The title of the exhibition, Blou Steen (Blue Stone), refers to the legend of chemically castrating or chemically restraining the virility of youthful recruits and conscripts in the military. The containment and restraining of the South African conscript’s sexual urges was said to be achieved through the use of blue stone or blue vitriol. Copper sulphate was believed to have been added to the daily coffee and the battery acid (mixed fruit juice concentrate) served up by the army chefs. The blue colouring of the chemical resulted in its colloquial names: blou steen or blou fieterjoel.
Although never confirmed or admitted to by the Apartheid-era South African Defence Force, the assumption that the institution would or could do this, was never in doubt in the minds of its soldiers or the South African public at the time. I use the notion of blue stone as a metaphoric device to illustrate the toxicity of the processes involved in constructing boy’s and men’s gender identities. I focus in particular on my own lived experience and those of my generation and our experiences of our militarisation for the purposes of the Apartheid government.
The performance work addresses three specific problematic aspects of the Apartheid SADF institution: blue stone, weaponising the penis, and military designations. The first, and the title of the piece, is the use of blou steen to restrain South African conscripts’ sex drive. The second is
the channelling of sexual urges – the use of blou steen was indicative of the military institution’s attempts at controlling the sexuality of its members, specifically the penis as a sexual instrument. Controlled it could be transformed into a weapon to be used by that institution. As conscripts we
were taught that our penises, although not rifles, were guns, that is, weapons:
“This is my rifle, this is my gun! This is for fighting, this is for fun!”
We were regularly called on by our platoon leaders to repeat this cadence, slapping our rifles and grabbing our crotches at the appropriate times. Finally, the third is military designations – in my dissertation I discuss the use of both formal and informal designations by the SADF and how they
were used to implement and maintain a strict hierarchal power structure within the military. Some of the formal designations applied to me were my force number and rank. An informal designation was soutpiel.
I use considered metaphoric language to communicate my thinking to the viewer:
(a) The first major signifier the viewer is confronted with is sea salt within the gallery space. This references my informal designation in the military, soutie.
(b) The second is my performance installation which is positioned in the centre of this field of salt. The installation piece embodies militarised masculinity through its design, material and construction.
(c) During the performance I include the use of various artefacts (props) in my rituals. These include a headpiece, a military uniform, blue dye, a rifle and electric hair clippers. I use the rifle to perform military drills relating to the weaponisation of the penis. I then shave my head in order
to remove my dyed hair (electric blue referencing blou steen). Finally, I create what is termed in the military as a fallen soldier’s battlefield cross or marker. These temporary memorials are used in the field to indicate where a soldier has fallen so that the body might be successfully recovered.
They generally consist of the dead soldier’s boots, rifle, helmet and dog tags (ID tags).
All these are signifiers and are indicative of a cathartic process of bringing into the light things that have not been spoken of.