NIROX is defined by its sense of place; its atmosphere; its deep embedded past and active present. It is not virtual reality but we value the reach and ingenuity of that world. Thus, the NIROX Magazine began with the 2020 re-launch of the NIROX website. In this we will give artists a platform, capture activities and experiences and tell our own and others’ stories.
CONVERSATIONS IN THE PARK
A Podcast Series by NIROX Foundation
 
DEEP CALLS UNTO DEEP: SIBUSISO ARTIS3 BRILLIANT WAGER.

Ashraf Jamal

If we concur with Lao Tzu that substance requires nothingness, a vessel its hollow, then why do we also declare that nature abhors a vacuum? Because we cannot cope with nothingness, despite knowing that it defines our very existence? Because we have replaced the void with God – some identifiable deity? Cynicism and fear underlie both Faith and Reason. We demand objective correlatives, things that fill a void or that mirror ourselves. What we term ‘Realism’ is as addled and hallucinatory as any other orthodoxy – as deceptive, even criminal. It is no accident that Hellenic culture – which defines Western thought – valorised the bas-relief and abhorred sculpture in the round. The world must be wholly seen, understood, and absorbed.

 

Abstraction, a return to the void, is a taste and inclination that defined art at the start yet has been denied as such. Suppression is age-old. It is our fear of inarticulacy, our damning of those who stutter and of forms that resist an acculturated norm, which is the greater reveal and tell. Our craving for continuous surfaces, explicable hinges, graspable interfaces, explains our love of design. No matter that houses, par excellence, require a void; no matter that we cannot live without it. Houses – walls, windows, doors – are cut out. A transactional fluency requires holes, portals, thresholds. The continuous line is an illusion. Breakages occur at every instant. Rupture is the language of the void – its tongue.

 

With this preamble, we can slowly turn to the paintings of Sibusiso ArtIs3. A young abstract artist who has radically broken the contemporary mould of black portraiture, the defining culture of the moment. Modern Western taste has persistently shackled black life to representation – the objectification and explication of the black body. This, despite the fact that African art profoundly understood abstraction as a portal to the divine long before the 500-year aberration of colonialism. By forcing black life – its mind, body, and soul – squarely into the Order of the Real we subject it to a controlling gaze. Unable to slip the hold of white power it remains forever visible, and thus damned.

The taste for Black portraiture today is the metastasised variant of this chokehold; ‘I CAN’T BREATHE!’ the definitive summation of the knee of power against the neck and chest of the black body. It is breath, or the lack thereof, which explains the asphyxiating domination of black portraiture within a controlling white optic. Black artists know this all too well – some cynically and honestly so, in the case of a recent song by Snoop Dog, Fabolous, and Dave East titled Make Some Money, shot in a gallery filled with black art. The struggle to construct the cool self-presence of the black body and display its control of the surface and ground which frames it is symptomatic of a deep neurosis – the fear of the void, of in-existence. After all, what we require in this revisionist moment is the representation of black power – the reclamation of its self-presence. And yet, despite this demand, one cannot ignore the creeping presence of the void. We see it in flattened neutral backdrops in Amy Sherald’s paintings, in the invasive colour blocking that cathects the bodies in Amoako Boafo’s paintings. A vacuum remains intrinsic to these artists’ works. Inversely, in the case of Kehinde Wiley’s paintings, it is the Rococo excesses of design, their ornamentality, which consumes the black bodies at their epicentre. The black subject remains either over- or under-articulated.

