Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

Art South Africa Volume 5: Issue 04

Pierre Fouché; Lawrence Lemoana; Ruth Sacks

left – right Pierre Fouché, The distance between us I, 2003, acrylic and pen on found cardboard puzzle, 135 x 195cm;
Pierre Fouché, The distance between us III, 2006, 13-count canvas, 9-stranded cotton thread, pen, pencil, marker, 105 x 107cm.

I first met Pierre Fouché 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.
The 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.
Fouché 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 angstridden 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 genderreversed 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 selfreflexive 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).

left – right Lawrence Lemaoana, The One, 2006, digital print on canvas, 42 x 29.7cm; Lawrence Lemaoana, Hierachy of Colour, 2006,
digital print on canvas, 84 x 118.8cm.

After my interview with Lawrence Lemaoana I had to look up a word I wasn’t sure about. “Rugby is really an enculturated sport,” he remarked in a vaguely northern suburbs accent – it turns out he went to high school in Highlands North. The web was possibly the wrong place to look for an answer, but then the dictionaries I had consulted weren’t exactly helpful: most entries for enculturation read, “see socialisation”. I eventually gave up when I ended up in a fundamentalist Christian website where God and Noam Chomsky where being quoted to explain how social norms are vested in young children. As it turned out, Lemaoana had been quite clear: “Rugby is like a religion.”
It is perhaps unusual that Lemaoana makes work about rugby. Unusual because here we have an articulate young black man interested in producing sly, ironic statements – using photomontage and sometimes decorated fabrics – to comment on your average whiteys preferred sport. “In the art world I face pressures to produce certain kinds of work,” he frankly counters. “Often I am asked to do watercolours, shacks and what not.” He squeezes out a sly laugh. “Then I present this.”
Issues of permissiveness aside, his interest in rugby is not entirely without autobiographical resonances. “I played provincial rugby for a while, for Highlands North, Soweto, and then at my highest point for the Gauteng Lions u/18 at Craven Week 2000,” he explains. “I played flank.”
Although slowly shedding its elitist (white) image, rugby is still marred by numerous problems as it lumbers into the non-racial present. Playing at a competitive level, it was unavoidable that Lemaoana found himself drawn into the realpolitik of the sport. Using his work Hierarchy of Colour (2006) as a reference point, he recalls a letter containing the names of players selected for the Lions. Some of the names were marked with an asterisk.
“It worked out to be all the black guys,” he clarifies. “At the bottom, the letter explained the quota of black players required. It made me question myself. If we are the players of colour what are the other guys? What are they called? What category do they fall into? At the time it wasn’t a sensitive issue, I just wanted to play, but when I started doing my art I questioned these issues.”
It is not just sport that informs Lemaoana’s practice. His exuberantly coloured photomontages and fabric works also take a sideswipe at South Africa’s exaggerated masculinity while expressing an interest in decoration and adornment. “Most of my work is layered,” he says of the photomontages. “You have perhaps four different layers that have been reduced.” Aside from photographing friends and landscape scenes in Mpumalanga, he also lifts images from the internet, botanical magazines and Shangaan fabrics. The outcome, in his photomontages, is “a fictional landscape, a dreamlike space, a constructed space”.
When I raise a point that his work might look vaguely kitsch, he simply smiles. Her points me to his work The Discussion (2005), a camp refashioning of Da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper. It won him the Absa L’Atelier’s Gerard Sekoto Award in 2005. “If you go to any home in Soweto, you will find the Da Vinci image.” Negotiating the “change of scenery between Soweto and the city” – an expansive statement latent with possibilities – he decided to revisit this image. The outcome recalls Yinka Shonibare filtered through the lens of a Catholic Tretchikoff. Somehow it works
Given his pointed commentary on rugby and its inelegant grappling with the issue of race, I ask him how it felt to win an art prize very consciously designed to address a quota imbalance in South African art. “Didn’t it make you feel like a player of colour?” I ask, using the title of his Alliance Française exhibition as a reference point.
“For me it was just another way of creating special categories,” he says. “It ties in with rugby so much. The standard line [in rugby] was that, ‘You have people that have been doing this for many years, generations and generations.’ Our argument was, ‘What about talent?’” I joke that maybe it is time black artists started entering competitions under the guise of being white – a refinement, if you will, of white artists doing the converse, Wayne Barker/Andrew Moletsi and, less charmingly, Beezy Bailey/Joyce Ntobe
“Maybe,” he chuckles. “You have to constantly negotiate your way.”

