Four of Six

Two weeks left until my performance at the artSPACE durban Gallery!! And two weeks left of my 40 day fast! After my performance I am sooo dashing off to the nearest pizza place for the cheesiest pizza they have to offer!

A lot of my students are writing their theory exams at the moment while completing their practical assignments for final exam assessment. An art degree really is a very tough academic pursuit! I feel their pain; not only because I have gone through it myself but because I am still experiencing the same with with my Masters. I am engaged in the process of writing the review of literature for my area of study which entails analyzing the research and readings I have conducted for a period of almost 2 years now, and then, utilizing my findings and conclusions, construct an argument. This is really, in my opinion, the toughest part of the dissertation. Everything rides on you getting this right. Why do I say this with such conviction? Well, if your research has been shoddy or lacks focus as well as intensity, then your conclusions are questionable and your entire argument is weakened or even becomes invalid. You will lack conviction because believe me there is no winging it with a document of between 50 000 and 100 000 words. So yes, I have been busy with that, but in addition, I have to work on my practical component too. This upcoming performance is part of that component. If Art is not for sissies, Academic Art is a bully on steroids, truly brutal, belligerent and unrelenting!


As I mentioned, my students are writing theory exams at the moment. Two of them are in their 3rd and final year and are writing on Modernism and Postmodernism, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. These are really complex and theory-dense modules.  So I was trying to get across to them the concept of ontology and the idea of an aesthetic essence in art. I thought I would share it with you because in having to explain it, it made me revisit these theories myself. This is why I love teaching art. Not only do the students keep me on my toes and in touch with the contemporary, but they also ensure that I continue to involve myself in thinking about ART. They keep me current. OK, so let me tell you about   Ontology:  at its simplest it is the study of existence. It originates in Ancient Greek philosophy where Plato created the ontological argument. He called it the Theory of Forms. Essentially, the Form (capital F) of something was its essence, whereas, the form (lowercase f) was the actual physical representation. He used this idea to separate man’s soul from his body, and explain the idea of the soul in a quantifiable way. Can you see how that can be applied to art? The form (the physical artwork) and the Form of the artwork (the aesthetic essence). The ontology of art considers the matter, form, and mode in which art exists. Works of art are social constructs in the sense that they are not natural but human creations. In this way art is imbued with an aesthetic essence. The point I want to make is that, in my opinion, if an artist is to truly call himself or herself an artist, then they need to consider the aesthetic essence of their work. And aesthetic essence does not mean “pretty” or “cute” or “nice”. If you are doing that then you are in all likelihood a decorator, a graphic designer, an illustrator or a hobbyist. And there is nothing wrong with earning a living doing that or merely enjoying the just doing as a hobby.


Being an artist is not easy. I know! I do a lot of things in order to pay the bills so that I can make the art I want to make. One of those things is part-time work for one of the departments at the University of Pretoria, creating illustrations for their textbooks. You have to pay the bills. BUT I don’t call it art because for me that work I am doing is lacking in that ontological essence. This essence comes from something being truly unique. Imagine standing before Starry Night or the Mona Lisa, or witnessing a Marina Abramovic performance in the flesh. There is a certain awe or emotion that one is bound to experience in the presence of something like that. It is the fact that you are in the presence of an original, a one of a kind, which creates ontology and imbues something with an aesthetic essence. This is one of the reasons I love performance art, because each is a truly one-of-a-kind work of art and completely original. They are by no means all successful works of art but they have ontology in buckets full! Look, perhaps I am coming across as being elitist, judgmental, critical etc. but I believe that there has to be some sort of system of worth, and the assessing of it. And, yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, if you are an educated or discerning art appreciator, there is no way you can say that Mickey Mouse has the same aesthetic essence as the Mona Lisa. Logically this has, of course to do with rarity, Mickey having been reproduced innumerable times in all formats while there remains only one Mona Lisa. But it is more than that, it is the ritual of the artist which is evident in the Mona Lisa and not in Mickey that is also the difference. And more importantly, it is the artist’s intent that makes the difference that matters. A general clue is if you are hoping that your work suits someone’s colour scheme in their lounge or blends in a foyer or that it will look cool on a t-shirt then you can kind of take for granted that aesthetic essence has been sold out. The street artist, Banksy, very cleverly plays with this whole idea of ontology while critiquing mass media, advertising, and commenting on our postmodern society and the idea of selling out to the all mighty dollar, pound, rand (insert your currency here).


To end off I am going to leave you with this:

“Inspiration comes and goes, creativity is the result of practice” – Phil Cousineau

Practice, Make, Do! And by all means paint the odd unicorn or fairy…but if you do, OWN it! Own it like Las Vegas Elvis owned those capes he wore with those legendary jumpsuits of his!


Three of Six

To deny:

at the moment I am, by force of will, denying myself certain foods and drinks as way of purifying my body and constructing the state of mind I require in order to present a performance art piece on 29th October. The process I am going through brings to mind a quote by Andre Malraux:

The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within this prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.

