The work selected as finalists in this year’s edition of the Barclay’s L’Atelier spanned a wide range of media, and demonstrated innovation, talent and originality. Here are the 2015 Merit Award winners, set to be jetting their way to an exciting set of international residencies soon.
The winner of the 2015 Gerard Sekoto award, a three-month residency at La Cité internationale des Arts in Paris, is Natalie Moore. In a series of three photographs, entitled Once Upon a Time Jozi, Moore references three classic and well-known fairy tales – The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, and Cinderella – and uses these as a kind of cookie cutter, imposed onto the streets of Johannesburg with a surprising visual dissonance, and a resulting tragicomic humour. ‘I wanted the viewer to pick up the story in it… they’re very generic stories told; I wanted to take Africa and force it into that generic mould,’ says Moore. ‘The world is becoming a very small place, and I think people are becoming more mass-produced – this is what’s on social media; that’s what I must wear; that’s how I must talk. So this is talking to preserving identity.’
Moore works in a twist particular to this part of the world in her version of The Princess and the Pea, which captures a figure sleeping upon a bed raised off the floor using several cans of Koo peas, thus hinting at the Urban African myth of the malevolent Tokoloshe. ‘I think there are cultures in Africa that are not preserved, and they’re not known worldwide [in contrast to these fairy tales]… the Tokoloshe is not a very widely known tale; I think it’s quite unique to South Africa,’ she says.
Nelmarie Du Preez
Nelmarie Du Preez is the winner of a one-month residency with the Ampersand Foundation in New York. In To Stab, her winning 45-second single channel video, the artist performs a ‘trust exercise’ opposite a computerised robotic arm. With controlled jerks that sometimes deteriorate into random thrusts as the motor wears out, the robot arm stabs a knife between each of the artist’s widespread fingers.
‘The trust is extended by the fact that I am also the person who built and programmed the robot, so I also have to trust my own capabilities,’ says Du Preez. ‘Overall, my whole practise is very much about relationships, and trust in particular – what role trust plays in the way that we interact as humans, with each other but also with objects; and also how we innovate new technologies and how we end up trusting technology, in such an unconscious way. You get on an aeroplane, and you trust that it’s going to get you there safely… This work really speaks about that relationship, and how sometimes we end up trusting things more than we trust each other.’
This is one work in a series, in which she sees the robot as an individual performer in its own right, and the boundary between the two as unclear. The series is inspired in particular by the work of Marina Abramovic and Ulay – with To Stab referencing a performance in which Abramovic took on Ulays role following their break up. Du Preez completed a BA (Culture and Arts), followed by an Advanced Diploma in Visual Arts, both from Unisa, before undertaking a Masters in Computational Arts, and after that a Masters in Fine Arts, at Goldsmiths College in London.
Nina Kruger’s work, entitled Those Forgotten, comprises a collection of independently standing, knee high, crudely carved wooden figures. They are only barely identifiable as ‘figures’, due to the roughly shaped head that tops each minimally shaped branch. Most have nothing resembling limbs or other appendages; in the struggle between humanness and raw nature, nature is far stronger. ‘Nature is displayed to overwhelm man’, she writes.
Those Forgotten was created from the wood of a tree cut down because it made a mess of the driveway – a life discarded, in effect, for being inconvenient. Thus the work criticises man’s disregard for the environment, a recurring theme in the final works selected for the Barclays L’Atelier this year. Kruger conveys a silent anger in the form of these small, potent, throwaway figures, which stand clustered together in a frozen riot. In contrast, their small stature suggests a certain vulnerability; they are still easy to overlook, and the viewer must bend down to look at them closely.
Kruger is presently completing her final year BA(FA) at the University of Pretoria. Those Forgotten earns her a two-month residency at the Kunst:Raum Foundation on the Island of Sylt in Germany.
Hailing from Ghana, Gideon Appah graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, Ghana, in 2012. His mixed media work, entitled Worn Out Family, has won the young artist a three-month residency at the Bag Factory, here in Johannesburg, making Appah the first entrant to be awarded this new prize.
Part of a series, Worn Out Family sets out to embody the sexual and popular culture, along with its attendant anxiety, pleasure and ecstasy, that Appah perceives in the life of his surrounding society.
‘I work with concept, and I work with play,’ notes Appah. ‘I want the two of them to be mixed together.’ Drawing on the history of painting – going right back to cave paintings – and inspired by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Marcel Duchamp, (among others) Appah layers marks, stencilling, texts, verbal comments, and symbols taken from his immediate environment – ‘picked from the street’, as he says – with sexual imagery sourced partly from the Internet, that to Appah, represents a sexual culture ‘at its peak’ in Ghana. This he combines in a frenzied blend of paint and mixed materials, in his search for a gritty, unconstrained visual aesthetic informed by the urban decay and multi-layered activity of his surroundings.