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Absa L’Atelier winners present TRIPE

WORDS Karen Brusch (founder of the Free State Art Collective)

An ethereal, rubber environment with threads and tendrils has entered the Absa building. This otherworldly, sensory circumstance, which perhaps in one moment is a kelp forest of seaweed and anemones, the next an umbilical cord searching for its ‘mother’, or a hidden inner bodily microcosm. Is this unworldliness the sea, the land, a microscopic universe, an intestinal tract, inner or outer? What are these creatures – of body, of water, of earth? Are we enveloped in a hidden world – one we wish to look or walk away from, and pretend that it doesn’t exist?

Absa art gallery L'Atelier exhibition TRIPE
Pauline Gutter, Elrie Joubert, Liberty Battson

Three consecutive winners of the annual and prestigious Absa L’Atelier Art Competition (2012-2014) have combined their individually unique conceptual and artistic skills, to create an immersive experience from familiar material. Elrie Joubert, Pauline Gutter and Liberty Battson will present TRIPE at Absa Gallery from 28 July 2019 at 11:00 – 15 September 2019.
     This is a feast, a spectacle of excess, a smorgasbord of delicacies offered to the viewer for consumption. Thing is, it’s rubber and polyurethane waste from one manufacturing plant in Johannesburg. A singular factory that discards this material daily in all manner of colour, size and consistency. What the visitor to this installation is witnessing is two week’s worth of rubber waste. Imagine a month, a year, 10 manufacturing plants, 100. Think of what can be achieved by working with these manufacturers to transform this infinite waste into wonders?
     The viewer is asked to digest the experience. The smell that emits from the rubber emphasises the wretchedness and unpalatability of being confronted with such excessive waste. The rubber cannot go anywhere. It cannot be recycled. The consumer-driven marketing machine behind this manufacturing plant is fully complicit in the clogging of Earth’s arteries.

Absa art gallery L'Atelier exhibition TRIPE

We have reached a turning point. The mountainous excess normally hidden from view is now exposed and we recoil with disgust. This is a delicatessen of gluttonous devastation, on a platter for all to see in its unfathomable beauty. The artists open discourse, not only showing us this repugnant truth but offer possibilities. 
     But the knotting, weaving, contorting, stretching, de-constructing and re-imagining of the material is done with great dexterity and skill, providing the viewer with a magnificent focal point that at once intrigues, attracts and tantalises. The mastery of this material that cascades, erupts and spills forth from the moment one enters the Absa building, is a celebration of the magic of contemporary imagination.
     Rubber and polyurethane are transformed through creative labour and rendered ‘beautiful’. This beauty, however, exists in ambiguity and produces an uncanny and duplicitous effect. In his essay Das Unheimliche (The Uncanny, 1919), Sigmund Freud speaks of the unhomely that comes home – the dis-ease that co-exists with the safe and familiar. TRIPE shows this contradiction and thereby conscientises the viewer. The installation dwells in the twilight, taking contradiction and tension right into the core of its being. It forcefully embodies the duality of disquieting attraction. One is drawn to the work as a creative construction and a display of incredible ingenuity. But at the same time, the omnipresence of the rubber is repellent. And herein lies the monstrous tragedy – this uber world of excess is actually just waste. TRIPE.

Absa art gallery L'Atelier exhibition TRIPE

Community engagement
TRIPE, with the support of Absa and H&M Technologies engaged in two community projects:
     The first engagement occurred between the Central University of Technology and the Kopano Centre in Bloemfontein. As part of the Extended Curriculum Programme at CUT, 50 students were taught to combine their artistic ability, with technical skill and creative innovation; in the process of taking a design from artistic conception to completion. The created by-product was shared with the Kopano Centre as part of a community engagement outreach to cultivate a possible prospect. Rubber was chosen as the key medium to develop and hone these skills. Over 100 people were galvanised to set this project in motion.
     TRIPE then travelled to the remote South East Free State to the Gelukwaarts Farm School and reached out to the 250 enthusiastic learners.  Eager hands were grabbing this rare opportunity with overwhelming joy to create and upcycle.

Absa L’Atelier Winner 2012
Elrie Joubert is a Bloemfontein-based visual artist and obsessive collector of miniature natural objects. Joubert completed her BA Fine Arts (cum laude for painting) at the University of the Free State in 2006, and went on to receive her MA (Fine Arts) in 2010 from the same institution.
     Joubert won the Absa L’Atelier in 2012 and as part of her prize, received a six-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, France in 2013. She has also participated in various group exhibitions, notably The inquisitive mind: science and imagination (2014) at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein, and Small Objects (2013) with artist Brian Collier in New York, USA. Joubert had her first solo exhibition in 2014, entitled For Keep’s Sake, followed by From Crane Flies to Cameos in 2016. Joubert is currently working as a Lecturer at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein.

Absa art gallery L'Atelier exhibition TRIPE

Absa L’Atelier Winner 2013
The Free State-based South African painter and intermedia artist, Pauline Gutter, was born in 1980. She obtained her BA Fine Arts (cum laude for painting) at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein. She was awarded Honours Colours in Arts and Culture from the same university. She is the winner of the prestigious 2013 Absa L’Atelier and was also awarded the Helgaard Steyn Award for painting in 2011. In 2012 she received the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans Award.
     Gutter’s work forms part of the following museum and corporate collections: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (France), Luciano Benetton Collection (Italy), Oliewenhuis Art Museum, University of Stellenbosch, North-West University, University of the Free State, William Humphreys permanent collection, MTN Foundation, Standard Bank, Sanlam, ABSA Corporate Collection, ATKV Collection.

Absa L’Atelier Winner 2014
Liberty Battson is a conceptual artist born and raised in Benoni, South Africa. She obtained her BA Fine Arts (cum laude) for her work with automotive paint on canvas in 2013 from the University of Pretoria.
     Battson has most notably won the 2014 Absa L’Atelier competition, is a 2013 Sasol New Signatures Merit Award winner and a merit award recipient for painting in the 2012 Thami Mnyele Fine Arts competition.
Battson was a featured artist at the 2015 and 2017 KKNK National Arts Festival in Oudtshoorn and 2016 Clover Aardklop National Arts Festival in Potchefstroom. Battson featured as part of the Cool Capital initiative at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, has participated in numerous group exhibitions and is solely represented by Everard Read/CIRCA since 2016 where her debut solo travelled from The Absa Gallery to CIRCA Cape Town.
Battson’s artworks are in the Telkom, Sasol, Ellerman House, Absa, University of Pretoria, Nando’s (UK) and Spier Wine corporate collections as well as numerous private collections. She participated in a two-month residency in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts (2013), awarded by the University of Pretoria, and returned for an additional six months as part of her Absa L’Atelier award in 2015. Battson curated a three-week residency at Mas de Gravieres, Provence, France, in 2019, awarded by the organisation.

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