So stress, what is it? Basically, as I understand it, it is the anxiety that arises within as a result of an unresolved problem or problems. This anxiety will not disappear until that problem has been resolved, removed or disappears. In other words, it ceases to be, by any means necessary. I grew up in a family where avoidance was key in dealing with problems. If you didn’t speak about it the problem would either disappear or in time would resolve itself for you or, best of all, if you did not acknowledge its existence then it never existed. My Mother (bless her) believes that God will solve the problem if you leave it for Him to deal with. My brother tends to just glare at you or at it and not speak to you or about it, generally both. The blame and punish game, if you will. Me? I have always been the odd one in the family, so I emote and talk and act out, much to the irritation of the two of them (their favourite phrase when referring to me: “you know what Andys like”). I subscribe to the adage: God helps those who help themselves. By that I do not mean that I don’t get overwhelmed by the anxiety or that I don’t have my lapses of avoidance, but generally I attack problems with the hard-headedness (is that a word?) of the Dutch/Afrikaner blood in me, the passion and emotion of the Spanish blood in me, and with the sense of humour and fatalism of the Irish blood in me! I have found that the only way to deal with a figurative storm is to pass through it, much the same way a boat must face a huge wave; directly, head-on. I begin with what I can deal with easily and work from there. The question, how do you eat an elephant, springs to mind? The answer, one bite at a time. There are not always solutions to the problems faced but any action is better than none at all. We need to muster up our courage and actually become intimate with said problems, spending time with them. Acceptance rather than denial.
So back to my stress and its source: a deadline for work for a new exhibition. There are three weeks left until my group exhibition, G1K1, at the artSPACE Gallery. My art-making process for these works has been extremely physical and labour intensive. I am constructing canvases for the exhibition out of the leather of old army boots. I spent over a year collecting all these boots and this has been followed by the process of taking them apart (deconstructing them):
1) removing the soles and heels:
2) soaking the uppers for 5 days in water:
3) cutting them apart:
4) laying the pieces out to dry:
5) finally, shaping and nailing the pieces to backing boards:
I am a conceptual artist and this is what we do. Everything single thing that makes up my artwork has been considered and intentionally selected to best portray/present my vision. Those of you who have read some of my previous blogs will know that I served in the military, fighting on the borders of South West Africa (Namibia) in army intelligence. These works are informed by my time in the South African Defence Force.
Above: some of my leather canvases
The exhibition, as I mentioned is titled:
G1KI: In the South African Defence Force the “G” indicated whether a soldier was healthy and could participate in physical activity. The “K” showed where a soldier could be deployed as well as the level of medical care they should have access to. “G1” indicated the soldier was healthy and could participate in any and all physical activity. “K1” meant the soldier could be deployed anywhere and anytime without a medical facility in the vicinity.
G1K1: a group exhibition by artists/soldiers/nurses conceptualising works reflecting their personal experiences within the South African Defence Force during the apartheid era.
In the New York Times, 20 June 1980, Thabo Mbeki (South Africa’s second democratically elected president) said: “We can’t fight a bush war in South Africa. Look at the map. It is all developed. There are roads, radios, and landing strips everywhere. This isn’t a forest. The machine would smash us if we try to send an army from the outlying areas…our masses have to serve as our bush. The Black community is our bush…” The Bush War Mbeki was referring to was also a quite literal one, although it was referred to by most South Africans as the Border War. The borders were those of South West Africa, now Namibia. South West Africa was in effect a colony of apartheid South Africa. Between 1967 and 1994 approximately 600 000 young white men were conscripted to perform national service in the South African Defence Force. Although also a conflict to maintain the status quo of white minority rule within South Africa, the Border War was also essentially a Cold War conflict between the USA and USSR with South Africa and Cuba representing each side respectively.
For many soldiers who fought, the trauma is deep. Offered up by their parents, family and the ruling government in sacrifice to their Calvinistic God, these 18 year old boys were sent to war. Now middle-aged they are left to bear the shame and guilt of the white South African in the new South Africa. Theirs are stories nobody wants to hear, neither the current South African government nor contemporary society. They are the proverbial elephant in the room. These stories and scars are consigned to the dark, twisted dreams and 3am vigils of the men who lived them.
These are the exhibiting artists and the titles of their works:
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Karen Pretorius: The artwork comments on the nursing experience at 1 Military Hospital during the 1970 – 1980 South African/Angolan Border War. The theme considers the consequences of traumatic memories as well as physical scars left on conscript soldiers doing compulsory national service in South Africa at the time.
The artist says, “The nurse working in a military hospital faced with the dichotomy of life and death on a daily basis; the cries of new-born babies and those of injured soldiers”.
Steyn Pretorius: The body of work is titled ‘Pro Patria’ which means ‘for one’s country’, and aims to explore the conflict between instilled beliefs and the reality in a contemporary South African society. The ‘Pro Patria’ medal was also awarded to every defence force member who served a minimum of sixty days in conflict areas. The artwork consists of a range of portraits depicting veterans in a contemporary context and is executed in monotone dry media on paper.
Souty (pronounced “so-tee”)
swany: “Soutpiel” or ‘souty” was a derogatory term given to English-speaking conscripts. It is derived from the metaphorical image of English speakers having one foot in Africa and one foot in Europe with their penises hanging in the ocean. The artist has spent 14 months (the length of time he spent on the Border in the South West territorial armed forces as an Intelligence non-com officer) collecting army boots, deconstructing them and re-assembling them to form canvases upon which he has etched trace images of dislocation, trauma and melancholy. These canvases are displayed along with sculpted and archived objects.
Above: canvas detail
More about the exhibition and the created works to follow in my next post so stay tuned, dear reader!