Looking FOR ward: Our Lives IN 2034

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I have had a hectic 3 weeks! I was fortunate enough to be asked to submit a work for consideration for an exhibition to be held at the Durban Art Gallery. As part of the exhibition brief we were required to attend a two day seminar where specialists in the fields of physics, mathematics, environmentalism and astronomy, to name a few, visualized the future.

This was the brief we received:

In this, the 20th year of democracy in South Africa, the Durban Art Gallery and artSPACE durban are cooperating in an exhibition titled: “Looking Forward: Our Lives in 2034”.

The exhibition is under the curatorship of Jenny Stretton and Karen Bradtke and brings together a group selected artists from KwaZulu-Natal in an exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery from August 5 to September 14. 

Each artist presents one artwork, which is a culmination of individual research and the participation in a two-day seminar held at artSPACE durban on July 4 and July 5 and chaired by Tanja Hichert, senior researcher form the Institute for Futures Research, University of Stellenbosch and Director of the South African Node of the Millennium Project. 

This exhibition runs concurrently with an exhibition of works from the Durban Art Gallery collection curated by Jenny Stretton and, together, represents the most significant exhibition in Durban for a very long time. 

This exhibition is sponsored in part by the Natal Arts Trust.

To my great relief I completed and submitted my piece on time, and today I heard that it had been selected to be part of the exhibition. Now this is a big deal because DAG is the Durban City metro gallery and thus it is extremely prestigious to be exhibiting there. Needless to say I am stoked!!

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My work is a visual, chronological narrative with a focus on gender, as well racial and colonial issues, specifically within the South African context. In studying the past as a record of change we are able to visualize a future South Africa in 2034. It is called Nomzamo which is Winnie Mandela’s name and translates as: “the mother of…”  or “she”who” struggles, endeavours.  August being women’s month, I thought this would be quiet fitting. The work consists of 4 pieces, each 85 cm by 60 cm. and is a mixture of oils, print, embroidery and hand-stitching. With my work, because it often deals with gender issues, I tend to use the stitching to deconstruct certain societal perceptions: 1) that it is, a craft associated with the feminine (not considered an art form), 2) the manner in which I create it which is associated with the masculine (factory, production lines) and the non-creative, reproduction of banal images. Also it speaks of how I make a living and the environment in which I find myself “enslaved”, working in a factory in clothing manufacturing and design.

So the opening is tonight and should be a blast! Try and make it if you can!

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Above: Nomzamo (2014): swany

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d’Urban d’Art Exchange

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Last Friday I attended a prize giving at local exhibition where I had taken part in a group exhibition/art competition. There were approximately 100 entries and a lot of renown artists of the city and surrounds had submitted pieces. Needless to say I had no expectations of placing anywhere although I did like my piece. So when they called out my name one of my companions had to nudge me as I was in actual, stunned disbelief! And isn’t that just the best? When you are totally not expecting something good and it happens: my piece, A Guide To My Childhood Saints, was selected by the jury as second prize winner! So Stoked!

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Above: A Guide To My Childhood Saints (2014) – swany 

This was the blurb we all received from the gallery:

The show will open at artSPACE durban on Monday 7th July; it is up for 1 week, so artists need to look carefully, and cast their vote by Thursday 10th July.  The draw and award event is on Friday 11th July. All artists must be present to make their draw and collect their new work; and the prizewinners must be present to receive their awards. No artist, no award!  But remember: each participant will win/receive another artist’s work (could be the winner, a known or unknown artist)!

At artSPACE durban we (the participating artists, that is) will thus vote in the artSPACE durban Artists’ Choice of 2014. Well done to the 2013 1st prizewinner voted by the participants, Annette Hadley. We love the fun everyone has (especially first time exhibitors), and the discernment of the artists in voting, and we really love the dissemination of the art – that every single piece goes home with someone. So cut loose! Let rip! Have fun!

Participating in the exhibition:

1)     gives you the right to vote for the artwork of choice

2)     guaranteed to receive an original artwork in exchange for yours        

3)     chance to receive one of the cash prizes or vouchers

There will be a cash bar and car guards at the opening. 

artSPACE durban Artists’ Choice Award of 2014 prizes: 

Total cash prizes R10,000 + vouchers  

Jury and artist’s awards

The theme is ‘window(s)’.  Let’s try and outdo ourselves after last year’s groundbreaking show and vote for the artSPACE durban Artists’ Choice Award of 2014.

 Entry fee: R200 inclusive canvas 43 x 43cm

 Dates: Please deliver entries to the gallery by 3 July. 

