Artist Statements

Current series – The stitch and the din.

The stitch and the din consists of textile and watercolour artworks. The series explores the relationship between body and earth. As a resident of the rural Eastern Free State this relationship has become important to me. I often find inspiration from discarded objects and for this series my own old and torn t-shirts formed the starting point. As the project expanded I started using textiles found in local shops marketed as t-shirt material. 

The textiles are repeatedly cut and sown to create, what could read as, topographical maps or landscapes. Under the stress of the needle the elasticity of the textiles transformed expressionistically into marks I could not have foreseen, but had to embrace. Initially these works were monochrome due to their personal origin but eventually they became very colourful as I had to adapt to the colours sold in local shops. These colours are often very bright and vibrant echoing an African aesthetic that can be seen as joyful, but also garish. This challenged and subverted my own aesthetic preferences. Contrasting textures, both visual and audible (for the viewer to imagine) are created through hand and machine stitching. The repetitive cutting and stitching of the cloth emulates the tilling of soil. The textiles used – cotton, viscose and rayon are obtained through the manipulation of plant material. In the case of cotton, most are GMO, with questionable impact on the environment. The textiles I found in local shops were either Viscos or Rayon, both are by products of toxic wood pulp extraction processes. Wood that is obtained through deforestation.

  • Skinned. 2022. 1440x850. Cotton, Rayon and Nylon.

The initial works, where I used my own left over material, I saw as ‘body flags’. Through these I wanted to position myself within the global context of consumption and the degradation of earth. The later works manifested as abstract expressionistic fields of colour. In some the reference to landscape is maintained, in others it is abandoned as the needle and the machine dictated.

The sewing of these works are labour intensive and very much needs the hand to guide the needle. An interesting fact is that it is predicted that AI will be able to replace most humans in manufacturing jobs except for sewing; the reason being that the manual dexterity needed to sew seems out of reach for ‘robots’. I find this a comforting thought.

The watercolour paintings accompanying the series can be read as a resistance against this expressionistic abstraction. In contrast to the fields of colour I painted some of my collection of endemic plants as well as remnants of small indicator animals (animals that offer key information about environmental change) found in the area. These paintings are conversations between love and loss.  

This exhibition consisted of a selection of work produced over two years. During this period, I attended two residencies. One at the Budapest Art Factory in Hungary and the second at Entabeni Farm, by invitation of the SA Foundation for Contemporary Art, in Knysna, South Africa. My experiences between these two places and the village, Rosendal in the Easter Free State, where I live, and Johannesburg, my home city, were decidedly different, but there were also some important constants.  

My interest as an artist lies in the landscape and the impact humans have on our movement within space and the perceptions that the ‘owners’ of land, whether public or private, impose on our reading of place. For this exhibition I explored diaphanous barriers as a visual link. In Budapest it was the covering of state buildings under restoration (amongst other the State Opera House), in Rosendal it was the covering of fruit trees with frost cloth, In Johannesburg the safety fences at roadwork sites and in Knysna, a natural barrier in the covering of land by young invasive trees taking root after devastating fires. Conceptually these diaphanous vails speak of protection and peril. The coverings (grids), in all instances, change the reading of the shape of the thing it covers. They stimulated me to enquire, at first intuitively, but ultimately, through reverse engineering the rational interpretation of marks left upon the location.

