The Foster Gang, 2010. Vellum, bamboo, linen thread. Dimensions variable, five elements, tallest is 1 640 mm high.
The Foster Gang is a family of fossil cameras on spindly tripods. In their tight composition, they reference the gangland photographs of Detroit, Chicago and Johannesburg; men with hats, feet on the running boards of old Buicks as they stare at the camera with cold facial expressions. The title refers to William Robert Foster and his gang of ne’re-do-wells who killed five people, three of whom were policemen, in the course of a string of bank robberies on the Witwatersrand in 1914.
In this ‘re-making’ of little-known aspects of South Africa’s crime-laden history, several displacements have occurred. The perpetrators have been replaced by a palaeontological chimera. The ‘cameras’, instead of recording an enactment, replace the subjects of the photographer’s gaze with pure equipment. Furthermore, this equipment has undergone a taphonomic change to soft tissue (the vellum is made from goat skin). Since Allen Feldman notes that “narratological realism harbors a decidedly visual project of totalization”,[i] I am comfortable with the collapse of the tableau (vellum cameras, bamboo tripods and historical reference) into story telling − what Thembinkosi Goniwe has called masibaliselane.[ii]
Zebra Skin, 2012. 464 white shoe brushes (bristles partially removed and replaced with the bristles of 300 black shoe brushes). Height of each brush: 45 mm, W 2 200 mm, D 1 800 mm
Collection: Roger Jungblud, Cologne
Zebra Skin is a performative speech act. The title points to the worlds of trophies, domestic furnishings, and striped African equids.[i] (It is ‘performative’ in the sense that it is not truth-evaluable and that it ‘performs’, that is, it repudiates the 464 shoe brushes from which it is made). There is no other signifying ‘thing’ present in the work, other than shoe brushes. It is the re-arrangement of the bristles, and the alignment of the brushes that creates the impression of the form of an animal skin. The work can be read as an assault on realism, what Allen Feldman calls an “exposé of the depictive mechanisms” evident in faux documentary. He writes that Plato’s “correctness of the gaze, the concept of the resembling gaze that matches perception to what should be sighted” exposes (visual) realism as a cultural system.[ii]
[i] Belonging to the horse family.
[ii] Allen Feldman. 1998. Film review essays. In American Anthropologist, 100 (2). http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.uct.ac.za/stable/10.2307/683127. Accessed 9 May 2012.
Van Gogh’s Old Shoe Brush, 2012. The artist’s easel, bristles from white and black shoe brushes (removed and re-inserted into the easel). H 1 900 mm, W 650 mm, D 770 mm.
Van Gogh’s Old Shoe Brush is a reference to Derrida’s notion of pointure. Let’s look at the time-line (a form of pointing): Van Gogh paints a pair of peasant boots in 1886. This and another ‘boot painting’ are exhibited by the artist’s brother in Amsterdam, where they are seen by Martin Heidegger, the philosopher. He writes an essay called The Origin of the Work of Art (1935-7) paying special attention to the boots in Van Gogh’s painting − importantly, he deduces that the boots belonged to a peasant woman. The American art critic, Meyer Schapiro disputes this in his 1968 essay on Heidegger and Van Gogh, in which he says that the boots belonged to the artist himself. In 1978 Jacques Derrida published La Vérité en Peinture in which he argues that the boots did not form a pair, they were ‘dépareillés’ [odd], and in fact comprised two left boots. According to him, the undone lace of the right hand boot formed a ‘piege’ (noose-trap) and supplanted the artist’s signature that was now displaced to the upper left of the painting.[i]
[i] Pierre Delayin. 2006. Les Vieux Souliers de Van Gogh, disparates et dépareillés, nous laissent dire ce qu’ils sont. http://www.idixa.net/Pixa/pagixa-0601151407.html. Accessed 9 May 2012.
[ii] Michael Payne. 1992. Derrida, Heidegger and Van Gogh’s ‘old shoes’. In Textual Practice, 6(1):87. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09502369208582131. Accessed 9 May 2012.