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‘We don’t exist on this planet in isolation’ | A Q&A with Sasol New Signatures winner Andrea du Plessis

In a period of global upheaval, South African artists have continued to innovate. This much is clear from the 2021 Sasol New Signatures art competition, the winners of which produced engaging and inventive works of art that serve as poetic and enduring reflections on a post-pandemic world.

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis
2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner, Andrea du Plessis, Paloceae Lupantozoa

This year, artist Andrea du Plessis won the coveted title of overall winner for her mixed media work Paloceae Lupantozoa. The work is inspired by Martin Johnson Heade’s Orchids and Hummingbirds series and consists of a painting created through the traditional oil on canvas technique that can also be experienced as a multi-sensory animated video.

In the below Q&A, we hear from Du Plessis, about her winning work, her process and preferred mediums, and her resilience as an artist.

Congratulations on being announced as one of the 7 winners in the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2021. Tell us what your reaction was when you received the news.

Thank you! I was very excited. It still feels unreal.

Is this the first time you have entered the competition?

No. This is the fourth time I’ve entered, but the first time my work was selected.

Andrea du Plessis, 2021 Sasol New Signatures Award Winner

Tell us a little about your artistic journey up until the point of entering Sasol New Signatures 2021?  

I was born in Pretoria, where I spent most of my childhood and early youth. After finishing school, I enrolled for a degree in Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria, but was unable to finish due to financial pressures and clinical depression. For about seven years after dropping out I had very little interest in making art. During this time I decided to travel to the UK, where I lived and worked for four and a half years. Whilst in the UK, I enrolled for a diploma in Art Therapy and slowly got back into art making. I returned to South Africa (Pretoria) in 2010 and later decided to enrol for a degree in Multimedia Digital Visual Arts at UNISA to pursue my art career. In 2015 I moved to Cape Town, where I am now living and working from my studio as a freelance designer, illustrator, and multimedia artist.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career as an artist to date?

Mother Nature. 

Tell us a little about why you created the piece you submitted? 

Paloceae Lupantozoa is part of a body of work called Supernature, and was created in 2020 as part of my final year project for UNISA. The series is a personal response to being in lockdown which triggered a deep questioning and exploration of our complex relationship with nature in an augmented age, and how our access to the natural world has changed over the centuries. The work aims to create a link between art historical representations of nature (eighteenth century, Romantic landscape painting) and contemporary representations of nature (new media such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence). The work is multi-faceted but in short, I wanted to work with the notion of the sublime (experienced through nature and technology) and interconnectedness (in the both the natural world and digital media).  

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis

How have you navigated the past 18 months of this pandemic? Has it affected the way you work or the messaging in your work?

The Covid-19 pandemic and being in lockdown has genuinely triggered within me a deep reverence for nature’s power and intelligence. I’m privileged to have had a garden to hang out in during lockdown and this really became a little sanctuary as I began noticing all the insects and birds going about their day. I was on my own during lockdown and I really experienced this as a kind of uncomfortable but necessary metamorphosis for which I am now grateful. I enjoyed the stillness and seeing nature restore itself as we came to a standstill. My research for this project also involved looking into biomimicry and I was reminded of the fact that nature is the ultimate engineer. As a ‘superior species’ we have so much more to learn and discover. We don’t exist on this planet in isolation. Everything is interconnected. That is the message I want to bring through with my work.

Tell us about your preferred mediums and why you choose to work with them. 

I like to describe myself as a multidisciplinary artist because I enjoy working with a very wide range of traditional (painting, sculpture, drawing) and new media (video art, augmented reality and AI generated art). I find it difficult to choose and specialise in only one medium. I need variety, and each medium carries its own meaning conceptually. My process is usually very layered and I like to combine several types of media into something new. I’m particularly interested in combining traditional and new media because of the unique results that can be achieved.

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis
2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner, Andrea du Plessis, Paloceae Lupantozoa

When people view your work, what reaction are you hoping to create?

I want to transport the audience to a familiar, yet alien, flower paradise. I hope this work captures and conveys the sublime and nostalgic beauty, wonder, and intrigue I feel when I’m in nature.

What are you currently working on? What is next for you as an artist?                           

At the moment I’m researching flower anatomy, metaphysics and virtual reality. Hopefully 2022 will offer new possibilities to produce and exhibit my work.

Which South African artists do you admire and why?  

I have always admired Diane Victor and William Kentridge. They are both masters at their craft and powerful visual storytellers. As a new media artist I’m also inspired by the work of Carly Whitaker and Tegan Bristow – both incredibly innovative digital artists.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Find out more about the 2021 Sasol New Signatures winners here.

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