 Exhibition: Monday, 7 July – Friday, 11 July 2014

 

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 Below: A Guide To My Childhood Saints (2014) – detail

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Vagina Knitting

During the first year of my formal art studies I became aware of feminist art, and in particular feminist performance art. It was while researching land art that I discovered the powerful Silueta series (1973-1980) by Ana Mendieta (1948-1985). Although, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, it was quite natural for me to seek out feminine role models, having been raised in the company of women, I was fascinated by these warrior-women. In awe of their feminine power, I was inspired by their bravery and the multi-layered complexity and beauty of their performance pieces. Here I refer in particular to Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneemann (1939- ), Mary Beth Edelson (1933- ), Hannah Wilke (1940-1993) and Marina Abramovi? (1946- ) whose work informed and underpinned my own right through to, and including, my third year performance of Gaze (2012). The following year, my honours year, I localised my research, focusing on South African performance artists for my dissertation paper,   Counting teeth: in the presence of women and power-sensitive conversation; the feminist performance artist in South Africa as a study of post-structural ethnography (2013). The artists I studied were Bernie Searle (1964- ), Nandipha Mntambo (1982- ) and Leora Farber (1964- ). If you have never heard of these artists or looked at their work I highly recommend you take the time to acquaint yourself with them.

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Bernie Searle

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Leora Farber

The reason I mention the above is to indicate that my main field of interest within my art studies and my own work is feminist performance art. This is of course an ongoing interest further fuelled by my Masters studies that I have undertaken. Through my studies I have encountered the performance piece, Casting Off My Womb (or as it is fondly known by the Australian press, Vaginal Knitting) by Melbourne based artist Casey Jenkins. Jenkins calls herself a “craftivist”, and founded Craft Cartel in 2007, an organization that seeks to combine crafting and political activism. Coined in 2003 by sociologist Betsy Greer, the term describes anyone using craft as a form of activism. They range from those using recycled materials as a way of reducing waste, to artists like Jenkins who challenge the traditional perception of crafts as women’s work and seek to use their art as a tool for political change. Jenkins claims that “craft imbues you with power because you’re forced to contemplate the issue you’re addressing. It’s very reflective in a sense of when you put that message out into the world, people know you must really care because you’ve devoted that much time to it,”. OK, my take on that? Alarm bells begin ringing immediately because I am aware that for centuries women artists have struggled to overcome that very label, “craft”, which was applied to their art. They were seen as embroiderers, crotchetiers, knitters and potters, their work not as art but as craft; pretty needlepoint made during their many hours of leisure at home to serve as decoration. So Jenkins wants to reclaim this? Well, as a woman it is her right, but it is my educated guess that many feminists will not too happy with her wanting to reclaim that for women.

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 Casey Jenkins

In her performance piece she knits, pulling the wool from her vagina. The work obviously references Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975) as well as Shigeko Kubota’s Vagina Painting (1962), where she daubed red paint with a brush between her legs in a repost to Pollock’s macho drippings with his phallic stick. At the centre of Schneemann’s piece was the extracting of a feminist discourse from her vagina and reading it to the audience standing naked on a table. In this way she not only commented on her treatment as an artist by males but also reclaimed the female body from the patriarchal gaze. Jenkins’ piece involves the artist spending 28 days (the average length of a menstrual cycle) knitting from a ball of wool that she has placed inside of her vagina each day. While she was menstruating, Jenkins says it became more difficult to knit because the wool was wet, and she had to tug on the thread a bit harder. Overall, though, she claims the process was slightly uncomfortable, but could also be arousing at times.

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Shigeko Kubota

“The fact that [cunt's] considered the most offensive word in the English language is a real marker of the time that we’re living and of the society’s attitude towards woman. There’s nothing possibly negative about it. It’s just a deep, warm and delightful part of the female anatomy,” Jenkins says.

“If you take a good hard look at a vulva, you realise it’s just a bit of a body,” she further declares, adding that “when I’m menstruating it makes knitting a hell of a lot harder because the wool is wet.” The wool itself is sometimes stained brownish red – a very visual and literal reminder of the reality of women’s bodies. And this is what many feminist performance artists do: self-objectify. Often it is this autonomy that threatens societies. These women use their own bodies to deconstruct the cultural, pornographic and misogynist objectification of the female body by men and the societies we exist within.