I am at the halfway stage of my self-imposed fast, having completed 3 weeks with 3 left to go. A lot of people seem to believe that the point of a fast is to starve oneself. That is most certainly not true because although it is about setting oneself physical constraints in way of testing oneself, it is more a mental exercise. This is the interesting thing about fasting, that it is a physical act that is utilized to transcend the physical. I have actually lost weight which is a physical by-product of the process, but it is not the intent at all. Rather I think of it as a physical manifestation of the de-cluttering of my mind by the exertion of my force of will to remain focused. This is the focus I will require when I step into the gallery space, and as I am able to shut out the physical during this fasting period so I will be able to shut all out once in that space. My intensity needs to be a real force that borders on lunacy.

While I have been fasting I have been keeping myself occupied not only with the normal demands of life or with my Masters requirements, but with the construction of my installation piece for my performance ritual. Like the fasting, the making has also become part of the performance.

Below: a work-in-progress


Below: my design sketches of the installation piece






Two of Six

As I write this Icky Thump month has begun. Yep, that’s right: Halloween! And outside it is cold and rainy! In October! One wonders how much it must suck to be a weatherman these days! Can they even forecast the weather anymore, other than saying that Winter will probably be colder than Summer? We were warned that there would be no Spring rain this year, a pretty safe bet considering that we have been experiencing a severe drought for the past three years. Water restrictions, the whole end of times scenario, but, yay, we are having great Spring rains and no more drought and water restrictions. So sorry, weather guys, glad you were wrong in this case. But the rain has brought some seriously cold weather with it. Well, I mean, seriously cold for a semi-tropical region, 15 degrees celsius…in Spring! Weird!


Anyway, so yeah, spooky weather for the spooky month, which brings me to my spooky topic: the play that may not be mentioned! I recently saw a movie that had Glenn Close playing an actress who was playing Lady Macbeth. The opening scene of this Merchant Ivory film, Heights (2004), features Close as a stage and screen actress of renown, is very powerful. Her character is giving a master class in Shakespeare to a group of Juilliard drama students who are acting out a scene from the play that may not be mentioned (Macbeth). She is so incensed by their passionless performance that she charges up onto the stage to give them hell. “These are fiery people!” she screams, referring to the play’s characters. She laments the lack of passion she sees in their performances and then more broadly, in the world. “We’re not passionate people, we’re tepid voyeurs!” she says of humanity. Isn’t that so true of this social media-obsessed world we live in? She ends the class by telling the students, “And, for Christ’s sake, take a risk sometime this weekend!” Close really gives an amazing performance in the movie as well as delivering some really memorable quotes:

“Shakespeare’s worst is still better than anyone else’s best.”


So why the strange traditions and superstitions associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth?  The tragedy of Macbeth is considered so unlucky that it is never called by name inside the theatrical profession. It is referred to as that play, the Scottish play or the Bard’s Play. These are all euphemisms and reference the play’s Scottish setting or Shakespeare’s popular nickname. According to a theatrical superstition called the Scottish curse, speaking the name Macbeth inside a theatre will cause disaster. The theory goes that Shakespeare actually included actual black magic spells in the incantations of the witches (see Act IV, Scene 1):


SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.


(Thunder) Enter the three Witches

First Witch:

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

Second Witch:

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch:

Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.

First Witch:

Round about the cauldron go;

In the poison’d entrails throw.

Toad, that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

Swelter’d venom sleeping got,

Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch:

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch:

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf

Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,

Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,

Liver of blaspheming Jew,

Gall of goat, and slips of yew

Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,

Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,

Finger of birth-strangled babe

Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,

Make the gruel thick and slab:

Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,

For the ingredients of our cauldron.


Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch:

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.


Hell! Just reading those lines is enough to make a believer of me of curses and bumps and thumps and slithers and all icky things of the night! Love Shakespeare:)


Anyway, speaking about strange and unusual…again: I have just completed the second week of my fast in preparation for my performance artwork in 4 weeks times. I mentioned to a good friend of mine that I had been doing research on military conscription for my Masters dissertation and had found it a little disconcerting. My research has been bringing back a lot of memories of my time as a conscript, and my experiences in the military; some good, many bad. As I put it to her, it’s kind of like finding all of a sudden that you are still scared of the bogey man like when you were a child. And this, made all the more unreal by my fasting. Ghosts of my past haunting me…

I am going to end off by recommending a really fun Halloween movie. It is good for adults and children, and is hilarious! And it also has three witches in it! It is called Hocus Pocus (1993) and is a Disney film. Yep, good clean fun!


It has all the creepy and the scary without resorting to the blood and the gore and the just plain nasty! And that, dear reader, is my post for this Halloween:)


PS: Is it weird that I find SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) seriously hot as a wicked, child-eating witch? Far more so then as Carrie in Sex and the City.