Promised land
Interview conducted via email by Laetitia Pople for Die Burger newspaper, 10 August 2006. You can also view a scan of the published article (in Afrikaans), 'Krake in die beloofde land'.

LP: the title of your exhibition is Promised Land, quite a loaded title! please elaborate?

The title is 'Promised land' (small 'L'). The lower-case 'L' is a specific choice, to open the phrase to more readings than it's most iconic - the Biblical 'Promised Land'. My title refers to this meaning too - there is a Biblical thread running through the work - a formal device and probably a reference to the way the Bible and it's readings have played a role in the history of South Africa, and laid a foundation for where we are today.

I'd like the title to be readable as a descriptive phrase too: was it land that was promised; is this the land that was promised? The phrase implies a contract, a commitment that was made, and it asks whether that promise has been fulfilled. South Africans and people around the world harboured dreams of a new society and new dispensation after the end of Apartheid. The artworks in my exhibition point to the continuing struggle to realise those dreams.

I use words that have more than one meaning throughout my exhibition - the full-length and life-sized photograph of ANC founder Seme Pixley is titled 'Founder', for example, which is both the obvious noun describing the contents of the photograph, and the verb, to 'founder' meaning, in the case of a ship, to run off-course, to start to fill with water and sink. This second meaning comments on one way of reading the symbols in the photograph; that Pixley's top-hat and cane and regal stance, like a shipping tycoon or industry magnate of the 1920s, embodies the capitalist tendencies of the ANC, which are currently a source of strife within the Alliance - the vessel of the ANC is foundering.

Similarly, the artwork 'Epitaph', which repeats the design from the back of an ANC T-shirt distributed at Brett Kebble's funeral in Cape Town, which reads, below the ANC logo, 'LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF BRETT KEBBLE', has a double meaning. It's an epitaph, loosely speaking, for the slain businessman, but is it also a foreboding omen for the ANC? What could the memory of Brett Kebble mean for the ANC, and the other people to whom he gave his stolen wealth? I think that they'd now much rather Brett Kebble's memory was soon forgotten, and that their message at his funeral may come back to haunt them.

LP: What can we expect, and are we expected to participate? What media did you use, pcomp?

I use a combination of found-objects and works I've had made by other people. The participation required is to read the short guide to the work supplied in the gallery (titles, materials listing, and for some a short explanation of the process or the references made by the work), and to make readings of the possible symbolism of the objects. The work asks for a connection to be made between the title, the object, and the history or nature of the object as documented in the guide. There's not one single 'correct' reading to be made, but I've emphasized certain readings, which you are invited to arrive at too by your own connection-making.

I use physical computing only once, in 'Jubilee', my piece with the vuvuzela. The title refers to the Jubilee year from the Old Testament (Leviticus 25), a year of restitution and emancipation declared every 50 years, announced by the blowing of trumpets. A motion sensor detects people within a small area around the vuvuzela, which juts from a wall at head-height, and makes a modified air-horn blow through the vuvuzela, with a deeper tone than usual. It's both an alarm and a pressure-release, like the whistle on a steam-engine, of the fomenting discontent of so many people who have very little in South Africa, and which demands a Jubilee, a restitution. The vuvuzela is a black cultural object, both in contemporary use and in it's ancestry, and in some ways is a racial divider - used at soccer matches, by predominantly black fans, while it is banned from the predominantly white sports of cricket and rugby. The large majority of poor people in South Africa are black, in a multi-racial society. This trumpet, black for Orlando pirates, and with its logo altered to leave just a single, tiny, white death's-head in a black sea, sounds a warning both mournful and strident.

LP: In an interview you said you like to draw attention to that which tends to be ignored, please elaborate.

The work 'Battle' is one example of this (I think 'Epitaph' is too). I saw the Keiskamma Art Project's tapestry at the Brett Kebble Art Awards in 2004. The 'Keiskamma Tapestry', it depicts the history of the Eastern Cape over it's 60m length. It is based on the Bayeaux tapestry. I thought, what if instead of colonial battles depicted in this very grass-roots style of tribute, it was a more recent incident in the continuing political struggle in South Africa. I spoke to local activist friends about what I wanted to do, and one of them identified the struggle by residents in the Thembelihle community, near Soweto, to resist relocation and forced removal by the City of Johannesburg, around 2003. I commissioned the Keiskamma Art Project to commemorate some of the narrative of this resistance in tapestry form, in their own style. We conducted the whole project through phone-calls and email, and the tapestry was sent down from Hamburg in the Eastern Cape to me in Cape Town a short while before my exhibition. In this project I aim to draw attention to Thembelihle, using the art world and more particularly the media documenting it to direct people to information around this example of post-apartheid social-political struggle. It has resonance with the current challenge by Soweto residents to the legality of prepaid water meters. (http://www.environment.co.za/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=340)

LP: As an artist you wear a number of hats from designer to technologist, how does this interdisciplinary trend serve/enrich your art?

Artist designer technologist activist. My interests find expression through various different projects; this exhibition was more 'art'-like, discreet objects displayed in a gallery-space. That is a mode of expression or a medium in itself. I use whatever media are appropriate to the idea, and knowing how to put together interactive systems, sculpt, and being interested in different ways of communicating meaning, means I have a range of media to draw on.

LP: Will we see more public/social sculptures of yours in Cape Town?

I hope so. It gives me pleasure that people from many different sectors of society have told me how much they enjoy my sculptures on Jetty Square. I'm interested in public work, and working in collaboration with architects and landscape architects. I like to make art with function, be that to communicate contemporary issues, or facilitate movement or communication or play in a public space.

LP: You're off to Ireland to study, what do your studies entail and why Ireland?

I'm going to Trinity College, Dublin, to join a research group called the 'Disruptive Design Team', where I'll be pursuing my PhD. I'll be researching and producing what I'm calling 'Provocative Technology' - technology projects at the intersection of art and design practise, that provoke people's awareness of social structures and political issues. I'm interested in imagining and designing for a positive future, and to reveal a sometimes iniquitous present.

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