At the moment my work is very object orientated. I take photographs of favorite or meaningful objects from my collection, then use the photos to make the scraperboards. Most of the objects were discarded by either my mother, grandmother, or grand-aunts. They have no value other than either sentimental value, or that they remind me of some episode or person in my past.
Two things – a book, and a visit to a museum, made me appreciate the tradition of the display cabinet that stood in almost every family’s “front room” during the 19th and 20th century, and where a lot of my objects were displayed.
The book was given to me as Christmas present by my son-in-law Theuns, who shares a love of books with me. It is called “A History of the World in a 100 Objects”, written by the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor. According to the blurb: “The book takes a dramatically original approach to the history of humanity by using objects which previous civilizations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore the past.”
The exhibition at the National Cultural Historical Museum that I am referring to, also makes use of arbitrary objects. The staff members of this Pretoria Museum were given the opportunity to display some of the objects in their care that were part of collections donated to the museum, but that would possibly not normally have been included in their displays. Some of the objects came to the museum in interesting ways, like our famous mummy, that arrived strapped to the back of its owner riding a bicycle!
Objects that caught my attention were for instance the pair of sandals made by Mahatma Gandhi for General Jan Smuts, clearly worn very often, the showcase full of Japanese dolls associated with the girls’ and boy’s Festivals, and the Japanese lady’s shoes, those tiny ones only worn by ladies who had their feet tied up since childhood.
The museum calls their exhibit “Objects with Stories”, and reminded me so much of my own pieces, however humble, because these objects represent the history of a family, and reflect our cultural background, tell the stories of our disappointments, triumphs and hopes.
“Potent Pheromones can act as powerful aphrodisiacs …. for you!” an add for Luvessentials on the web. But, according to the Wikipedia entry there have been very few well-controlled scientific studies published that suggest the possibility of pheromones in humans. Pheromones were first discovered by a German Biologist Adolf Butenandt, while studying silkworms in 1959.
Sexual Attraction is only one of the many ways nature uses pheromones. Female Rabbits release a mammary pheromone to trigger nursing behavior in their babies; it cal trigger alarm bells in bees; dogs and cats “mark” their territory, etc.
In 1985 Patric Susskind wrote ‘n novel about a murderer who lived in France somewhere in the 1800’s. The boy had an uncannily good sense of smell, but no body odor. He finds work with a master-perfumer, learning to mix the most exquisite perfumes for their patrons. He murders his first girl without meaning too, but this leads him to his quest to mix the perfect love-perfume for himself by using his victim’s body odor for a perfume, with unexpected results.
This novel takes the sense of smell to a whole new level, and brings me back to our Lady and her unicorn. In this tapestry she is receiving a basket of flowers from her handmaiden. The monkey is smelling one of the flowers, that is why we know it is about smell. But keeping my meaning in mind, I am thinking, yes, though she will not attract her lover with pheromones, our sense of smell is important enough to feature in this drama. We have all experienced the way in which smell can play a role in the way we remember things – we associate objects, or situations with a certain smell. If her lover thinks of her every time he sees or smells a fresh flower, the lady has surely won him over!
This brings me back to the advert I mentioned in the beginning. Perfume. We have been inundated with adverts for an ever expanding market for perfumes. Has it always been this way? I have in my possession two old Huisgenoot magazines, one from 1937, and one from 1947, also a Woman’s Weekly from 1969 (my grandmother loved them) In all three I could only find two adverts for perfume, KWV eau de cologne for the bath, and Yardley English Lavender. Another reason for me to think that we are reverting to a Medieval sensibility?
I have not yet decided how to depict the sense of smell in an artwork, but am working on it.
The cluny museum in Paris is famous for its 6 tapestries about a Lady and a Unicorn. The tapistries were found (discovered) by the French dramatist, historian and archaeologist Prosper Merimee (he wrote the book Carmen, on which Bizet’s opera was based), and his friend George Sand, in the Chateau de Boussac in the Limosin district of France. The “official” interpretation of the tapistries is far too Victorian and moralistic to my taste, as it was manufactured in the 15th Century.
According to the Cluny, the lady is displaying the 5 senses – touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing, while in the last (first) panel she is divesting herself of earthly goods for a chaste life devoted to religion. Depicted on the panels are various animals, trees, objects and a background of mille fleurs (thousand flowers)typical of decoration in this style.