This is where Jenkins loses me though, when she goes on to say: ‘So by linking the vulva to something that people find warm and fuzzy and benign and even boring, such as knitting for a long period of time, I hope that people question their fears and the negative association with it.’ It is my opinion that the vagina/vulva as the source of creation should be revered and respected, so definitely no to identifying it with boring knitting and the mundane. I also think that she dilutes her concept by claiming that her performance refers to too many things, that it says more than it really does. “I think that there are misogynistic attitudes toward the vulva, and there’s widespread repulsion in my audacity to show it. And then there are also misogynistic attitudes toward knitting, as it’s associated with something that women do,” she explained. “There is a dissonance between the two. They’re both constructs, patriarchal constructs … and people don’t know what to do when they walk together.”  She claims to draw inspiration not only from past feminist performances but “countless anonymous performers working in sex bars who are putting things in and out of their vulvas all the time. They’re not necessarily doing it to challenge the patriarchy but definitely as a conscious pragmatic way of exploiting the patriarchy, and so they’re just as much my colleagues or performers as anyone else.” See what I mean? I just want to shout out to her, “please stop talking about it, being defensive, allow your piece speak for itself.” Easier said than done, I certainly know and speak from experience. Passion, emotion and commitment are fantastic but they need to be backed-up by theoretical study and grounded in research. Otherwise you begin to grasp at anything in order to validate your work.

Look, Casey is by no means the first artist to utilise their genetalia or even menstruation in their work. Recently, Carina Ubeda, from Chile, a woman who spent five years collecting her menstrual blood on scraps of cloth turned the red-stained fabric into an art exhibition. She placed the fabric in embroidery hoops. In total there were 90 pieces of the soiled cloths hanging next to dangling apples which represent ovulation (and of course original sin in the Garden of Eden). Stitched below each of the stains were the words ‘Production’, ‘Discard’, and ‘Destroyed’.

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 Carina Ubeda

For me if you are going to commit to conceptual art, the concept you present needs to be crystal, it needs to be a single, clear, lightning bolt to the psychosis/psyche of the viewer. Now by that I do not mean it needs to present itself as the culmination of art teleology (as the Modernist believed of Abstract Expressionism) or the final answer on the subject/contention you are addressing. I feel that art needs to engage the average person, to include them. It needs to stimulate dialogue, conversation with them. Otherwise it remains as elitist and othering as Western art almost always has been. Otherwise the only people the artist is speaking to are fellow artists or people educated in the arts. In saying all of the above I will give her props though. It is a helluva thing to put yourself out there in a performance art piece. It not just your art out there on display, not just your body, it is your soul out there. So do I think her piece relevant, absolutely. She has something to say and the courage say it and the vision to express it. The thing about performance art though is that it is always a work in progress, and it is this time after the performance where she is falling short, perhaps due to a lack of theoretical and conceptual underpinning. But nevertheless a courageous work of art in my opinion, in this my 100th post.

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Closure

Last night I achieved a moment of closure, an attainment of balance, of harmony: essentially my essence was feng shui-ed! I speak of those rare moments when, for an instant, an imbalance, emotionally or psychologically speaking, is rectified. This is generally accompanied by a literal feeling of relief, calm and peace. Much like on a hot, humid day when as the heat builds so do the storm clouds until eventually the heavens, sullen, glowering and dark, are split asunder by bolts of lightning and the rain begins to pound down. The aftermath of the storm, however, is characterized by a freshness and tranquility and so one feels after closure.

So how do we do it? What are the essential ways to find closure from the past?

Doctor Abigail Brenner says in order to attain closure we should:

1.)    Take full responsibility for yourself.

2.)     Grieve the loss.

3.)    Gather your strengths.

4.)    Make a plan for the immediate future.

5.)    Create a ritual.

The ending of a significant piece of one’s life — a relationship, a job, a stage of life, or a way of thinking — may be difficult and even painful for many of us. Something that you once counted on as very important to your life is over and done. Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new.

So, my moment of closure: I attended a lecture given by Daryl Houghton on a trip of his to the Miro Foundation in Mallorca. Now if you have read some of my early posts you will recognize the name. He was an art lecturer at Edgewood College where I studied to be an English and technical drawing teacher. I elected to do an art minor as part of the requirements of my diploma. Now this took a lot of courage on my part, particularly because of my bad experience with Mr York, my high school art teacher. He was very dismissive of the work I produced and crushed my self-belief and certainly my joy of creating art. I came to believe that I had no talent and should remain an appreciator of art rather than a participator. But within me a voice clamoured and howled, a thirst remained unquenched, a passion restrained and caged. Unfortunately Mr Houghton was not the man to help me. It was not that he was cruel like that high school teacher was but rather that he was, it seemed to me, not willing or able to help me. The fact is that his theory lectures opened up new worlds to me and stirred those passions within me into huge, raging blazes. Blazes that were uncontrollable because I had neither the confidence nor the technical knowledge to convey the images within me. However, I again took it that this was because I had not artistic ability and that I was embarrassing myself.