Sibusiso ArtIs3 experiences none of this neurosis. Refusing the market for black portraiture – a latter-day variant of the slave trade; a legitimate way to install the black subject in one’s home or the secular temple that is the public museum – Sibusiso ArtIs3 has decided to go ‘native’, to become feral, to shatter the chains that bind. His paintings resist objectification; they allow for nothingness to consume the picture plane. Colour and movement replace the stately presence of the black body – painted impeccably in a greyscale by Sherald or fingered into their impasto existence by Boafo. In some of Sibusiso ArtIs3's paintings the figure is discernible – unsurprising, given that all we make is anthropomorphic – however, in Sibusiso ArtIs3's case, the figure is but a ghosting, an apparition, an apparency. This artist’s decision is critical. He has chosen to disinvest himself in things – in the black body as a thing – and, thereby, liberate it from the Tyranny of the Real.

Sibu ArtIs3.png

Counter-intuitive and radical, Sibusiso ArtIs3's paintings on canvas and paper appeal to our desire to breach the void, to sup from an abyssal cup. In Sibusiso ArtIs3's paintings, we roam freely, uncensored. No regime of power underpins the work, no knowing nous. Abstract art, of course, has its precedent too, but unlike the Realism which predates it – or its calcified fallout, Pop Art – abstraction persistently strives for freedom. Its inchoate expression is a testimony to this. My own interest in abstraction in South Africa dates back a mere five years, when an art dealer asked me why Expressionism – German Expressionism in particular – had such a hold on South African artists. Frankly, I didn’t consider this the case, but then it clicked.

 

All autocratic societies demand rebellion. In South Africa, a country strangled by imperatives – most notably, punitively, and exhaustively racial – it is unsurprising that monochromaticism is the dominant aesthetic, why colour is shunned by Protestantism, why Magical Realism is denied a right, and why Realism – the dull metronomic rule of fact – defines our literary output. Expressionism, perceived as an existential threat, must therefore be routed out. But, of course, it cannot and will not succumb. Instead it finds ways to corrode the Reality Principle – a eugenic fakery – and holds fast to an audience that desires the wondrous, strange, and inexplicable. That South African abstract art should have its last international outing at the Venice Biennale in the 1950s is telling. It is figuration which has since become the rule, primarily the black body as a sign of protest and liberation. Abstraction, it seems, had no place in a resistance aesthetic. This is ideological nonsense.

 

There is no greater creative expression of freedom than abstraction. If it terrifies most artists, it is because it destroys the quattrocento system – the illusion of a depth of field which affords the viewer a central point from which to control and absorb the world. Realism supposes the ruling control of the eye; abstraction defies it. It either vanquishes and blinds or compels the eye to shift about erratically. At their best, Sibusiso ArtIs3's paintings do both. He refuses a point and place of control, surprises the eye with uncanny congregations of colour-line-energy, and yet, at the same time, they can also still the mind, arrive at some inscrutable grace. Sibusiso ArtIs3's paintings are pagan, animistic, wild, dystopian. One experiences a great relish for wonder. There is rarely a moment, I imagine, that the artist doubts himself. If he has freed himself and the viewer from over-assertion or neurotic certainty, he has also freed himself and the viewer of any latent anxiety. This is an astonishing achievement.

In the South African and global art firmament, Sibusiso ArtIs3 is a radical anomaly. Unlike Stompie Selibe, a great contemporary South African expressionist, Sibusiso ArtIs3 carries no pathology. His mark-making possesses zero despair. His colour palette, while wildly varied, possesses no patina of pain. If I am convinced of what will prove a stratospheric rise in the art world, it is because Sibusiso ArtIs3i is the rare possessor of what we yearn for most – liberty, grace, wonder, surprise, delight. His is an uncanny realm – inviting, labyrinthine, stuttering, devoid of any guiding map. That we tumble into his world, as though into a rabbit hole, reveals our willingness to yield, to go AWOL. This is because Sibusiso ArtIs3 is fearless, because he is irresistibly drawn to the void. His is a fathomless creative font. His mark-makings beckons us. It is because Sibusiso ArtIs3 refuses statement, because he will not be coded, that we trust him implicitly. In our current realm – policed, woke, righteous, and dull – he offers us well-being.

