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A Portrait of a Young Artist Series: We learn the rules to break them

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on November 26, 2015.

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.
- Pablo Picasso

Western culture tends to reward the rebel, the trend setter, the people who break the rules. In 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition changing the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation. Duchamp broke all the rules. This year's fine art graduates from the University of Pretoria sees students bypassing more traditional methods of painting, pencil drawing and bronze sculpture and embracing more experimental niches featuring installation, game animation, and even tattoo art in a form of 'performance art'.

The exhibition opened on the University of Pretoria's Main and South campuses featuring 19 students, namely Kim Morrow, Elaine O'Connell, Marli Steyl, Matilda Engelblik, Maggie Botha, Celeste Theron, Odette Michelle Graskie, Melissa Laas, Ennes Simone Kotze, Tanya Klöpping, Carina du Randt, Carla Markgraaf, Ian Jacobs, Nadine Clark, La Rochelle Olwagen, Xenia Roos, Anke Kuhn, Joane Burger and Nina Kruger.

Left: Ian Jacobs, Isolation, Computer game | Right: Ennes Kotze, The tattoo identity

An interesting aspect of this year's exhibition is the inclusion of the non-traditional fine art mediums of video games and tattoos. Ian Jacobs' LIF3: A collection of imitations is a series of seven computer games that imitate banal everyday experiences. Jacobs states that "if paintings imitate sight, and the written word imitates story, then digital simulations imitate experience". Ennes Kotze's The tattoo identity explores the line between art and non-art. In the creation of tattoos, one draws the image as one would in a drawing or painting but the canvas is rather different: the artwork is created on a living, breathing body. One aspect that is particularly interesting about Kotze's work is the performative aspect. Kotze collected various concepts for tattoos during her study and selected one design at random. The design was then permanently tattooed on her body in collaboration with tattoo artist Mike St.Dare. Kotze then becomes the creator as well as the art object.

Marli Steyl makes use of 3D printing technology in her exhibition, Reminiscence of the Kunstekammer. The objects are manipulated virtually, as opposed to traditionally using clay and the artist's hands. The computer thus becomes the artist and Steyl takes on the role of curator, where she interprets the created objects and communicates them within a specific space. Anke Kuhn's Listenings explores several sound experiences. What is interesting about Kuhn's work is that she removes the 'viewers' visual experience. One interacts with the work by putting one's head inside wood boxes and listening to various sound recordings, thereby becoming submerged in darkness. Kuhn's work embodies Lucy Lippard's phrase: 'dematerialize the art object'.

Elaine O'Connell, The Repeated Sculpture, Mixed media installation

Just as Duchamp used the "ready-made" as an artwork, some of this year's students reappropriated everyday objects into conceptual art pieces. Melissa Laas reappropriates junk objects into three-dimensional 'sculptures', recreating objects such as gas containers to compressed cans into works of art. Joane Burger also appropriates every day objects by covering them with a porcelain slip and after kiln firing them, all that is left is the imprint of the objects on the porcelain and the original object is destroyed. Elaine O'Connell explores the authenticity of making art, specifically in repeated, mass-produced bodies of work. Her installation features concrete slabs, each individually representing her process of trial and error. Nina Kruger's Nurturing contingency gelatine installation is both repulses and enchants. As one walks into her exhibition space, one is met with a mouldy and stale smell. But these large musty slivers of golden gelatine 'sculptures' have an interesting ephemeral and sublime quality to them as the light is reflected through them. Kruger explores the materiality of gelatine as an art material and object despite the fragility of the objects that would probably disintergrate to the touch.

The exploration of space and place is also prevalent in this year's works. Celeste Theron searches for a new method to 'read the city' through her mapping of the outside world using discarded plastic bottles and nets, creating three-dimensional maps of waste. Matilda Engelblik makes use of maps to explore the experience of loss of an individual experiences connected to a specific space. She makes use of sculptures and drawings made with ceramics, pins, thread and wood and printed texts.

Various students explore femininity with specific reference to sexuality. Carla Markgraaf creates uncomfortable images in Vloek van die Feeks where tree knobs become representations of the female vagina. Markgraaf explores society's improper use of swear words, specifically words referencing female genitalia. Xenia Roos also explores female sexuality in Adventures in feminity through deformed breast-like clay sculptures and embroidery. In Underneath the skirts, the viewer is invited to look underneath the skirt-like shape. Inside, Roos explores various myths and beliefs regarding motherhood and pregnancy.

Tanya Klöpping, Withered Contagion I, Needle piercing of Fabriano

Other students focused more internally on more personal aspects. Maggie Botha created an plaster bandage installation entitled Healing the irretrievable where she recreates remembered spaces from her childhood and memories of her father. Tanya Klöpping breaks her works down as her own metaphorical exploration and struggle with disease. Klöpping's Withered Contagion I is pierced with different sized needles to the point where the material is fragile and deteriorated.

As the students move forward to become professional artists, this year's graduates have seen the subversion of the traditional conventions of what art entails and a preference for conceptual interpretation. Their works grapple with issues prevalent in society today such as identity and gender but one has to wonder at the limits that stretching and pushing the boundaries may have. Before we haphazardly dive in and attempt to rebel against the rules, artists must first understand them.


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