So What?

So What?!


Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

OK, so here is probably the most uncomfortable lesson, art as an academic pursuit has presented me with: the “so what?” lesson. “So what?” is uncomfortable because it immediately makes you aware of the dissonance within your world and you cannot help but find yourself outside of your comfort zone. By dissonance I mean inconsistency between the beliefs one holds (or it could also be between one’s actions and one’s beliefs). Want an example? Loving (claiming to) animals so much yet they appear on your dinner table, that’s dissonance. How does “so what” create dissonance in the artistic world? Well, it says “yes, you can paint (draw, sculpt) well, but so what?” Painting is a technical facility, it is what you do with it that makes the difference. Decorating walls with paint techniques does not make you an artist, it makes you an interior decorator, and yet you are painting and have a technical facility. I might have a really sound understanding of the body because I did biology at school but it does not make me a doctor. There is a huge amount of dedication, effort, sacrifice and training that goes into becoming a doctor, and similarly in becoming a fine artist or visual artist. “So what?” asks what are you are willing to do for your art, it asks for sacrifice. So you love animals? Well, stop eating them then. Get the idea? “So what?” asks for moving beyond the mere application of paint in an effort to represent what you see or what you wish to “pretty”. It wants you to think, to feel, to be…it wants you to question everything, to remake everything, to see everything for the first time. It wants you to get the hell out of your comfort zone!




Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

The first time a lecturer used the “so what?” statement/question it figuratively stopped me in my tracks and changed the entire way I view and consider art forever. Not just art though, but also the world. This is what a lot of artists entering academia find extremely uncomfortable which is good because…well, you know, the whole “comfort zone” thing. Unfortunately, because of this discomfort many drop out, most in their first year of studies. I have experienced this both as student and lecturer. I usually start a new year with a group of about 40 1st year students. By the end of the year I am lucky if I have 10 progressing through to second year. By their final year the group will consist of no more than 4 students. In my final year I was the only one of my group to qualify. This is not because I am some artistic genius but simply because I embraced the “so what?” statement/question and the accompanying being out of my comfort zone.




Above: self-portrait (a couple of hours before the performance).

Ask yourself that question, you will be amazed at the effect it has. Ask “so what?” and see if you can answer. Then see if the answer is one you can live with. And to live for art, as one of my most favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson, says, is to live a life of questioning.

Labour of Love


The phrase is often used when viewing artists work. The meaning is given to be a task done for pleasure, not reward.

Implicit in that phrase are 3 things – time, hardship/opposition and extreme personal involvement.

Linking them all is the artist’s commitment or investment to a specific project.  What you have here in this gallery is evidence of, not only this commitment and investment in a specific project, but the sheer single-mindedness and force of will it takes to overcome all obstacles in the pursuit of self-expression and art. In addition to all of this, these artists have undertaken to do this within the critical and unforgiving parameters of academia. And to reach your third level exhibition takes a real strength of will. I always tell my new students in first year to remember that an arts degree is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It requires endurance and stamina.

I would like you to keep that in mind when you are viewing these works. These artists have invested at the very least 3 to 4 years of their lives to be here. That in itself demands your respect.

This was part of the speech that I gave to open my 3rd level students’ exhibition yesterday (28 November) at the Rivertown Contemporary Gallery. This was the culmination of an incredibly intense week of installing, curating and assessing students’ work. Many long emotionally-draining hours. As a lecturer you share your student’s journey over the academic year, working incredibly closely with them. At the end of that year you then have to be part of a panel of lecturers who assesses them. That is the heartbreaking part of the job, to bear witness as strangers pull their work apart. It’s even tougher with your final year students. I have worked with these 3rd level students for 3 years, some from their very first year. The process involved in discovering one’s artist voice and what one wants to say and how, is so transformative, and so very personal. As a result the relationship between lecturer and student becomes an extremely intimate one. As mentor you receive their confessions, are witness to their internal struggles, and oversee their flagellation and supplication.

As Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

This what I try and instill in my students; that in order to make truly engaging and honest art one needs to operate outside of one’s comfort zone.

Ben Shahn tells us that “The artist] must never fail to be involved in the pleasures and the desperations of mankind, for in them lies the very source of feeling upon which the work of art is registered”.

Essentially what I tell them is to make your work personal, and by that I do not mean, you as artist merely observing and reproducing what you see. That is illustration. When I look at your work I want to see you, I want to feel your joy, your pain, your anguish! I want us to howl at the moon together!




Nine Days

So if you have been keeping up you will be aware that last week I had the opening of my new (joint) exhibition: Anima/Animus. What you will not be aware of is all the other hecticness I have had going on simultaneously. It has been nine days of extreme! Now I don’t want to say it has been nine days of hell because the things that have happened are things of awesomeness! But it’s like when you are eating or drinking something really cold and you get a brainfreeze: well, when you have to deal with so much awesomeness that you don’t have an opportunity to catch your breath it pretty much has the same effect!


Above: Anima (2015) of the Anima-Animus Exhibition

The Saturday and Sunday prior to the exhibition opening were spent transporting the artworks and then installing them in the gallery, The Monday (25th May) was the opening and was extremely well attended which to be honest is an oddity in Durban, that is, not a normal occurrence at all. I am sad to say Durbanites really do not support the arts as is evident in how few galleries we have here. Anyway, so my fellow artist, Bernice, and I give our speeches and the exhibition was officially opened.