 

Far more can be gleaned from Sibusiso ArtIs3' s abstractions than from any Janus-faced black portrait. With Sibusiso ArtIs3, we can finally venture into what Frantz Fanon dubbed the zone of indistinction – a realm from which most have chosen to flee, opting instead to enshrine the literal suffering of the black body by turning it into a cause celeb, an ideological weapon, a site of resistance. While a powerful cause, it remains limited because the psyche and imagination that traverses this typology reveals a far more complex reality. For Fanon that radically complex and liberatory realm is a zone of occult instability. It is there, he says, in this inscrutable realm, that the people dwell, where the revolution comes from. It is this realm that Sibusiso ArtIs3 intuits. It is there that he beckons us. His is a call for communion – a deep that calls unto deep. 

Ashraf Jamal is a Cape Town-based academic, writer and cultural theorist. He is a Research Associate in the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg, and teaches in the Media Studies Programme at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town.

[ Sibusiso ArtIs3 will be in residence at NIROX until mid-December 2021 ]

MOVING IMAGES
DANAE STRATOU
Concentric (2019)
DANAE STRATOU
Concentric, Nirox Sculpture Park (2019)
Six videos were made for the permanent Water Installation Concentric by Danae Stratou at NIROX Sculpture Park, South Africa, 2019. Each of the videos takes place at a different time of day, from dusk till dawn.

Concentric is a kinetic water installation by Danae Stratou. This is the 1st edition of the work as a permanent installation located at Nirox Sculpture Park. The lake in which it is situated is approximately 100 metres in diameter and about 2 metres in depth at the central point.

Concentric utilises a simple, underwater device to turn a lake or reservoir into a subtle but powerful locus of perpetual concentric ripples. The work uses nature as a sculptural medium, expressed as waves that simultaneously radiate from the center and dissipate as they expand, marking rhythmic time through form and movement. The gentle intervention activates the landscape in a meditative manner. 

The work addresses the human connection with water and with our ancient magnetism/pull for perpetual motion. Viewers may sense Concentric’s presence and significance even before recognising it as an art work.

 

The artists’ intention is that the work will be installed in 7 different locations on the planet, their ripples extending mentally ad infinitum until they intersect at some imaginary level. Concentric combines local impact with a global dimension.

Through this work, Danae Stratou aims at raising awareness on the vital element of water in relation to the global climate change humanity is causing on Earth.

VALERIO BERRUTI
L'Africa è una bambina (2013)
 
PHOTO ESSAYS
WILLEM BOSHOFF
Druid Walk (2013)
ANTOINE DONZEAUD
Pacing with Richard (2017)
ERIC BOURRET
Cradle of Humankind - South Africa (2016)
 
INTERVIEWS
CLAUDIA KÜBLER
Dust and absence: Claudia Kübler contemplates deep time in the Cradle of Humankind
CLAUDIA KÜBLER
Dust and absence: Claudia Kübler contemplates deep time in the Cradle of Humankind
Residencies offer artists time and space for concentration and dedicated work away from the distractions and commitments of normal life. They provide the opportunity to experience a new environment, culture and creative scene and to foster engagement and connections between contexts. “The artist residency confronts you with your own understanding of art and culture,” says Zurich-based artist Claudia Kübler. A temporary “home” away from home, a residency can give new perspectives to what is most familiar. The “foreign sharpens the gaze,” Claudia tells us in this interview about her recent residency at the Nirox Foundation in the Cradle of Humankind outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
What were your initial impressions of South Africa and the area of Maropeng where you were based for your residency?

People are in a subtle, but constant state of alert or readiness when they move outside. At the same time, the people we encountered were extremely friendly, helpful and far more relaxed than many other people I met who live in safer conditions. In contrast, the Nirox Foundation in Maropeng, where we lived and worked, was a bubble: beautiful, safe and isolated, it seemed to have little to do with the everyday realities of this country. The nature of this region, which was right on our doorstep and only 45 minutes from the centre of Johannesburg, was extremely impressive. We met giraffes, zebras and antelopes on our walks and heard the jackals barking in the night. Maybe it was just the knowledge of the special significance of this region, but the area seemed soaked in history and there was an amazing peace and vastness in the landscape.

