Pierre Fouché engages in part with issues of sexuality but does not want his work labelled for any specific audience, writes Kim Gurney. Pierre Fouché is Art South Africa’s fifth Bright Young Thing for 2007
I first met last year during an open studios night at Greatmore in Woodstock, Cape Town. He was creating a small tapestry, laboriously weaving threads on a self-constructed loom. Another curious visitor declared herself more intrigued by the reverse side of the work, with its cobwebs of interlocked threads, than with the neat and tidy surface image. Her astute observation cut to the core of this artist’s work, which is essentially about undermining the fixity of how we choose to see the world – in particular, the false sense of assurance that domestic portrait photography conveys. Top: Pierre Fouché in his studios at Greatmore in Woodstock, Cape Town, May 2007 Photo Mario TodeschiniThe artist’s exploration moves beyond self-absorption, however. Fouché twists personal subject matter to make a political point. He exposes the underbelly of relations we prefer to delete from memory in favour of a cohesive whitewashed whole. And he manages to achieve this rather surreptitiously: one of his recent portraits of himself and his boyfriend now apparently hangs in a family restaurant in London – much to the artist’s satisfaction.This work formed part of his latest solo at Bell-Roberts, The Distance Between Us. Fouché digitally manipulated everyday portraits of himself and loved ones into patterns that served as templates, subsequently translated through a labour of love tinged with madness into obsessively created works comprised of thousands of dice, puzzle pieces or interwoven threads. The net effect is a quirky subversion of normativity: an image at once both familiar and disturbing. His handcrafted aesthetic also contradicts a contemporary taste for mass-produced objects, outsourced labour and a general convenience culture –perhaps simultaneously tapping into an increasing counter-trend averse to these very same notions. Holiday with the voices of Swedish Radio, 2007 11 sheets of coloured craft-paperFouché is aware that the rigorous production systems to which he subjects his artworks are, like snapshots, another attempt at cropping reality into conveniently managed packages. These strategies inevitably fail at some point or expose an inherent weakness in their artificially imposed formulae. These quirks are accepted as part of the artwork’s reading – as the Greatmore viewer enamoured of the untidy threads discovered. Fouché adds: “It’s almost as if the works carry the scars of their forced creation.”His latest piece, conducted as part of the fringe event of CAPE 07, extended this engagement with snapshots to the realm of performance. He turned his Observatory studio space into an impromptu stage while mouthing the words to a string of angst-ridden songs about desire, love and loss – themes that recur in his work. According to the artist, pop songs function like snapshots but in a more visceral way. Much of his creative output seems a similar sort of emotional exorcism. Fouché engages in part with issues of sexuality but does not want his work labelled for any specific audience: “I am really trying to question all kinds of categorisation … There is never an instance where labelling fits perfectly; there is always an individual that doesn’t fit and in a sense we are all those individuals.” It is therefore apt that Fouché tends to favour mediums often associated with femininity; he is busy swotting up on crochet. “I like working with traditionally gender-bound material,” he says, “and staking my own place in that… just to mess it up a bit.” He adds: “Popular culture in the 90s had such a nice promise of ambiguity in that men were represented in much more feminised and gender-reversed roles… But it seems we are returning to more hyper, more traditional, gender roles where men are expected to be ‘real’ men again, maybe as the result of a crisis in masculinity, instead of just embracing equality. It’s sad and scary to see even within the gay community how suddenly there is such internalised homophobia.” By March, the artist was already having a busy year that included hanging a tapestry work at ABSA, participating in a Cape Town Festival group show and working on a private commission with sights set on a year-end exhibition 2008. He recently gave up tertiary teaching – at the College of Cape Town – to devote himself full-time to artmaking.Kim Gurney is a Cape Town-based freelance writer and news editor Art South Africa About Pierre Fouche: Born in 1978, Fouche last year completed a Masters in Fine Art (cum laude) at Stellenbosch University. His production spans a number of distinctive media, including embroidery materials, pencil, craft paper and re-contextualised found objects (most memorably, 6000 resin dice), “His work is self-reflexive and quiet and very, very labour intensive,” observes art historian Lize van Robbroeck. The Distance Between Us (2006), his most recent solo exhibition, held at Bell-Roberts Contemporary, followed on his 2005 one-man show, Excluded and Unsaid. He has participated numerous group shows, including the District Six Public Sculpture Festival (1997), Softserve (1999), Sex & Kultuur Queer Arts Festival (2004) and Paper never lies (2005).