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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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