Situated Making

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Catalogue | Situated Making

Exhibition Preface

By Brenton Maart


There are many possible routes to writing an essay on Situated Making, an exhibition curated by Eugene Hön with recent work from the staff of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. One approach might be to analyse the exhibition as evidence of FADA’s rather avant-garde encouragement of practice-based research, a relatively new phenomenon in South African academia where creative work – artworks, exhibitions, catalogues – are now accepted as legitimate forms of research outputs. A second thread might be to locate the work within a curatorial delimitation – say new forms of materiality, or perhaps the enduring application of collage. A third tack might be a convoluted polemical dense with dusty theory. However, lets dispense with these and use instead the exhibition’s title – Situated Making – because who doesn’t love the structuring pathfinder of the heading? This pointer, instead of imposing a rigidity, leads the way to explore multiple paths, and is generous and open and malleable to each of the research questions and hypotheses, forms and concerns of the very different bodies of work that compose this group exhibition. Lets assemble this essay as variations on the fugue of the title, and lets begin with a definition.

The exhibition title is composed of two words: Situated denotes a particular location, place, space or position; Making signifies the act or process of forming, causing, doing, advancement, success or coming into being. Taken together, Situated Making might be understood as an examination of place and process, and the relationships between them, and this essay makes brief commentary on each contribution, in that regard, in alphabetical order.


Derivatives – the work by Marc Edwards – uses landscape as conceptual and physical location, and chance as its process of production. There are two key bodies of work on exhibition. In the first, Edwards presents the residues of paint left in the paper cups originally used to hold the coffee for his morning walks, and later used to wash his watercolour brushes. When sliced open, and presented on the gallery wall, the cups and their palimpsests of striated residues of paint become inadvertent landscapes formed, not by premeditation, but spontaneously – by chance. The second key installation is composed of small rocks and pebbles Edwards finds on his walks – shards of rose quartz, some hardened building material, composites, conglomerates, pieces of granite – and the physical location of origin of this work is literally the landscape. Presented in a white cube gallery, the rocks are objects found by chance and here elevated to forms of art.


Edwards engages these forms of serendipity and gives value to the seemingly worthless; he collects and groups small, slight acts (walking, finding, rinsing) and elevates them into installations of significance: where repetition becomes noteworthy, the subconscious becomes conscious, meditation becomes mediation, and where – Edwards writes in his exhibition text – “the landscape becomes an imaginarium.”


Lizè Groenewald’s Azulejaria II is a tight grid of “tiles” of collaged objects arranged into various ensembles. Postcards, notes, shells, bottles, bits of metal, ceramic shards, dental impressions, cutlery, off-cuts of wood, computer memory boards, and so forth – objects that the artist has been collecting (hoarding?) here finds a second (a new) life in the installation. In many ways, each of the items serves as memory of a place or an experience and becomes evidence – a kind of “fact”; a kind of “truth” – of the location of this work: Groenewald’s life. When these objects are grouped together, each of the groupings – each tile – becomes a short story that might be loosly based on fact (say, for example, if all the broken shards of ceramic collected in one place are grouped together on one tile). However, an altogether more intruiging invention begins to emerge when random, unrelated objects find themselves together on a tile. It is here where fact becomes blurred into fiction, and where truth is as much subjective as objective. This is where a life starts getting its meaning through the placements of truths – of memories – into readings and interpretation. In many ways, then, the process of Groenewald’s artwork is an embodiment Proust’s philosphy – “How paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one’s memory,” and a manifestation that life, itself, is a subjective process of collage.


Eugene Hön’s Fragmented fragments and fractals: A progeny of shards operates from a mercurial position, a shifting point of reference that might be termed the transitional. The starting point for his body of work is the ballpoint pen drawing – an analogue approach to image crafting, which he then applies to his ceramic shards through digital transfers, digital animation and digital projection. This, in effect, straddles the disciplines of art and design, and links artwork and product. Hön’s concept is based on the fragment – the shard, the splintered component – which, via his production and treatment and exhibition, is presented as the whole object, complete and not broken. Thus, in effect, Hön’s position might be deemed the space of in-between.


By extrapolating this position, then, allows one to arrive at an understanding of his process as that of mediation: from the analogue to the digital; from the shard to the complete; from the drawing to the digital print; from the artwork to the product and then back again. The value of this work might be found in its application of the principles of the fourth industrial revolution, a contemporary period where interconnectivity and smart automation are the name of the game. It is here where Hön’s process is located, where the terms analogue and digital are no longer separate, no longer distinct, and where contemporary processes blurred what we thought we knew with what is to come.


