‘Like giving birth’ tagline is a bit laboured

With the curator of London’s ­Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist, in attendance at the Design Indaba in Cape Town this year, members of the local art industry will be like participants in a high-school band hoping to be spotted.

But alas, trust an advertising agency to reduce an entire industry to a cliché. “Creating art is like giving birth” is the Absa L’Atelier tagline conceived by Jupiter Drawing Room.

Apart from underlining Absa’s campaign calling for entries to this year’s competition, the concept is driving an exhibition at the Design Indaba Expo from March 2 to 4. This will be Oberist’s first impression of South African art.

Generic dolls or “art children” were issued to 24 previous entrants of the Absa L’Atelier art competition to turn into artworks. Participants include 2009 winner Stephen Rosin and 2008 Gerard Sekoto prize-­winner Retha Ferguson.

“Now in its 27th year, the question arose how [Absa] can better leverage Absa L’Atelier, but also how to provide a platform for artists,” said Paul ­Bayliss, Absa art and museum curator.

Unique approaches
In addition, Bayliss said the exhibition was intended as a way for Absa to support the artists, the merit ­winners and the finalists who enter the competition without winning.

“What I have found so rewarding is how each artist has approached the doll differently. Each is so unique,” said Bayliss, who took over the Absa art portfolio in January last year.

The portfolio includes the Absa L’Atelier competition, the Absa art gallery and corporate collections, and Absa Money Museum.

To this writer, comparing the creating of art to giving birth smacks of pre-modernist religious romanticism and teenage art angst. It seems to wipe out a century’s worth of critical thinking regarding the subjectivity, interpretation, conceptualism and agency of art.

At this rate, the high-school band will only play at its own prom, if it is lucky.

However, misgivings regarding corporate support of the arts aside, some artists have risen above the occasion to raise the conceptual bar.

“The world is overpopulated as it is, so I destroyed [the dolls] and turned them into an assisted minimalist sculpture of sorts, highlighting the fact that the world actually needs less, not more,” said Jozi artist MJ Turpin, better known as one half of electronica outfit MTkidu.

Turpin’s shattered art children appear to be shards of abandoned, discarded porcelain marked by bright enamel and varnish. Titled A Piece is Greater than the Whole, the three works speak simultaneously of excess, waste and emptiness.

Artistic intention
Cape Town artist Colijn Strijdom also critiques the premise of artistic inspiration in his work, Roughly 20m of Sequins. It refers to Marcel Duchamp’s Mile of String, which involved the artist covering a gallery space in string. Duchamp believed that not only inspiration but also the act of translating an idea into reality relied more on chance than artistic intention.

Said Strijdom: “I liked the interactive potential the extra-long sequin limbs offer the curator and the audience by being able to cover, decorate and claim space — and the possibility of annoying the other artists by invading their territory.”

The dolls are on exhibition at the Absa Gallery stand at the Design Indaba Expo, which takes place from March 2 to 4 at the Cape Town International Conventional Centre. The dolls will all be on sale for up to R4?000, with the proceeds going to the artists

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Nadine Botha
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