I think I have rarely experienced a country with such drastic contrasts, clearly visible social inequalities and resulting tensions. South Africa’s history, the collective trauma of colonialism and apartheid and a feeling of lurking potential danger were very present.
In what ways did your time in the Cradle of Humankind add to and influence your general interest in the phenomenon of time and especially supra-human timescales in your work?
In the laborious and somewhat pointless manual work of crushing stones, I often thought about speed. From a human perspective, the work was slow, inefficient and therefore somewhat questionable (someone once remarked if there wasn’t a machine that would do the job for me quickly!). From a geological perspective, my work was racy – erosion would take decades to achieve the same result.
Maybe it’s just the knowledge of what has been found in this region, but it puts things into perspective, as it so often does when you consider the grand geological scales. The conversations about a specifically South African understanding of time, but also the observation of how people handle, manage and shape time, made it clear to me once more how strongly I am influenced by a Western, linear, progressive and monochronic understanding of time. Time here was, according to my first impression, handled more fluidly and flexibly; understood closer to the periodic, cyclical, closer to a time as it appears in natural processes.

The huge desire to set a beginning, to determine the origin, to locate oneself as human beings in time and place, is exemplified in the self-definition of this region as the “cradle of humankind”. But it is, as so often, more complicated and complex. Far across the region, hominin fossils of the same age, or in some cases even older, have been found and it is not always clear to distinguish the human from other species. Donna Haraway’s quote that I read at the Origin Centre in Joburg resonates a lot with me: 

“The human story is never finished, neither in the direction of the future, nor of the past… The origin(…)is ever-receding, not only because new fossils are found and reconstructed, but also because the origin is precisely what can never really be found; it must remain a virtual point, ever reanimating the desire for the whole.”

In the “Cradle of Humankind”, I also often asked myself the question of what a non-human perspective of the concept of deep time carries. And even though this remains speculative, I am fascinated by the question of what a stone or termite mound’s perception of time would be.

Time here seemed also more interpenetrated and interwoven. This was visible to me, for example, in the care, awareness and relationship to the past, to the Ancestors.
Did you have any encounters with palaeontologists during your residency as hoped for? How did reflecting on our most distant past influence your perception of the present?
No, the multiple contacts came to nothing – my interest in their work seemed bigger than the other way round. But I did discover other leads, which was great. I came across the South African expression “now now” and was fascinated by its ambiguous use and elasticity. I asked various South Africans about the definition and context of the term and each time I got a slightly different answer. Inspired by this, I developed a drawing for a “now now” neon. I think I still haven’t fully understood the term. 
 
I have made this experience in another studio residency as well – you come across the unpredictable, the unexpected. I think that’s part of the magic of travelling – you discover – if you knew exactly what to expect and what would interest you in a place, maybe you wouldn’t need to go there at all.

As for the second part of the question: I believe that in the attempt to perceive deep time processes, on the one hand there is a sensitisation and appreciation for all possible life forms, existences, developments and conditions of this planet. On the other hand, of course, there is a relativisation of the human era (it is only so young!) and above all of our own existence in the face of such aeons of time. One becomes extremely small through these considerations. The danger then perhaps lies in the fact that in the awareness and foreshadow of supra-human timescales, one can lose courage and the drive to act – it might be hard to still find something important, worth fighting for.