Alison Kearney situates herself within the museum and, in an ironic attempt to critique those institutions from within, it is a museum under erasure, thus museum. This is an editing device and its function – to bring to the fore the original and also the change – is thus also a philosophical device refined, writes Kearney in her exhibition text, by Spivak who, in 1976, notes that “Since the word is inaccurate, it is crossed out. Since it is necessary, it remains legible.” On this exhibition, Kearney converts suitcases and found trophies of achievement into a work titled Embrace Failure, which extends on her interest in redefining the museum and the object of value. In this way, the artist embraces the irony of her positionality in both the museum and in the anti-museum.


The process that Kearney applies to her work is the act of subversion. By applying museum practice to a space that is not a museum (the suitcase) and to objects that are not materially valuable and have even lost their cultural significance (plastic trophies, and melting ice cast from plastic trophies), the artist asks of us to question our assumptions of authority and assessment. The work thus becomes an advocate – in a manner that is generous and open-ended – for the freedom of malleability, fluidity and radical shifts in delimitations.


There are two components to Farieda Nazier’s In_n_Around. The physical component shows how a flat rectangle – a basic geometric shape – of silver is folded to form what appears to be an item of jewelry. The digital component, made in association with film-maker Mocke Jansen van Veuren, is an animation of the process that the artist defines as performance. When we read this work in relation to the artist’s broader concerns, it is evident that Nazier’s location is from the vantage point of a post-colonial lens, and her process is one of that sees the act of art-making as a performance. Nazier writes, in her artist statement for the exhibition, that her work interrogates performativity as “an action enforced upon agential materialities… as counter-actions of materiality against the active force… as placement, displacement and positionality through mattering in space… as the interaction of multiple temporal aspects, and… as relationality between wearer & worn.”


There is a post-colonial critique of apartheid inherent in Nazier’s work, where basic shapes are structured in basic ways to give rise to basic forms – forms that are reminiscent of apartheid townships and the materials that are used to construct these place and spaces of built forms and, by extrapolation, the psychological forms. Might it be that the artist is interested in the performativity of the requirements of life as an art form, and as a political act?


The tension in Miliswa Ndziba’s Forts of Sand: Reimagining the aesthetics of demolition through worldbuilding comes in various forms. On the level of the aesthetic, it is the tension between the cold, dry, clean, minimal, scientific, two-dimensional presentation of the printed paper on the table-top, and the warm, wet, dirty, exuberant, organic, three-dimensional, living colonies of fungi enclosed in glass containers. Ndziba uses this aesthetic conflict as the basis for her conceptual exploration of the nature of colonization, where cold economics clashes against the guts of life. And herein is the vested the location of the work: in the conflict of the liminal space, the in-between, the above- and below-the-surface, the fraught relationship between conservation and putrefaction. What happens here is that the ruins of colonization are, themselves, being colonized by that great equalizer we call nature.


Ndziba uses, as the narrative hook for her work, the repatriation of dead slave children of Mozambique, and her process then becomes a burial, where the dead are returned to their home and a cycle completed. However, we know from her installation – and from the very processes of life – that burial is never an end-point. It may be a ritual marker of sorts – some kind of psychological denotation – but it is also the start of a new process. Death may be a process of putrefaction, but it also provides the building blocks for a new form of growth.


Thus, inasmuch as the artwork is an indicator of a contemporary post-coloniality, it is also a beacon of hope, and a marker of a new form of evolution, one that may not yet be visible, but that is written in the process of chemistry, physics and life. The artist cites Dentith (2014) when she summarises her intention “to produce alternate versions of reality (and the future) powerful enough to override the current present.”


Deirdre Pretorius employs a design aesthetic to create her Cabinets of Curiosities for the Postcolony II, a series of five framed collections of unique objects grouped by colour, form and material. The objects are strange and beautiful – things you haven’t seen before – and, because of their seeming lack of function, situates the artist’s position within the realm of the object and its materiality: the thing and its elemental components. However, this is just the starting point. Pretorius then goes on to craft names – ostensibly scientific in their fictional etymology and imaginary nomenclature – for each of the objects, and it is here where the objects then begin to appear as somewhat magical – as talismans, vestibules of energy, actors of intention, carriers of spells. By giving each object a name, Pretorius imbues each object with meaning, with history and with gravity, which the artist then extends by creating NFTs for each, and pacing them within the virtual marketplace. In effect, then, the artist’s process of naming becomes a process of bestowing value.