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I have to admit that I attended the lecture with some trepidation, for this was one of 2 teachers whose influence scarred me so badly that I only took up art very late in my life. But talking to him again, before and after the lecture, and whilst listening to his lecture, I remembered what a kind-hearted person he was, and what a really good theory lecturer he also was, and still is. An academic. this is where his is skills lay and expecting him to provide me with the tools to find my artistic voice in some art minor course at a teachers training college was a little unrealistic as well as unfair. So Closure: the relief was a physical thing as I listened to him speak about his trip. My soul was feng shui-ed, adjusted and aligned for how ever briefly.

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CONVERSATIONS WITH MIRO:

 

A visit to the Miro Foundation on the island of Mallorca.

 

An illustrated talk by Daryl Houghton

 

This talk focuses on the way in which the Mallorcan environment provided much of the inspiration for many of the images in the later works of the great Spanish Surrealist, Joan Miro.  After spending much of early his life in Paris, Miro finally settled on the island of Mallorca, a paradise which he had known since childhood.  We will visit the Miro Foundation in Palma Mallorca where the artist’s studios remain much as they were left at the time of his death in 1983. Specific works by Miro will be paired with images of Mallorca to illustrate that, although much of Miro’s work is made up of abstract symbols, its roots always lie in some form of reality experienced by the artist.  Miro’s works are colourful and often filled with humour but at times that humour can be sardonic.  With Picasso and Dali, Miro is regarded as one of the most important Spanish painters of modern times.

 

While on the subject of lecturing, I have had an amazing offer, which I of course accepted. I am now the Durban-area Mentor lecturer for the University of South Africa (UNISA), and am loving passing on my love for and of art to the students. I also gave my first artist walkabout lecture on the final day of my exhibition at the artSPACE Gallery. It was an extremely daunting prospect but I thoroughly enjoyed it! I led 30 people around who were interested enough to pitch up and listen to me speak about my art. How cool is that? And I learnt something about myself: one of the audience asked me why I thought I was drawn to feminist performance art in particular? I gave her my normal answers, respect for women, coming from a performing background (dancing), blah blah blah, and then…epiphany: I was raised by a single mother and all my role models from a very early age were female, therefore it was quite natural for me to look for the same whilst pursuing art! I think the entire audience realised I had had a moment then and they responded very positively.

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Walkabout by the artist on Saturday, 24 May at 11a.m.

at artSPACE durban 

It is free and all are welcome!!

“Visualizing the Creative Process –

mappings of the academic journey of an art student” by swany  

In the exhibition, swany, who has recently completed a visual arts degree, presents a record of this four-year journey as student artist. Through the presentation of his academic record, the artist provides a visual mapping of a journey undertaken as well a study of the creative process itself. Swany is a Durban-based artist who, while always retaining the characteristics of performance art in his pieces, works across disciplines. He has exhibited at the KZNSA Gallery, artSPACE durban and the COLLECTIVE. He most recently exhibited his performance and installation piece, Proof of Life (2013), at artSPACE durban, and took part in a group exhibition, More Than Words (2013), at the COLLECTIVE.

 

So closure seems to be in the ascendance in my life at the moment: the closure provided by my retrospective exhibition of the four years of work from my studies, and of that provided by my interaction with an old ghost from my past, Mr Houghton, Dr now I think? I wonder when I will attain closure over my horrendous relationship with the American woman and my disastrous immigration to the United States. The truth is I may never achieve this closure despite having instinctively followed the process of those 5 steps recommended by Dr Brenner. Acceptance of that fact is a kind of closure in its self though and does offer a measure of peace.

What’s next though? Well, I have 3 group exhibitions in the final 6 months of this year, one of which I am curating. I am also very excited about having been invited to take part in one which will be held in the Durban Art Gallery. Trust me, it’s a really big deal!

“Looking Forward: Our Lives in 2034”

Twenty years ago seems like yesterday and 2034 is just tomorrow. 

We have selected you from the stable of KwaZulu-Natal artists to participate in an important exhibition in Durban in this, the 20th year of democracy. The exhibition is a cooperative undertaking between the Durban Art Gallery and artSPACE durban.

The exhibition itself will be in Gallery 4 in the Durban Art Gallery from August 4 to September 14, 2014.

 

Anyway, dear readers, this was just a quick update of the haps. I will try to write more, promise.

 

Daily News 15 May 2014

DAILY NEWS 15 MAY 2014

The Mercury, 15 May 2014

MERCURY 15 MAY 2014 email

Exhibition Opening: 05/05/2014

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PROOF OF LIFE (2013) VIDEO

Hi all! Go to www.artofswany.com to view a video of my Proof of Life (2013) piece. Alternatively you can view it on youtube.

 

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Exhibition: Visualizing the Creative Process – mappings of the academic journey of an art student

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