About Lawrence Lemaoana: Born in Johannesburg (1982), Lemaoana lived in Welkom before returning to Johannesburg to complete his schooling. A graduate of the Technikon of Witwatersrand, where he obtained a National Diploma in Fine Art (2003), he won the 2005 Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award. Currently enrolled at the University of Johannesburg where he is currently completing further studies towards a degree, Lemaoana will present an exhibition of new work at ABSA Gallery in Johannesburg in June. A travelling exhibition organised by Alliance Française will be in Johannesburg (July 19 – August 9) and Pretoria (August 16 – September 6).

Ruth Sacks, For You, 2007, die-cut corrugated cardboard, dimensions variable, close-up of installation at SMAC, Stellenbosch.
It’s been a whirlwind year and a bit for Ruth Sacks. After winning the 2006 Absa L’Atelier, she jetted off to the Canary Islands late last year to install a work on the inaugural Biennial of the Canaries. Not long afterwards, she found herself in Paris, at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, where she is presently on a six-month residency. To top it all, documentation of Don’t Panic (2005), her charmingly slight yet massively affirming skywrite installation, is on display at this year’s Venice Biennale. The work, which forms part of the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art, has been curated onto Fernando Alvim and Simon Njami’s group show Checklist, on display in the African Pavilion. In a country prone to tall poppy syndrome, Sacks’ achievements have prompted jealous backbiting. Art South Africa recontextualised some of these barbs, formulating them as questions. Sacks’ response offers a lucid elaboration of her practice.
Recent works like Don’t Panic (2005) and Artificial Moonlight (2006) are very ephemeral, as distinct from insubstantial. The latter reminds me of Martin Creed’s Work No.227: The lights going on and off (2000), which I saw installed on last year’s Berlin Biennale, Of Mice and Men, curated by Maurizio Cattelan. I mention this for a reason. Your practice seems to share certain affinities with both their conceptual strategies. Agree/disagree?
I agree with regards to specific works, but not their overall strategies as I understand them. But I like their sense of humour. The ambiguous message of Creed’s public intervention Everything is going to be all right (London, 2002) always makes me smile. I think Don’t Panic picks up on this. When I first started this body of work, I looked at Cattelan’s work from the 1990s quite a lot (especially Another Fucking Readymade from 1996) but not so much anymore. With Artificial Moonlight, my intervention was site-specific, as opposed to Creed’s Turner-prize-winning lights that can be placed within different contexts. When I attached very powerful, rotating, lights to the Los Lavaderos gallery building in Tenerife, I was referring to the latter’s history. There is a long tradition of a festival being held at that site every year for the Virgin of Fatima who is meant to have revealed herself to three children through a supernatural light show. Also, in keeping with the central theme of the biennial, the piece took on the greater context of the Canaries’ political situation through the gallery doors being locked as soon as the lights went on. The beams of light moved around like searchlights, but also gave the impression of some sort of event being advertised. When people came to see what was up, access to the interior of the building was barred.
In a related vein, you mentioned previously (in correspondence) that your focus is generally “on aspects of my personal life, especially insecurities, which I try to communicate through a variety of mediums”. Doreen Southwood has pursued a similar strategy, which I see some of your critics have picked up on. Are you at all an admirer of her work?
I would be interested to know which critics you’re referring to here. But I do like Doreen’s early works, specifically The Diver (2003) and Floating Trophies (2002). I enjoy the fact that we sometimes share similar urges to express neurotic tendencies while our mutual aesthetics and production mechanisms are very different. To me it seems gutsy that she displays so much about her personal life in a piece like Floating Trophies. In my own work, I tend to use visual decoys to try to gloss over any direct intimate details.
One criticism of Don’t Panic is that it’s all been done before: James Turrel, Sam Francis and Marinus Boezem. Personally, I don’t place much store in the fact that because someone else has done something it’s now proprietary. Artmaking would be far less well-off if such a narrow view of creativity became an orthodoxy. What though were your intentions when you made this work? And how do you respond to the ‘seen it all before’ attitude expressed by some in relation to your work?
