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Fraternizing with the Famous, Snow!, and Experimentation

Okay, so the title might be a little miss leading, I didn’t fraternize with a famous person but I did with famous peoples art. For an artist, for me anyway, this is better than meeting the artist…well, maybe not better, but just as good, I will explain further in a bit. I took a little break from writing these blog posts and the last one was just about the cold, so, I have a bit to catch up on.


Before I get into the art part of the post I have to tell you about my first experience in snow. Okay, again, not entirely true; when I was a teenager I did see snow once, on the ground, all mushy and melting, and it was great. I even tried to make a snow man and all that. But the other day I saw snow fall; I was outside and it was SNOWING! The moment I found out that I was coming on this residency in winter, I knew that it would be cold. Before I came I kept telling everyone, “as long as it snows, the cold will be worth it”. Every day, since I arrived, I have eagerly checked the weather; hoping to see a little snowflake symbol. I was excited, like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning. I had asked around a little and found out it doesn’t snow much in Bremen, so tried to not get my hopes up. But, I couldn’t help it. The one night the symbol appeared! The app showed snow at 2 am. It will snow at 2 am! You guessed it; I stayed up (working of course) and waited for the snow. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, that night, all I got was rain. It rains a lot here. But it finally happened and I didn’t have to staying awake until 2 in the morning. It snowed. It snowed during the day, on and off for about 2 days… and let me tell you, it was totally magical. Without a doubt the highlight of my trip. I wish I could find the words to describe what it’s like seeing it; seeing it fall, seeing everything slowly turning white. You see photos and it looks amazing, but, experiencing it for the first time… is just totally magical. It only snowed for those 2 days and is, apparently, very unlikely to snow again. Which is sad but ok, at least I experienced it.


So, I have been to a few more Galleries and museums. A good few openings, some good, some weird and some very mediocre. I have also tried to go to some and either not found the gallery or gotten to the door and decided not to go in, because I was late or the gallery was too full. At first I tried to go to pretty much every opening anyone told me about, which people seem to do. I kept seeing familiar faces, I don’t know how they do it. It all got a little too much and sometimes a little pointless. I never understand the opening speech and most times I don’t know anyone, and am a little socially challenged so I don’t speak to anyone anyway. So all I end up doing is not looking at the art properly because of people in the way and then moving on. But that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed some. I have seen some interesting, or rather very weird, performance art, that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t go to the opening. I have also met a handful of people. All of which has been nice but, for this post I will focus on two museums, and their exhibitions.

I finally managed to go back to the Focke-museum. Apparently I managed to miss the entire main museum when I went the 1st time. Not sure how I did that. This place is amazing. Rooms upon rooms of artifacts and art that are somehow connected to Bremen. They are beautifully displayed, behind glass, and very interestingly curated. Some sections have a whole scene set up so that you can imagine what life was like at a given period. They had every object imaginable; from house hold stuff like appliances, to furniture. They had art, models of the town, of ships, cabinets filled with hundreds of toys or guns, swords or crockery. The curation and preservation of all these artifacts, there were a lot, like thousands of artifacts, really gave you the sense that they valued their heritage and their history, from all eras. We have a few history/cultural museums in Durban, I have been to most of them, and they are incomparable. I am obviously, as my profession clearly indicates a lover of art and artifacts, but going to some of Durban’s history museums is often depressing and.. I will say it… boring. History can be boring to look at, especially when its neglected and full of dust. I have worked in/ been in contact with museums who don’t even know what’s in their collection or where the objects are. The people put in charge have no idea what proper collection management is, or if they do they simply don’t have the backing, both financial or emotional to properly take care of the pieces of history they have been put in charge of. What Focke-museum showed me was, not only does good collection management, preservation and curation matter for preserving history, but it is the difference of making it matter to people who have a professional interest in the subject and to making it matter to the general public. They did what I thought impossible, clever display and beautiful presentation removed the boring. It definitely made me want to reconsider turning into a hoarder, but I am going to try and bury that instinct.

The other museum I want to talk about is the Waserburg Museum. This museum is, to my understanding, Bremen’s main contemporary art museum. It’s pretty large as it spans about five floors, with each floor showing a different exhibition. The sizes of the rooms aren’t grand but, they are definitely on the larger side. This museum’s main exhibition titled: Proof of Life was and exhibition of contemporary artworks from a private collection. It was in this exhibition I fraternized with the famous. Their where artworks from the likes of Tracey Emin, John Isaac, Damien Hirst, and Jake & Dinos Chapman… and many, many more. It was a beautiful exhibition, actually all the exhibitions in this museum where amazing.

