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.
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.
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 ]
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.