Yves Klein would be annoyed he was not mentioned in that list. The man was convinced he had signed the back of the sky in an imaginary journey and said he hated birds because they made holes in what he believed to be his greatest artwork. I think it would be really tricky to make any work at all if artists weren’t allowed to experiment with mediums that had already been used. Entire traditions of oil painting, wood carving, etc, would have to be dismissed. Which would be a pity.
Similar to Don’t Panic, your work For You (2007) uses text to communicate an idea or thought. Unlike the former work, it is verifiably an object existing in space, a sculpture if you will. Can you speak about the relationship between the two works, also your motivation for making the latter?
The word “SORRY” is purposefully absent in the label so that the viewer has to work a little harder and walk around two-metre high stacks of cardboard letters in order to figure out what they spell from the shape of the forms and the knocked over “R”s. The idea was that an environment in which the word “sorry” is repeated over and over again is one which feels awkward and clumsy. So the apology accounts for the shoddy presentation as well as the lack of legibility.
I like using text pieces because a lot of the way in which I workrelies on textual support in some form. My process with these works is one I have often applied whereby I refer to my personal collection of phrases. These are taken from other artworks, novels, adverts, graffiti, conversations and pop songs. In the examples of For You and Don’t Panic, I came across a medium that I thought would suit a specific context and then sifted through my list in order to find suitable words that were applicable.
Your SMAC exhibition included an installation, in your words, “contrived to look as if 2.5 years worth of work had been done there”. I smiled when I saw two books by Walter Benjamin, both of which I own, one of which I’ve partially read, the other simply a hefty bookend (for now). So, did you read Benjamin? And which of the books that you haven’t read but displayed on the shelf would you read first? Why?
I have read Benjamin and referenced him in my real life MFA dissertation with a clear conscience. I don’t claim to have gotten through the whole of Arcades Project, though. What with currently being in Paris and all, this would be number one on my reading wish list. I did also attempt to plough through the second-hand books inside the fake covers which make up that piece. I hope I am remembering correctly here, but I think the fake Walter Benjamin covers concealed an illustrated boy’s annual and also a really trashy novel with a buxom lady in distress on the cover.
The piece on SMAC was only the bookshelf from a big installation in which I made of a fake studio that self-consciously presented the illusion of representing all the work I’d made in the last 2.5 years. There was a lot of fantasy fulfilment there too. For example, I included faked photographs of people who I would have liked to have been my friends on the pin board (like Richard Prince).
Two related questions, which I hope you’ll answer spontaneously. Does a bitchy remark on Artheat hurt? And what’s the difference between a bad review and bad publicity?
Bitchy comments always hurt. Whether they’re delivered in the school playground, a cocktail party or a blog, that’s their point. I believe they say more about the people making them than the topic of conversation. For that reason, I don’t read Artheat much and when I do I avoid the comments sections. I’ve had this policy since it started getting nasty. If someone isn’t prepared to put their name to a statement, or maintain some kind of fixed anonymous identity, then all the fun is gone from having a nice big art fight about it. On the other hand, if a review is well researched and written by someone whose work I respect, I take it seriously. Bad or good.

About Ruth Sacks: Port Elizabeth-born (1977) Sacks completed an Honours degree in Fine Art at the University of Cape Town (1999), where she is currently reading for a Masters of Fine Art degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. She has presented two solo shows at João Ferriera Gallery, When the Inside Stays Inside (2005) and Works in Wax and Plastic (2003). She has participated on numerous group shows, including GIMBERG/ NERF/ SACKS/ YOUNG (2007) at SMAC, Liste 06: The young art fair in Basel (2006) in Basel, and Check List (2007), part of 2007 Venice Biennale. She has been selected to participate on a three-month residency at the iaab International Exchange and Studio Programme, in Basel.

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