But let me quickly talk about what it’s like to be in the presence of famous art; It was totally exhilarating. To be honest, I did have some mixed emotions. For example, I am not a massive fan of Damien Hirst but, I understand why he is famous. I saw the work from across the room and knew that it was his before having read who the artists where. Seeing art that you have only seen in books or on the internet is pretty amazing. I am a strong believer that you can’t really understand and experience the work until you are standing before it (especially as it is often quite difficult to photograph work like mine, because it is often all white and very subtle). Standing before Hirst’s work was terribly exciting, standing in front of all the work in the exhibition was, because I finally got to truly experience it. Having said that, after I got over the excitement of being before the famous and really looked at the work of a hundred butterfly wings I was a little disappointed (I am not too surprised, like I said I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan to begin with); Mainly because I didn’t like how he resolved certain aspects of the work. Because of these ‘flaws’ I resented the work for using all those beautiful butterflies, which I seriously hope did not die just for this, which for me, made the work less than exceptional. I know, a little harsh, but one can’t help expecting perfection from the famous. I did like his wasp head work however. *Update, I got the artists wrong, the wasp Heads where not Hirst's they were Alastair Mackie's.

Their where a few works that did not disappoint though, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s work ‘The Tower of Babble’ was totally exceptional. I had watched a documentary on them and had seen how a work, possibly even this work, was made.

I loved it in the documentary and I love it even more in real life. Alastair Mackie’s work, ‘Complex Systems’, made from cuttlebone, subtle but so beautiful. Nadav Kender’s print was breath taking. Gavin Turk’s bronze sculptures where unbelievable, they looked like real objects, like an actual pillow, or sleeping bag, but were actually made of bronze; just awesome.

There were so many more, but I won’t talk about them. Here is the link to the exhibition to read a little bit about it, if you’re interested: Proof of life

New things

Time to chat a little about my work: during this residency I challenged myself to push my work a little. Step out of my comfort zone and try some new techniques. It may look like a small leap or even a none existent leap to some, but, I feel like I have made some progress. It is still paper, I didn’t completely jump ship, but I have started to try out new techniques, which seem (I hope) to be reasonably successful. One is with my sculptures, I have been trying out creating 3-dimentional shapes with strips of paper. Usually I use biggish flat pieces of paper that are cut out to form a specific part of the work, like a feather or a section of a vehicle. What I have done now is only use uniformed sized strips of paper, which are then modeled and shaped around a framework to create dimension. You may have seen this with the pig’s head in an earlier post about my work (link here). I took my inspiration from paper mache, but I generally hate paper mache, so I wanted to try to use a similar technique without losing the essence of the medium. I wanted to still see and experience the paper. My solution to this was to 1) cut equally sized lengths of paper, not torn bits often used in paper mache, and 2) to not dip the paper, or paint on, a glue mixture and paste it together. Instead, I apply glue to the back of each individual length of paper and carefully glue them on. This technique removes the layer of glue that would eventually encase the object created with paper mache techniques (I do know this dries and disappears, but it seems to smooth out the medium). 3) I chose to use a thicker paper than what I would use if I was truly paper macheing, to ensure each strip will cast a small shadow, adding to the texture and quality of the work. This was probably totally unnecessary for the concept, but really important to me aesthetically. The other thing I have done that is totally out of my comfort zone, and this is a big one for me as I have not done it in years, well at least not with the intention of displaying it, is incorporate drawing into my papercuts. Yip DRAWING. I have wanted to do this for…well, forever. But, having worked almost exclusively with paper for five years has made me feel very out of practice and self-conscious. But… I finally took the leap. I used a multi-liner pigment ink pen, and tried to create my drawings in a similar vein to that of my papercuts, only 2 tones, with harsh contrast. I am reasonably happy with the outcome, and am really enjoying the contrast of the hard-black ink with the subtle, fragile, papercuts.

I have been trying to bounce between 2-dimentional and 3-dimantional work, but for the sake of transporting all this work back home, I should probably focus a little more on my 2D work for the duration of my stay. But let’s see, I am not making any promises.

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