In her artist statement to the exhibition, Pretorius writes that she is interested in “the construction of new knowledge… and how we assign value to such new knowledge.” In her process, the artist makes clear the subjective allocation of value: by deeming an object as valuable, and entering it into the marketplace, that object is imbued with value by the process of intentionality.


Jeweller Thato Radebe locates his work within the Covid epidemic, and uses the virus itself as a source of inspiration for the design and production of a ring that draws upon the crown-like structure of the virus. Variations on the placement of the spike proteins create a sense of the variability of experience of the pandemic. Some positive, some negative, some constructive, some destructive, Radebe highlights the importance of perspective. In a corollary of location and practice, Radebe applies the process of process of multimodality “in relation to work that functions as both personal adornment (jewellery) and visual artefact (sculpture)”.


The Remaindering by Ruth Sacks is an artist book that locates the project within Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the end location of Sack’s research that began, earlier, in Brussels, the Congo’s colonizing country. It is here, in Kinshasa, that Sacks found and collected the remainders of colonization and independence. These snippets and off-cuts of architectures and plans, unfinished and unrealized, were gathered together to create an artist book of “remainders”. The location that Sacks presents is a location that evades a time. Although set in the contemporary, the location reaches back into independence, and further back into colonization. The location is a palimpsest, and Sacks writes in her artist book that “Straight lines and correct angles do not describe what have become monuments to the shifting everyday life…”


There are two key processes that Sacks employs. The first is the act of layering time, where elements from the past are highlighted as they do their work in the present. The second process is the deeming of what is significant. In this way, the artist side-steps the taint and disavowal that accompanies much of living with colonization, and bring the fore – deems as important – the elements left behind that, still today, are significant in the contemporary lived experience.


Tuliza Sindi and Anna Abengowe from the :her(e), otherwise platform are architects who locate themselves at the very pinnacle of post-colonial activism in this historically masculine, colonizing sector by problematize the primary questions of, “who gets to ask, and how?”, “what gets asked about/what is deemed a valid subject?” and “where do questions get to begin and end?”. These interrogations point the way to the space occupied by a group of womxn architects who, in focusing on the “brief” as that most problematic of patriarchal, colonial documents, questions “how is one sited (on ground, in history, in practice, etc.)?”


The homepage of the website of this group is divided into four blocks, and the first three deal with realms, localities and scale. It is from this positionality – this very location of the sector of architecture – that the fourth block, that of strategy, is developed. Here, an interrogation of hegemony is the group’s process of decolonial practice. The strategy is to undo the baseline, and do away with assumptions that the practice of architecture is linear because, the practitioners notes, “notions of place, space, and belonging are steeped in fictions, and ongoing practices of extraction, displacement and dispossession.”


Christa van Zyl’s Voorskoot presents a complex amalgamation of positionalities from which she interrogates the “personal” and the “professional”. The gendered institution van Zyl occupies demands of her a near-schizophrenic split between her roles as an academic and as a mother. Even further, the institution demands simultaneous roles as teacher and researcher, on the one hand, and the more invisible service-based student support tasks. The Covid period brought this false dichotomy into stark relief, where all these roles had to be fulfilled simultaneously, a reality that prompts van Zyl to write, in her artist statement for the exhibition, that “I often felt like the boundaries between my many roles had crumbled. I have to continue facing my many roles,” she continues, citing Bradley and Oldham (2020), with “…the knowledge that work-life balance is a myth, gender inequities exist, and that the world of academia… needs to change.”


The process van Zyl uses is the action of making to-do lists – which are here reproduced in fabric as a series of aprons and tablecloths – and then following them as a life/task guide, as a project management tool, and as just a very basic necessity to be able to fulfill the many credited and uncredited protagonist roles she juggles simultaneously.


In conclusion, the bodies of work that compose Situated Making are as diverse as are their makers, ranging from print to sculpture, performance to video, installation to concept. There are elements that bind them together and this essay extrapolates the two key commonalities that all practitioners share: that of location, and of process. As with all creative production, both these elements are in constant shift, and here provide indicators of future evolutions of even greater complexities.