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The merging of traditional and digital at Sasol New Signatures 2015

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on September 7, 2015.

Nelmarie du Preez, to shout (2013), single-channel video with sound, 71 seconds

As society moves away from the traditional mediums we have come to understand as art and becomes increasingly embedded within the digital, tools such as computers, smartphones, tablets and the internet have become a new form of 'medium' or 'mode' of creativity. The winning works of this year's Sasol New Signatures competition display these changes within the visual arts. Peter Binsbergen, acclaimed artist, judge and National Competition Chairman, stated that the winning works are visual communciative tools that have become multisensoral.

The winning works ask questions of where and how their works are displayed and presented. Video works can exist in real-time within a gallery or museum as well as beyond the physical into the digital realm. Thirty-year old performance and computational artist, Nelmarie du Preez from Pretoria, was announced as the winner of the 2015 Sasol New Signatures art competition for her work titled to shout. Du Preez received a cash prize of R100 000 and the right to hold a solo exhibition in 2016. to shout is a 'collaborative' artwork depicting an interaction between du Preez and 'GUI' (graphic user interface), as her digital alter-ego or male-other. Du Preez is depicted screaming the word "aaa" at different intensities to which GUI responds in a lower register voice and distortion.

Du Preez started programming a few years ago and holds a MA in Computational Arts from the Goldsmiths University in London. She uses computer technology through filering different algorithms to create performative artworks in a unique blend of creativity and science. The work is part of a performance collective series between the artist and the computer / robot creating a relationship between Du Preez and technology.

Du Preez began using herself, through her body and identity, to implicate herself in her work. She uses the technology to reflect within or against herself. In to shout, she questions how social media has become a performance where we curate our lives and create a persona that we display to the world. This creates a variety of tensions and conflicts which Du Preez captures in the work.

Mareli Janse van Rensburg, The final moments of Immanuel Sithole, Photography (54 x 102cm)

Contemporary artists are progressively making use of new modes of visual communication as a meaning making tools. Modes such as the popular use of selfies. Runner-up and winner of R25 000 cash prize, Mareli Janse van Rensburg's work, The final moments of Immanuel Sithole depicts a 'selfie' of Van Rensburg wearing a weaved mask she created from photographs of Immanuel Sithole, a Mozambican national, who was killed in xenophobia attacks in South Africa.

Van Rensburg has a particular interest in the visual representation of the media and her work questions the media's contentious use of the photographs of Sithole's death on the front page of newspapers and the insensitive mediazation of death. She states that society is becoming more and more indifferent towards the media where we further distance ourselves from the images they depict. Van Rensburg's work questions the fine line between popular and harmless media such as selfies and sensationalist and provocative images used by the media.

Binsbergen described the winning works as breaking the mould of traditional media. The five Merit Award winners were Colleen Winter, Sethembile Msezane, Bronwyn Katz, Nazeerah Jacub, and Rory Emmett who each received R10 000. Though five of the finalists made use of digital media, Jacub's work uses traditional paint but in a different and unique format in the depiction of a prayer mat and Winter's conceptual piece,PUPA still makes use of craftmanship and skill in its delicate layering of paper and placement of needles.

View a list of all the finalists here.

The traditional and digital have become increasingly mixed. The finalists of 2015 Sasol New Signatures competition raises the dichotomy betweeen visual art as something displayed on the wall and technology as patterns of communication and meaning making. Would one view technology as a threat, challenge or incorporation into what visual art is? Binsbergen states that the "winning works are a process of combining modes [or media] and how they are stacked and put together to perform a certain multisensory task which draws a direct viewer response and when the viewer is engaged, working with and understanding the work, then contemporary issues are validated". Has the winning works transcended art for pure decoration and become communicative tools that can exist in a multiple realms outside of just the museum space?

The exhibition of the Top 100 selected works as well as Balcomb's solo exhibition are open from 3 September - 4 October 2015 at the Pretoria Art Museum. Exhibiting alongside the winning works is 2014 Sasol New Signatures winner Elizabeth Balcomb's first solo exhibition, entitled 'Auguries of Innocence'. The exhibition is inspired by William Blake's poem with the same title and explores the human body participating in the world under regimes of life and death.


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