keep our letters upright in the desert..

Mike designed, and sourced the entire structure!

Pegs and a huge hammer was made by Mike to set this up in the desert..
I swear he must have been a blacksmith in a previous life- this guy knows his way with steel like no other!


Fuck! It was insane!

Our bodies ached- we ate more Steers over the duration of the three month build than most people eat in a lifetime. There was just no time.

More than once we fetched exhausted team mates. We took turns lifting each other’s spirits. Liza and I worked together almost every day, and all night  with the others. Every time I felt like I could not continue, Liza was there to pick me up.

Me and Liza having a very rare Whiskey break!

How Liza makes me feel ;)*

Others had very demanding day jobs, still they came to help build straight after work, and only left to go home mostly between midight and 2am the following morning.

And repeat* for 3 months, day after day, night after night.

Beers were often virtually shared..

Through this came one of the greatest, most beautiful realizations of my life
These team mates of mine worked just as hard as me. They were selfless, helping me through the emotional pain that I carried around with me, that drove me to conceptualize and create ‘Love The Way You Lie’. This massive sentence that will help ease my loss, by being larger than my emotion. My team mates were not suffering a loss. They were not building this because they were sad. In fact I did not even know half of them well before the project.

Still they gave it their all.

I can honestly say I know everyone in this team better than my own family. They are part of me, and I will forever be part of them. In a time when I couldn't move forward, they were the world to me and there are no better people than my partners. I cannot even imagine the devastation I would have felt if the project was not a success, but no! My team would not let it happen. In a way it felt like they would not let it happen to me. Protecting me and saving me, for which I will be forever grateful.

My teams commitment together with the physicality of the artwork, and the incredible intensity it had on my body, somewhat took my mind off the emotional pain I was going through. After a few gruelling months of round the clock physical labour, we were ready to go to the desert to assemble our 34 letters.

One trailer (the cheapest transport we could find), arrived at the house one morning, a week before the festival, when we were leaving to go set up. We were promised two trailers and 2 land cruiser open vehicles. Water cans- loads of petrol, paraffin etc. and two weeks supplies had to be taken up with us.

The trailer was packed- it looked insane, with the wheels squashed under our load! Knowing the road from travelling it once before, I knew the artwork would not make it like this. We had to offload half of the 34 letters.  Letters bent, broke- and so did our hearts with it. I had to try stay calm  for the team.

I demanded another vehicle and trailer as we were promised- the transporter agreed. Some letters were unpacked- and the first 2 team mates left with the transporters and the first trailer.

And..we are loading!..and offloading..and loading again!
Meeting Costa for the first time! (Ready to load the madness..)

The artwork being transported to Afrikaburn:

As we left, my car got hit (at high speed) by a taxi as we left Cape Town around 2pm. Although this was the closest to a very fatal accident I have ever been, we were okay. My loaded bakkie thankfully still drivable, I tried to forget that my tiny new Nissan NP200 bakkie with under 2k on the clock was so badly damaged.

Nissan Before:

Nissan After:

Other car problems included :2 gravel road flat tyres for Aaron
(And an extra night in Ceres on the way back for him and Costa)

Aaaaand: Me bumping another car with a rented trailer during a pallet collection trip.. (Pre Afrikaburn)

On route to the burn, everything went okay, until we got separated from the letters on the eagerly un-anticipated gravel road. We were lost, or the transport company was lost. Both trailers with artworks went in a different direction to us. I had to fight back thoughts of the transporters turning back to Cape Town. The gravel roads we got lost on were challenging. We had to get out the bakkie in the dark to put rocks under the wheels and our petrol was running on empty. We drove around till 3am on the gravel roads- my heart about ripped from my chest. I tried compose myself.

(With absolutely no cellphone reception!)

I was tired and my team mates were tired. We slept in the coldest of cold weather. Next to the freezing road in the two cars- all 4 of us hoping for the best. The other two team mates were only going to join the following day. We were four going up together initially..  Mike and me in my bakkie, and Aaron and Costa (the hardest working Russian you will ever meet) in his land cruiser.

Mike and me in the bakkie: Looks way more comfortable than it was.. we had to sleep in the front as the back was packed with supplies!

With daylight the next morning came direction as we found two game wardens to show us the way to Afrikaburn. We were lost in the Tankwa National Park. It was quiet in Tankwa Town as we got to Afrikaburn,with very few people setting up artworks. We found our letters there with a team of VERY organized people. We were elated!

We didn’t care that we had no shade, or forgot this or that. We wanted to start building, immediately! And so that is exactly what we did. We set up camp and started organising and fixing letters. Erecting the four sets of pallet racking for support, and then pulling wires across the rack against which the letters were tied. Massive pegs had to be hammered into the ground- with the biggest hammer ever seen (and handmade by Mike).

If you are looking for us- we are working! (weking ;)
Setting up camp:

Me and the hammer in the foreground!

  Me and Liza fixing broken letters:


And carrying them to the support structure, whilst the guys are setting up under Mike's guidance :)

The guys working hard on the support structure:

Me and Liza measuring where the letters should go when standing upright..
(Am I sensing some OCD again?!)

We did it all in a record three days!

We did it all in a record three days! Neil (photographer) was so kind to take a beautiful time-lapse of our efforts. We finished just as the sun set. It was beyond beautiful. We were elated and relieved. We head back to camp- where we could see our creation on the horizon.I remember not wanting to look around at the artwork untill I was at the camp-  I wanted the totality of the work to be a surprise. As we reached the camp I turned around.