The exhibition consists of three series’. In the series Blind I explored colour (Cadmium and Cobalt) for its disorientating abilities. As toxic metals they are key components in the development of contemporary communication and ‘green’ technology. I used inversion and complementary colour to mimic the process of seeing and being blind. In State Opera, I explored the fascist politics of Hungary under the leadership of Viktor Orbán. Here I focused on state owned buildings under renovation. Orbán’s policies are seen as inspirational by dictators globally. He actively uses the arts as a tool in propagating a fundamentalist Christian state. He is known for disastrous environmental policies, oppression of gender diversity and encouraging xenophobia. Colour and inversion yet again played an important role in my attempts to ‘see’ this landscape. In the series After the Fire I continued to explore the same pictorial language.  Knysna holds particular interest to me as my grandfather six generations removed, Rutgert van Huyssteen, was one of the first colonial settlers and landowners in the district in the late 18th century. My ancestors partook in importing many of the current exotic trees to Knysna and were co-responsible for the destruction of the natural forests. I visited Knysna three years after the devastating wildfires of 2017. The crunch of the burnt debris was still tangible underfoot. Adolescent Black Wattle shoots competed in a frenzy for space creating an impenetrable diaphanous thicket. These invasive exotic plants stifled all other plant growth. Although green these new-fangled forests felt dead and ominous. They were like beliefs without context. The areas worst hit by the fires and the current invasion of foreign plant species were where the natural forests were disturbed. Digesting these non-spaces cannot be done without acknowledging the marks my ancestors left on the landscape. Their intent was probably not malevolent, they simply wanted to survive, but their legacy of ownership and privilege is problematic.

This exhibition is a literal and metaphorical nod to the book The hidden life of trees by Peter Wolleben. In the book the secrets, ecosystems and memories of ancient forests are described. The author laments their destruction and the loss of their memories. The contrast between the fantastical delusions of a dictator like Orbán, personifying the policies of neo-liberal capitalism and its capillary networks and the dreams of a conservationist at Entabeni Farm in Knysna, and some lessor human versus nature interventions, are pitted against each other – The irrational order of a fascist state versus the rational chaos of conservation.

This exhibition happened to take place during the hight of the Corona epidemic in South Africa, which inspired the work Crumple Zone (Image used on invitation).

The predominant medium used for the paintings on the solo exhibition “Under a Cobalt Sky”is watercolour on cotton paper. A medium that could be described, in a digital age, as being as outmoded as analogue. For the most, the works consist of three paint pigments, two of which are metals namely Cobalt (blue, green) and Cadmium (red, yellow, orange). The third is Ivory Black. These pigments have sticky associations. Cadmium and Cobalt are toxic to humans. However due to their stable inert character and their brightness, they are popular with artists and used extensively outdoors as signage to regulate human behaviour. Most cobalt deposits are found in the DRC and is mined under questionable conditions of child labour and worker exploitation. Here most of the cobalt is mined by artisanal miners who tunnel into the earth to create a labyrinth of underground caves. The primary use of cobalt is not for paint but in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries for smart phones, drones, electric cars and solar power systems. Its use is therefore associated with progress and technological advancement, and military technology. It is the metal that’s increasingly underpinning the digital world and the global economy. The colour Ivory Black (Bone Black) is derived from the carbon remains of incinerated animal bones and its origin harks back to the colonial era when ivory was burnt to create the pigment.

Inspiration for the series was also taken from subterranean termites, the Woodworm and the Western Australian White Ant. These insects are known to destroy interiors while leaving exteriors intact. The only sign of their presence are circular holes on the surface. The saying white anting is often used to illustrate the hollowing out of institutions and the eroding of foundations, especially political ones. However, it must not be forgotten that if it was not for the White Ant the digeridoo would never have existed. In Julian Barnes’ book The history of the world in 10 ½ chapters, the Woodworm, without ever being mentioned in The Scriptures, hitches a ride on Noah’s wooden ark (the second creation myth recorded in the Bible) and from then on remains the bane of many a land and seafaring adventurer intent on conquering, understanding and ruling the world. As the “1%” are eyeing to colonize neighbouring planets they are lying the foundation for, what in the future might be considered a another creation myth. This time the woodworm and the white ant will probably be left behind as they venture into the future with Germs, Guns and Steal as per Prof Jared Diamond’s book title. The metaphor of the woodworm is however unlikely to be dislodged from the human conscience.

Installation view

The exhibition How to Paint a Highway? consisted of a series of large scale watercolour on paper paintings, inspired by travels on the N1. It investigates this structure within the landscape as both a unifying and dystopian South African space. The subject matter mainly consists of debris collected on the shoulders of the highway and is painted in forensic detail – reminiscent of topographical art – to excavate the layered histories of the objects depicted and the materials used.