Art

For the interior of the Cape Town Democracy Centre, Idasa invited artists to conceptualise ideas for works considering the site, the functionality of the space, the history of the building and the objectives of Idasa as an organization.

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In the Balance

Brendhan Dickerson (born 1968) and Petra Keinhorst (born 1965), 2009, bronze and stainless steel (photos: Niklas Zimmer).

A site-specific mobile sculpture which through its layered structure and balancing system addresses the central theme. Two objects which seek equilibrium, a scale and a mobile, have been combined as a metaphor speaking of fairness, representation, interdependence, transparency and accountability.

Suggestive of a complex, multi-tiered scale, In the Balance consists of two figurative mobiles counterbalancing one another from either end of a horizontal bar, reminiscent of a scale’s balancing bar.

Aligned to the theme of balance is that of dialogue, a participatory process: a balance of talking and listening, of discerning the weight of different opinions. Finding, through dialogue, an appropriate weighting for matters of concern, finding equilibrium in an arrangement of unequal parts.

The layered circular compositions in the sculpture are a forum, or two interacting forums, where the conversing figures reflect the participatory role each individual can play in a democracy. The fine-tuned equilibrium of the mobile speaks to the fragility of concord, the fluidity and mutability of dialogue, to the precariousness of understanding.

The scale pans in which the individual figures stand are intended to imply that each participant’s contribution adds weight to the debate and is subject to evaluation. The figurative mobile is employed as a metaphor for systems of representation where the weight of popular support – the figures waiting or queuing on the lowest bar – counterbalance and thereby literally support the figures on the ascending bars. Each of the figures is different from the next and is reflective of contemporary diversity.

The mobility of the work and the interdependence of the linked component parts for the equilibrium achieved by the whole are an evocation of similar qualities in society’s structures. Moving, the sculpture is imbued with an organic, living quality, suggestive perhaps of a mutable, evolving discourse.

While political systems are seldom, if ever, in perfect equilibrium, the symmetry of the sculpture could be seen as an ideal, an objective. In the Balance is in sympathy with the symmetry of the surrounding architecture, in particular the vaulted chamber in which it hangs. Its complexity invites you, the viewer, to participate with interpretation.

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Arch

Ed Young

Ed Young and the flying Archbishop

This review by Lloyd Pollock appeared in The South African Art Times on Friday 21 May 2010

Ed Young, the maestro of the tempete in the tasse de the, enjoys world-wide fame in inner city Cape Town. This wunderkind of the provincial avant-garde generally refrains from art-making. His stance is posited on the proposition that the art world has become the art object, and that painting and sculpture are thus redundant. The role of the artist is not to do, but to be. This premise underlies Ed’s heavily sponsored appearances at international art events where all he does is grace the social whirl with his presence.

Pic:Heidi, Moral Fibre (www.moralfibre.co.za)

I dismissed Ed as a purveyor of nugatory ‘So What!’ conceptual gestures and pranks, so imagine my surprise when Robert Mulder of the elegant new 6 Spin Street Restaurant, showed my party the riveting sculpture IDASA (which occupies the same impressive Sir Herbert Baker building on Church Square) commissioned from Ed. The brief was to embody the democratic ethos, and Ed rose to the challenge by portraying Archbishop Tutu life-size in his cerise soutane and full archiepiscopal regalia.

My spellbound guests reacted with gasps of delighted surprise for the bishop is airborne and portrayed in full flight. In his evangelic zeal to defend our imperiled democracy, he has crashed through a window and swooped to a chandelier which he grasps firmly between clenched fists. Struck by the momentum of his flight, the chandelier reels askew as does the Archbishop’s skull-cap. One would have to go back to Anton von Wouw’s iconic President Kruger in Exile to find anything of comparable imaginative oomph.

Pic:Heidi, Moral Fibre (www.moralfibre.co.za)

This is a momentary vision of our Archbishop Emeritus as an eruption of righteous wrath and old Testament ire; Tutu, the Christian soldier; Tutu the rabble-rouser for Christ; Tutu, the passionate interventionist, appearing out of the ether, like an avenging angel, to safeguard justice and the ethic of disclosure and transparency.

The aerial figure condenses many virile inspirations into one rousing effigy that superbly conveys the Bishop’s flinty integrity, his fierce loathing of iniquity and readiness to speak out and stand up and be counted. Ed’s sources are legion. Superman underlies his concept as do the allusions to manly sport – the rugby tackle, the pole vaulting athlete and the Olympic diver – which suffuse the sculpture with testosterone. Another inspiration stems from old master imagery of angels: the angel staying the hand of Abraham and saving Isaac, and the vengeful angels pouring out of the sky to torture the dammed in Gustave Dore’s illustrations to Dante’s Inferno and Michelangelo and many other Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque artists’ visions of the Last Judgment.

The chandelier is a status symbol emblematic of luxury. It represents the ill-gotten gains of ANC embezzlement and the party’s taste for flashy ostentation, and the archbishop appears to be wresting it from the ceiling in an access of ire akin to that of El Greco’s Christ chasing the moneychangers from the temple. However the chandelier can also be read as a symbol of the light of divine truth which impels Tutu to root out corruption. His expression is one of gleeful triumph, and the infectious zest with which he accomplishes his task awakes recollections of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘bright young things’ impudently swinging on chandeliers at coming-out balls in the twenties.

What takes one’s breath away is the sheer audacity with which Ed has jettisoned stock formulas, and made his Archbishop re-act with raging intensity to the space. Eminent dignitaries are normally elevated above the common rung of humanity and any emotional extremity. They are portrayed in splendid isolation from their surroundings, standing erect, motionless and perfectly composed on their plinths where they exude a stodgy dignity and worth. Ed obviously realized that such an elitist conception would fly in the face of Tutu’s humility and humanity, and that a Twining’s breakfast blend of mildness and benignity, could never capture his irascible volatility. One has only to compare Ed’s Tutu with the many lifeless, po-faced, bronze Mandela’s that litter the civic spaces of this country, to appreciate the revolutionary nature of his approach.

Pic: Charles Shephard, SAE Institute Cape Town

The work is site-specific and much of its impact derives from its setting in a small council chamber of decorous classical format. Pilasters support a coffered ceiling, and fenestration of triple Venetian windows runs right round three walls in the upper reaches of the room where opaque panes occlude the outside world. The institutional severity of the architecture, and the hermetically sealed-off space, immediately invoke notions of the corridors of power, the conclave in camera, clandestinity, concealment and hush-hush.

A white on gray text-work reading: “BE PATIENT. We only have a few things to fix” accompanies the sculpture Patience is the one virtue one does not readily associate with the Archbishop, and the words surely represent the utterance of government attempting to silence Tutu rather than anything he may have said. The meaning is far from benign for the word ‘fix’ reeks of the spin-doctor and the cover-up.

No doubt there will be a chorus of protest complaining that the sculpture is irreverent and lacks the dignitas appropriate to a great man of the cloth. However to argue thus, is to ignore the persuasive force of Ed’s vision, and the uninhibited character of Tutu who comports himself with rambunctious devil-may-care. This gives him a human face, and explains why this man sans peur et sans reproche commands the love of the nation, although not that of the body politic.

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