Besides the young lady the other central figure is that of the Unicorn. The unicorn is not a mythological character, but was always thought to be a natural, albeit extinct animal. There are even references to the unicorn in the Bible, and in Greek texts, where it was thought to come from India. In medieval writing the unicorn was thought to represent chaste love and faithful marriage (Petrarch). The animal had the power to determine whether a young girl was a virgin, and only a gentle and pensive maiden had the power to tame a unicorn, this being the way the animal was trapped -by using such a maiden as bait. It must be remembered that medieval man was illiterate, thus much more visually literate than we are. They understood and expected a painting, illustration, or stained glass window to tell its “story” with the use of symbols and metaphors that were objects from everyday life that they knew. This makes it very difficult for us to read today, as these meanings have been lost, but at the same time we have the opportunity to interpret them any way we wish!
I have taken the opportunity to describe my own interpretation:
I think that the tapestries are describing the “gentle and pensive maiden”. She who appreciates the virtues and value of the finer things in life – she enjoys music and can play an instrument, she has a taste for good food, loves flowers and fresh smells. She is clearly high-born, surrounded as she is with symbols, the dog, monkey, birds. She is beautiful and richly clothed. Could the tapestries be extolling her virtues to a prospective husband? Does the prospective husband see himself in the role of the wild, exotic unicorn? It is the last (first) tapestry that holds the key. She seems to be preparing to give up something precious, and I think it is her virginity.
I am currently working on ideas about my own interpretation of the panels, and have started by taking photographs of some of the found objects in my collection. These objects represent something of the popular culture of my and my mothers contemporaries, and thus their special value can be “read” by many people, though each one will have their own memories and own interpretations. I found a cute little shepherd girl made of clay, and she will be my “lady”. Other clay objects, like the dove, and the small bowl of liquorice allsorts, will possibly help to embroider more details as I draw and think. I will keep you posted with scrapers as and when I finish them.
Back in Good Old Pretoria, and I am asking myself the question: can there be life after Paris? The answer has to be no, but I am going to do my best to keep on communicating to the best of my ability, the little things that make being an artist in a South African town interesting and worth while. Nandi from the Arts Association phoned me to ask if it would be OK if she brought my exhibition forward to May, and after a moment’s hesitation I said yes, because, why prolong the agony if I have already put in so much work during my Paris stay, and am still so worked up and excited? So I will keep on posting updates on my work as well.
From snowy Paris, to a misty wet Mosselbaai beach, and just to give you an idea, two photos, one from the Paris window, and one from my Pretoria home, looking out on my next-door-neighbour, Oom Jakob, the President!
I have just about scraped the bottom of the gallery barrel, with just two artist worth mentioning. With only a week remaining of my sojourn here in Paris, I feel that I deserve to get to do “nothing”, that is, finish the work in the studio, and just walk around aimlessly for a few days.
Without my planning it this way, these two artists both represent fields in the art world that I (personally) have problems relating too.
At the Almine Rech gallery I saw Gavin Turk’s exhibition called “en face”. Turk is one of the British Artists of the 1990’s phenomena: “a wake of media interest provoked by an ambitious generation of artists with a flair for self-promotion”. (eg Damien Hirst and his shark preserved in formaldehyde) His work deals with the cult of personality (his own) and the construction of artistic myth. As usual, Marcel Duchamp is quoted as being the leading inspiration for this kind of work. The series “en face” exists of 72 clay busts of the artist himself. During an interactive performance, 72 members of the public were asked to transform the busts in a sort of “exquisite corps” game. See photograph. I cannot help but wonder how art history is going to see this stage in British Art say 100 years from now. Google the British Turner Prize winners and make up your own mind.
At the Chantal Crousel gallery I saw the work of German artist Isa Genzen called “Mona Iza”. She has introduced portraits of herself next to those of da Vinci, Carravagio, Durer. She used a variety of materials, media and technologies to make both sculptures and collage-paintings. I found it very difficult to “read” her work, but maybe my dislike for cheap industrial material has something to do with this.
Lastly I came across a lovely quote by another VERY irreverent, but very funny and thoughtful Belgian artist, Wim Delvoye (his work will be on show at the Maison Rouge next year) :”In Flemish, when people say “Its not art” that means it is not difficult to do”….. i rest my case.