The sentence hit me so hard: ‘’JUST GONNA STAND THERE AND WATCH ME BURN?’’.

 It felt almost sadistic- challenging me, scarring me . My emotions came rushing back. My life decisions, choices, beliefs, morals- everything was being undeniably questioned. The festival began the next day and brought with it a week without building, and nothing to take my mind of what I was confronted with! I felt trapped- Wherever I looked the 120m long sentence was there. It was demanding answers from me.

I knew the lights were only going to be put up the following evening and I hoped I would feel better.
The sentence disappeared with the sun that evening as  I worried about the letters notwithstanding the wind. I decided to drink more whiskey and all worries numbed a little bit.  Nathan and Mike left Sunday before the Festival and would arrive back with Ross on Thursday as responsibilities needed them elsewhere.

I woke up very early the Monday morning (first day of the festival)… the artwork stood rock solid!

I remember starting to feel the heat this day.

In his quiet way, Aaron sorted out the lights -mainly by himself- the entire afternoon. We were going to test the lights that night. As Aaron and I went to switch the lights on, He gave me the privilege of  standing further away to see it from a distance whilst he switched the generator on, again making me feel so important.

I remember feeling guilty for the privilege he generously gave me. This was his main focus- he worked so hard on the lights. I nevertheless took advantage of the gesture, as I was not sure of what my reaction would be seeing the letters light up (given my previous emotional reaction to seeing the artwork from a distance the day before without any lights). I figured that distance might help me get my shit together before the others saw my unpredictable reaction.

Aaron switched the lights on and I struggled to fight the tears… It was so beautiful and at the same time so awful…

 I felt like it was glowing at me, as if the question was burning at me. Getting angry and impatient with me struggling to find the answers.

I tried to convince myself that the next day would be better. The festival started and I was right. I had real fun! I connected with my team mates on a whole new level. Celebrating our hard work. I remember feeling a little better for moments from this point.

I nevertheless was still counting the days till the artwork would burn, struggling to find answers. The question was still challenging me, allowing me no escape.

We were told ‘Love The Way You Lie’ was scheduled for the Sat at 10pm. This excited me as Afrikaburn usually burns their main structures around this time, but I also wanted to forget about the question and have some festival left. I felt tortured.

Ross arrived the Thursday with Nathan and Mike who had driven the gravel road twice. Ross is the most adventurous 70 year old reporter, teacher, art enthusiast and all round amazing and insightful man. He documented both ‘Love The Way You Lie’ as well as Subterrafuge’s towers for a television documentary.

Ross Arriving

 From left to right: Aaron, Liza, Costa and Nath in front of Subterrafuge!

I became anxious at the thought that Ross was going to ask me more questions. I HAD to get my shit together! I remember thinking: ‘'this artwork has become bigger than me…’’ I even struggled to focus on the importance of documenting the artwork. This is always such an important part of creating an artwork to me, as it is a way to remember it!

I felt like things were getting more and more out of focus, blurring. I still had to attend meetings over burn times, how to burn the artwork etc. These intimidating tasks achievable through support given by my team mates. They were there all the time to catch me, with someone accompanying me at all times, wherever I went. I was so grateful.

Basic needs from sun screen to food, water etc. were miraculously met thanks to Nathan. People were cleaning, making shade.  I could see how little things, like making outfits and taking long bicycle rides were sacrificed for me. I felt so humbled, and I still do.

Nathan made sure we missed no work time, he made the most incredible lunch every day on site!

On top of this he made sure we had shade, stayed hydrated and had clean crockery! (3 Meals a day!)


When Ross arrived with Mike and Nathan on the Thursday, he immediately made me feel at ease. They all made me feel important, thought of and loved. They understood my emotional response to my artwork.Not one of them is a conceptual fine artist, but they got it.

Friday night I cried till I could not anymore. My friend who shared my tent consoled me, listened to me and tried to understand me. He did this in a way that will never make me forget what the value of true friendship and understanding between two humans are.

The following day was Saturday! Tomorrow it would burn!

We were prepping the artwork the whole day, running around and collecting wood to light the 120m structure, as well as running between meetings. Everyone helped. People came to congratulate us on the artwork that we didn’t even know.They told us what ‘Love The Way You Lie’ meant to them.
They were grateful for what we have created.

I remember feeling ready to see it burn! We were all so ready to see it burn!

Credit to :Michael Groenewald for these last two pictures. Thank you!

I will never forget the warmth of the blazing flames against my face as it burnt. At times I had to turn my face away from the heat. It reminded me of the warmth my team mates made me feel. It echoed the warmth I felt from people at the festival that I did not know. People who came up to me, to tell me their stories, based on the meaning the artwork inspired them to feel. Some of these stories made mine seem insignificant, and much less tragic.
I had faith in humanity again.
I have faith in love again.

So in return I could thank these viewers and my team mates.

You all created the real meaning through creating and participating in my artwork, you guys are the artists. I could never thank you enough*


Click on the link below to see an amazing short film by the Grand Kids Collective (My friend Max Mogale and Dewlad Brand's collaboration.)
The video was screened at Short and Sweet Cape Town and Amsterdam. :)
A super well done to them! It really gives an accurate depiction of the experience that is Afrikaburn.