The work you created while in residence replicates quasi-geomorphological processes of erosion and seems to engage with themes of temporality and permanence – being lost and found, displaced and located. Can you tell us more about You Are Here and the concept and creation of this work?
Yes, these are exactly the aspects you mention which interest me in the work. The installation You Are Here consists of red sedimentary rock that I found in the “Cradle of Humankind” and ground up by hand. With this stone powder I formed the icon of online maps, which claims “you are here”. The work is conceived of to be ephemeral and cyclical, it is distributed around the space by the visitors movement and reformed by me from time to time. This fragile baseline of the installation questions the claim of “You are here / This is here” and the accompanying longing for (self-)location. The work is heterochronous, the rock refers to and stores an immense past, the icon represents our digital age. Currently, the installation You Are Here is exhibited with the neon Now Now at Helmhaus Zurich, in the installation hic et nunc. Now Now does not mean now, but rather “soon”, it refers to the future, although this “soon” is not precisely defined. So “Here and now” erode, expand.

I was also interested in transferring a symbol of the virtual space into physical space, playing with size and orientation. Observing what it becomes, in the new context.

In classical sculpture production, the use of stone has an old tradition – it guarantees the sculpture a quasi-eternal life. In my work, the stone is chiselled until it becomes ephemeral. Is this an iconoclastic act? Perhaps just an interrogation of duration, presence and absence. From a stratigraphic point of view, any sign, no matter how carved in stone, is ephemeral. In my research I have read that the era of man inscribes itself rather through the pollen of monoculture farming, through the displacement and extinction of species than through urbanism, for example. Dust and absence will remain of us, what fragile witnesses of our era.

What role do you see residencies providing artists for their work and careers?
Please share with us some interesting encounters or experiences you had during your residency either personally or in relation to your work.
First and foremost, they allow for a time of concentration and dedication. The sometimes familiar, narrow context of home recedes into the background, making space for the new, the undiscovered. This can lead to new tracks in one’s practice, to new knowledge and sometimes to new friends. The foreign sharpens the gaze. I’m not sure how much you really understand about a country in such a short time, but you certainly return with a different view on your own homeland. That’s perhaps true of all big journeys. The artist residency confronts you with your own understanding of art and culture, expands your network and, in the best case, your horizon.

Due to the pandemic, the encounters were rather sparse. I greatly appreciated the exchange with the other artists in residence at Nirox and their practices. Seeing how the complex history of the country almost inevitably finds its way into their work. Another good encounter was a geologist, who happened to be passing by. He gave me valuable info about the stone I was grinding and assured me that it was not particularly precious in any way…

Do you imagine any future projects developing out of the research or experience you had during your residency? What do you think the will be the lasting impact of your time in the Cradle of Humankind?
This trip made me realise once again that I cannot travel light-heartedly to a country in the Southern hemisphere. Too often I asked myself: aren’t you just repeating another colonial gesture, isn’t this the same imposing attitude again? At the same time, I find it extremely important to face and deal with global conditions of the now, the past and present that have brought these about. While I did have some knowledge, spending time in South Africa allowed me to understand in a more direct, concrete and raw way how we are implicated. Besides the problematic and sad nature of this, I also see a potential of dialogue and renewal in it.

 

As far as my artistic work is concerned, I would be interested in further researching and discovering what constitutes this South African understanding of time, and perhaps in a next step, to seek out other understandings of time on the continent. A catalogue of criteria that I found, questionable at least to me, with the characteristics that make us human and distinguish us from all other species, also stuck in my mind.

But maybe it is also these instantaneous, sensual experiences in connection with nature that remain: the calls of the animals, the crazy beautiful light, the peace and vastness that spread inside when we climbed up to the small plateau of the nature reserve.