Above: swany speech at Anima-Animus Exhibition

As any exhibiting artist will tell you after an opening you are physically as well as emotionally drained and left exhausted. However, did I have time to relax and take a breath? Nope!

The next afternoon after work (my normal 5 to 5, 12 hour shift) I rushed over to the Vega Design campus to give a lecture on the body (un) comfortable to the students there. I was really not up to it, and in fact was dreading it. But I powered through it and had a really awesome afternoon with the students (about 60 of them) there. I could have said no to their lecturer and turned down the opportunity to speak to the students but being an artist is more than just about creating art: it’s also about creating a brand (which is your name) and for me, also about spreading the love of and for art. So yeah, as exhausted as I was I did it and left the campus exhausted but exhilarated!


Wednesday dawned and brought with it my formal graduation evening. It should be noted that this is a year after I had already successfully completed the degree but time moves differently here in Africa, so yes, my graduation.  Now these ceremonies, much like time, are very different in Africa. The black African students when stepping on to the stage, having their name and degree read out, being capped by the Dean and having the hood put on, are generally met by ululation and praise-singing from family members in the audience. No polite clapping for them or dignified “hear-hears” or “jolly goods”.  I am proud to share with you, dear reader, that this white boy received some praise –singing from a large portion of the members of the audience, this much to the amusement of the university staff and my fellow students. These black members of the audience for some reason took a liking to me and sang my praises! An usher laughingly told me, as I left the stage to receive my certificate: “we call that renta-crowd or family-outsourcing”! So a really great experience and a fond memory that total strangers made the effort to make someone feel special, I was humbled.

Below: Graduation



Thursday my fellow exhibitor and I were interviewed at the gallery for a newspaper article by journalist Angela Shaw. I was really happy with the article she wrote. It is intelligent and well-constructed because she actually really looked at our work. How many journalists actually do that, I wonder? Or viewers in the gallery, for that matter?


Below: Jungian Archetype: King (2015) swany

jungianarch king


An exhibition by artists, Berncie Stott and swany


By Angela Shaw


The joint exhibition by artists, Bernice Stott and swany (Andrew Swanepoel), is centred on two large suspended forms, one made by each artist. Inspired by the paleonlithic Venus of Willendof the large wire frame figures are wrapped in white plaster of paris bandages that are splattered with ochre mud and are burnt black in parts. This became the defining palette for the collaboration – black, white and gold earth tones.


Bernice Stott and swany met in 2014 and agreed to collaborate on a body of work that would re-imagine Jungian feminine and masculine archetypes. Over seven months the two worked separately on their archetypes, meeting regularly to compare and interact. swany describes it as a “push-pull, push-pull” process.


Says Stott: “Anima and Animus can be explained as the personification of the masculine nature of a woman’s unconscious and the feminine nature of a man’s. This contra-sexual self is in all of us, and usually remains unconscious

We thought it would be fun to invert our art pursuits using Jung’s theories of archetypes to do it. Andy would look at his feminine inner self and I would look at my masculine inner self.”


The exhibition is arranged symmetrically around the Venus pieces with

each artist using four Jungian archetypes to create sets of two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces. For Stott, the female artist, the archetypes are The Queen, Wise-woman, Warrior and Lover. For swany, the male artist; The King, Wise-man, Warrior, Lover.


Unintentionally the artist’s mediums and methodologies invert gender stereotypes with swany working on an industrial embroidery machine and also hand stitching his two-dimensional pieces. Rayon and copper lurex thread are stitched into demin ground to create soft, textural, tonal pieces – and ask the question what is man’s work, when embroidery is perceived to be women’s craft. This process of making allowed swany to “explore the feminine in myself” and suggests his next body of work “Subverting the Stitch”.


Stott, on the other hand, constructed robust sculptures cut from marine ply and assembled with thread bar and bolts. She laughs that she has small hands, lacks strength and the work was “extremely difficult and laborious”, but this was her response to the feminine archetypes nonetheless. Her two-dimensional pieces are large figures in ochre with a single bold outline, her nod to the work of naïve artist Dorothy Iannone.



swany grappled with how to present these feminine and masculine forces without being illustrative. His sculptures are masks, wire frames wrapped in bandages and plaster of paris – “the archetypes are not actually images so how do you present these to an audience – what does it feel like while creating, organically bending wire, applying bandage and plaster? What are the forms that emerge and what does it feel like to craft?”



Anima-Animus is at artSpace Gallery 25 May – 13 June 2015

3 Millar Road, Durban, South Africa, Tel: 031-312 0793

Gallery Hours: Mon – Fri 9h00-17h00 Sat and Pub Hols


There is an artists’ walkabout on 6 June at 11.00


Friday I was to be interviewed live on a radio arts programme but something happened and it didn’t happen so I spent 3 hours sitting around for nothing. It has been rescheduled for this Friday. Saturday I worked in the factory feeling like I had a huuuge hangover from sheer exhaustion! Sunday arrived, the proverbial day of rest, but no rest for me. Up at 4.30 am I rushed through to the Durban city SABC TV offices to be interviewed live on our national television morning breakfast show appropriately called Morning Live.


Above: At SABC TV.

Below: The cameras on me! There I am on the top monitor.


How hectic is that?!!! Me on TV, speaking about art I made, for an exhibition displaying my art!! You see? Awesomness!!! Brainfreeze!!

PS: Here are links to the interview. Be kind when viewing them, take in to account how super, super nervous I was!


sabc interview 31 May 2015c