Sasol New Signatures 2015

Nelmarie du Preez’s To Shout is the winner of this year’s Sasol New Signatures competition, with Mareli Janse van Rensburg’s The Final Moments of Immanuel Sithole earning her second place. Both works use contemporary technology to question aspects of modern living.
Nelmarie du Preez is the winner of this year’s Sasol New Signatures competition. Her video To Shout shows an exchange between herself and a digital, alter-ego. As the artist shouts progressively louder at the screen on which ‘he’ appears. Her alter ego, ‘Gui’ (aka graphical user interface), responds to the frequency of her voice, moving and shouting back. ‘The computer listens to my voice and then transposes it a few tones lower, so it sounds a bit more male,’ she explains. ‘As the shouting gets louder, the digital version starts to break down, to pixelate, and the voice starts to distort – up until the end when we both start to cough.’
To Shout tackles the role that technology increasingly plays in our relationships with one another, ‘it has become this mediator between us,’ says du Preez. ‘This is also a reflection on the influence of social media, and how we create these different personas, curate ourselves on Facebook and present ourselves as someone, and the kinds of conflict that can occur in that process. I’m interested in the way that we innovate new technologies and how that influences the way that we as humans communicate with each other; the complex things that happen in that space.’
The work takes its starting point from a 1970s performance by Marina Abramovic and Ulay entitled AAA-AAA. ‘ I drew a lot of inspiration from their artistic relationship,’ says du Preez. ‘They also had a very intimate relationship [that made me think of] the recent film Her, which brings into question what the future holds for our relationship to technology, and artificial intelligence and all these things. What are we capable of doing?’
Du Preez’s career is rapidly moving from strength to strength: this is her second major award in 2015, and she recently completed a residency in London, where she will have a solo show later this year. Her win earned her R100 000 and the chance to hold a solo exhibition next year in Pretoria.
Runner-up Mareli Janse van Rensburg is a final year student at Stellenbosch University. Her work, The Final Moments of Immanuel Sithole comprises a series of three digital prints – ‘selfies’ of Janse van Rensburg wearing a mask woven from strips cut from a newspaper image: that of Sithole being stabbed in the street during the recent xenophobic attacks. The image, she says ‘hurt me very deeply… I wove this mask for myself… and I placed it on my head, as a way of protecting myself from the media.’
Her work reflects on the difficulties of engaging with the media: ignore it, and you don’t know what’s going on in the world, but view it, and you risk being damaged by the horrors it reveals. ‘The title of the news article was “The Final Moments of Immanuel Sithole”. This is his death, and we’re making it such a public spectacle. So where do you draw the line between what’s personal and a horrific experience and what’s newsworthy?’ she asks. ‘These images can scar you so deeply, but everyone has put on this mask to protect themselves from them. It doesn’t make an impact on you if you see a man dying any more, because it is so commonplace.’
She is quick to point out the irony implicit in that she is criticising the ‘media’, ‘but I take a selfie of myself too, using digital media and everything.’
‘The timing is right for the winning works,’ says judge and National Competition Chairman Peter Binsbergen, who notes that in their use of such contemporary media, artists are questioning ‘just how accessible an artwork is, here in a gallery… Reach is becoming important, and speed, and target market. Because when I take a cellphone and put a selfie on Facebook, and tag it to my buddies, immediately 300 people see it. Whether they really engage with it or not, they’ve seen it. When I put an artwork in an art gallery, how long does it take before 300 people have seen it?’
‘These works stand as monuments to the signs of our times; they stand as historic documentation,’ he says.

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