 
WORDS
ATHOL WILLIAMS
Lost in a Sculpture Park, Listening (2017)

There’s never silence here – the tap of sound is always running, till the tub overflows, the bathroom’s flooded, the whole house is submerged, music everywhere, rivering with purpose. The air 

is thick with short whistles, stuttering scratches, tap-tap-snap, the hiss of insects, the rush of a stream tumbling upon itself as it trips over stones, stabbing wood crackling and scatting. And the ubiquitous buzz, menacing, the sharp slap of hand on neck to rid myself of the itchy irritation. Lost, I watch

songs of trees run up their trunks to leaf-tips twenty meters into the turquoise sky. Leaves crash into neighbours prompted by the wind; perhaps it’s their anguished cries that we hear, green tongues wailing. Or perhaps tongues giggling with glee at the tickling of the wind under their arms. Every tree sings, sways to joyful beats that pulse through its roots, branches, its leaves shaking like tambourines, trunks strummed like strings. 

A breeze grabs a leaf by the hand, twirls her in exotic dance, unfurling her, twisting away in a move that ends with a kick, both laughing, other leaves gasping. Perhaps these leaves are ears through which the trees listen to symphonies in other worlds – the music we hear, overflowing drippings of their delight. 

The red-breasted cuckoo supposedly sings Piet my vrou, but I hear, quid pro quo. It sings quid pro quo as a reminder, repeating that we have a role in this extravaganza. Some say it is close to midnight, but the trees are standing in the centre of their shadows. There is still time … but the cuckoo’s urgency warns of a tipping point. 

II 

Three black dragonflies circle a golden female tirelessly bouncing above the water between grasses that reach up from galaxies on the pond floor. Two dive in but the third intercepts, some sort of quid pro quo with the female, perhaps? Soon one black and gold meet, forming a heart into tomorrow – flies like lions like men. 

Piet my vrou, again. I hear you my friend, I accept this feast; I vow not to destroy the table, I vow to maintain the stage, this theatre. A hadeda shrieks, a screech that could make a man’s balls shrink. 

III 

I see a dinosaur hiding behind a scantily-clad bush – it stands on one leg wearing a black bodysuit with hundreds of yellow slugs racing all over its face and large frame. Atop this mellow mound amalgamated black tubes pose as a wedding dress wrapped around the slender physique of a mythological maiden, branches for a torso. 

IV 

The willows droop as willows do, as lost souls do, leaves licking the skin of the pond, but I suspect their sadness is a ruse, sulking like brattish teens who have one short of everything but want it all. A blue swallow darts with a hushed swoosh over waterlilies floating on their backs, mouths wide open drinking the sun. I too am floating in this pond of voices that awake in me seeds that lay dormant for centuries. One moment I am a leaf, the next moment, the sun. 

A mountain tree rises through the grassy rug to stand a century tall. It has stood exactly here while millions fell for the sin of two wars. This colossus stood here doing what it has always done, speaking the truth of a tree. My palm to its trunk awakes wild roaring screams, 

tremors. Sshh I whisper like a breeze through its leaves, till it stills. 

I sigh as I rest on a blanket cast by the tree’s cosmic branches, creating a criss-cross pattern on the grass as it tangles with the sun. Lost in time I listen to the gathered choir of birds in tuxedos or patterned dresses, singing lilies, clapping hoppers, gurgling waters. Hiss the insects go, pinched pockets of sound pierce the air, locusts rubbing bits of wood. 

I ask the tree to hold my prayer and perhaps to echo it to another who comes here, listening. Even though we’re at war with ourselves there is hope, I hear among the decades of others’ prayers that echo into my palm. They too came here for whispers of wisdom, and  stored their treasures in the layers and folds of the tree’s memory. 

Still the menacing buzz buzzes, me swatting, scratching, irritated like there’s a child kicking the back of my seat in the theatre. Like doubt, bugs crouch on my hands, my legs, my feet; I swat in vain, but still I swat, like listening and finding only faint vibrations to chew on. Why does it matter that we name what we hear? We are obsessed with names, titles, labels, the postal codes of birds, email addresses of bugs, phone numbers for trees … but never get to know them. 

VI 

A hadeda flaps by, strangely silent. The quid pro quo bird too has stopped its urging, perhaps satisfied with my pledge. I’m holding hands with everything alive, this the reward for listening. An aurora