DIANE DE BEER
The way people use art to share their personal stories and speak their mind is what makes it such a rare and valuable commodity. Each year when the New Signature winners are announced, and the exhibition opens at the Pretoria Art Museum in Arcadia, the work captures a specific zeitgeist.
Stellenbosch-based artist, Jessica Storm Kapp, 22, the winner of the 2018 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition won the coveted award for her rammed earth columns and embedded object installation piece titled Mapping Time.
Personal stories with a universal message was this year’s focus with Kapp’s work following and thus the result of the disastrous Knysna fires. Currently she is studying in Stellenbosch and with the disaster she felt cut off from her home. But on her return, she knew she had to do something with the emotional impact and the effect of the disaster on her personally. “I knew I had to capture the presence of time,” she says as she started collecting soil, charred objects and other traces of the fire which all found their way into the winning work.
The artwork investigates whether fine art can evoke multisensory experiences of home using retrieved objects and materials. These have value both because of the site from which they were taken as well as their intrinsic value as traces of a destroyed dwelling. “It’s only a year on and already there’s hardly a trace of the fire left,” she says. This was her attempt to illustrate concepts such as loss, trace, place attachment and reflection.
She is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Fine Art at Stellenbosch University. Through various print making techniques, photography, sculpture and installation, she aims to create immersive moments in which viewers can experience the essence of a place through their multiple senses.
As the winner of Sasol New Signatures, she received a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2019, which will mark Sasol’s 30th year sponsoring South Africa’s longest running art competition.
Contextualising the winning work, the Sasol New Signatures Chairperson, Prof Pieter Binsbergen, said: “Regarding the pressing issues of land, including pre-, post-, and de-colonial struggles, the work’s ability to ambiguously navigate through and around these sensitive issues makes it worthy of being the winning artwork”.
In second place, Cape Town artist Peter Mikael Campbell’s work in pencil titled, Kaisen, which means, “change for better” in Japanese, won him R25 000. “It’s about creating beauty,” he says about his art arguing that if you create and make people aware of something beautiful, it will make them more aware of the world around them – and thus the people. “It’s a belief in the value of art,” he explains with a belief that it can contribute to a better world.
For the five merit winners, the personal all came into play in their work.
For Port Elizabeth’s Kelly Crouse with Medication: C₂₃H₂₇N₃O₇, it is about a skin disorder she had as a child and the crippling effects it had on her life. “We all have our own personal flaws,” she explains, and because hers is something that she won’t ever be free of because it is part of her DNA, she wanted to investigate how it shaped her life.
Also from Port Elizabeth, Debbie Fann used their family business to explore her identity. Her parents own a Chinese restaurant where she waitressed for a while. In her work Cheque or Savings?
She uses something that is easily discarded, a restaurant bill, to tell her story. On the one side of the work is a simple picture of an actual bill and on the other, there’s one she plays with in quite light-hearted fashion. “I use parody for example and change certain dishes like deepfried rice to dogfried or that oft used phrase, Made in China. But she’s also commenting on the customers, our throwaway society, commercialism and simply being Chinese and how she is perceived in this country.
Sticking to our current world and the way it operates, Megan Serfontein, another University of Stellenbosch student uses technology to make a point. She wrote a programme to illustrate how we all react differently when we know we’re being watched or filmed for example. Her work which is untitled is a monitor which changes as people stand in front of it. In effect you as the viewer becomes the art. It’s fun but also clever and especially in our technological world, to use something that changes what the camera sees, sharply makes her point.
Cape Town’s Pierre Henri Le Riche’s porcelain slave bells titled Ap(peal) I & Ap(peal) II can be viewed as museum relics with a play on history, stories that are told by the victors and thus shaping a particular story telling it as it desires to be told.
With his striking wood sculpture titled The leader shall govern, Mulatedzi Moshapo from Polokwane explains that every work has its own story to tell and his medium isn’t the only determining factor, the people he features are also showing their world and their unhappiness.
Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.
Finally, this is also where the previous year’s winner is given a chance to show their progress of the past year. Winner of 2017, Lebohang Kganye’s first solo exhibition, Mohlokomedi wa Tora (Lighthouse Keeper), runs in conjunction with the 2018 Sasol New Signatures exhibition until October 7 at the Pretoria Art Museum. “It’s an ongoing conversation with my grandmother,” she notes as she keeps on talking in a way that is evolving but all about her family and their stories. It is cramped in its current space, not quite allowing the work to breathe as expansively as it should.
The rest of the exhibition features the 2018 winner, runner up and five merit award winners as well as 87 finalists, all of whom are included in the acclaimed competition catalogue available at the museum.
Charlotte Mokoena, Sasol Executive Vice President for Human Resources and Corporate Affairs urged the artists to continue being fearless in their artistry, challenging society to evaluate the lenses through which it views the world. “It is by doing so that you unconsciously give others the permission to be boundless in their pursuit of their happiness and purpose. Be limitless,” she urged.
Pretoria Art Museum times:
Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 to 17:00 (Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays)
Pretoria Art Museum: Corner Francis Baard and Wessels St, Arcadia Park