Taiwan Residency

I was lucky enough to be invited to an environmental artists’ residency in rural Taiwan in April/May 2012 the Cheng Long Wetland Park. For me this was a fantastic opportunity to travel, to spend 25 days (almost) uninterruptedly making art, to work on a large scale, to meet friendly, wonderful people, to exchange ideas with international artists, to use new an natural materials. So exciting!

Returning to Cape Town I’ve been asked ‘what was the most exciting part?’ :
Friendly, fun-loving Taiwanese

Tuo and Aharn, my ‘terrible twin’ volunteers helped with everything from breakfast to translation - and designed many of the works in the Circle!
But let’s not talk about stinky tofu or karioke…

The care with which the project is planned and run
Yes, this is an example of ‘bottom-up’ interventions, where local people put THEIR issues on the table and guide the curator and actually choose which artists are invited… This is thanks largely to the partnership between curator Jane Ingram Allen and administrator Chao-Mei Wang.

Making BIG work entirely from found natural materials…

Details of the ‘Hungry Monster’, part of my ‘Circle of Life’ - forms chasing one another in a feeding frenzy. The messages on the bamboo strips were written by visitors on the Open Days.

Fasacinating details of everyday life
See my pics of manhole covers on facebook.

The Cheng Long Wetland Park Art Residency, now in its 3rd year, is supported by local government, Taiwan Forestry Bureau (the nature reserves authority) and the Kuan Shu environmental education foundation. The Wetland Park is 9 years old – a small area of what used to be fertile rice paddies and pineapple fields, now waterlogged and salt. The whole western coastal plain of Taiwan is sinking at a rate of about 3” a year, due to too much water being pumped from aquifers for industry. Most farmers have resorted to mariculture: oyster-, clam- and fish-farming. The wetland park consists of 100 hectares set aside for migrating birds. Ongoing monitoring and education at the local primary school is supplemented by projects such as the Art Residency.

Artists are invited to submit proposals that will highlight environmental messages. 6 proposals were selected for this year’s residency, by the curator, project administrators and interested villagers. The artworks were made on-site and installed in the village and park. Artists are encouraged to use recycled materials where possible, and to interact with the villagers.

Artists from India (Prahsant Jogdand) and SA (Janet Ranson) made works entirely from natural materials (bamboo plus found driftwood, banana leaves, palm fronds, etc), which we installed in the wetlands proper. Swiss/Japanese artists Markus Wernli and Madoka Yashitomi made a huge mural on the highway overpass – from clam shells. American Isabelle Garbani used plastic carrier bags to crochet hundreds of leaves to make a kudzu vine engulfing a house: ‘Invasive Species’. Yenting Hsu recorded local industries to make a sound work, and Yvonne Chiu used stories generated by local children in an animation. Both the Taiwanese artists focused on rural tradidtions, which are dying as the area becomes poorer and depolulated.

The project focuses attention on local environmental issues in a non-didactic way: which gives me hope that art can make a difference to communities AND to the planet.

Help the Rural Child Wall

Just completed a great collaboration! Wonderful Art Club children from Kirstenhof Primary decided to help other kids by painting a magical artwork on the boundary wall outside the Help The Rural Child Bookshop in Retreat. Thanks Nicky for getting us going, Glenda for the bright idea of inviting the school, and Heather for some very welcome cups of tea.

First the children drew their ideas for the mural, helped by teacher Claire Larkin. Lots of helping hands, rainbows, growing trees, books, the joy of reading, fantasy - and even a dinosaur… we agreed to simplify the design a little!

Kind friends - thanks Conor, Helen, PJ and Cha, and the unsuspecting Marmoran expert - cleared a shelf in their garages and supplied leftover paints in all sorts of interesting shades. Thanks also to De Tijger Paints who generously gave us LITRES of paint! Staff from Help the Rural Child helped prepare the wall - thanks Raymond, Denzel and Glenda - and I plotted in a gradient background as quickly as I could, with a view to eking out the bright blue paint.

In 2 days we were (almost) ready to welcome groups of eager children to work on 3 successive afternoons. They set to, painting decorative hands, exploding stars, dancing figures a field of magical flowers and lively leaves all over the great growing Tree of Life. Wendy Hitchcock lent us some overalls and assistance, and Alex Kaczmarek helped me touch up a few details, expecially the lettering. Well done, all of us!


What it’s like to be ‘Ingekleur’?

‘Ingekleur’(‘coloured-in’) offers a range of responses and interesting works to suit different tastes. My own taste is for those which deal with local issues and more. I’ll mention my two favourites in the hope that I can spark a little debate…
I think the show is worth a visit just to meet Robyn Cedras’s female figure. At the opening, she (the life-size sculpture of a dainty diminutive but well-padded woman) sat on the floor, quite lost among the legs of the crowd. I find her expression inscrutable.
Ayesha Price’s embroidered tray-cloth below speaks volumes to me : such a quiet, witty piece. I really admire work that is both conceptually and visually satisfying.

What’s Happening in Stellenbosch?

I’ve been thinking how pleasant Stellenbosch is… what a life, strolling across town to see the open-air sculptures, catch a poetry reading and see the art galleries.

It’s worth the trip from slightly edgier, scruffier, windier Cape Town, just to stand in awe in front of Paul Emsley’s exquisite drawings (not to mention the startlingly lit landscapes). Humbling! Go see for yourself.
Paul Emsley retrospective

And while you’re in S’bos, be sure to taste some of that good wine. And pop in to the US Gallery in Dorp Street to see the latest Humanearth exhibiiton: First Materials. It’s a thought-provoking selection by curator Nastasha Daniels. I’m delighted to be part of it!


Wot is Assemblage?

A few weeks ago, my friend Dave asked if I could recommend any South African assemblage artists. Dave is influenced by the alternative universes of American Michael DeMeng.

So I looked up a few of my personal favourites, and thought about how we all use assemblage techniques for different ends.

For instance, I’ve used real pins in this work Influencing the Laws of the Universe to create rhythm over a painted ground. I kept the piece deliberately small, as I’d been musing on personal habits. It amuses me that even the most ‘scientific’ of us humans continues to practice superstions such as picking up pins, because we’re just made that way.

Here’s a link to Robert Boyd’s blog with a few useful points:

I like collecting other people’s rubbish because I can acquire cool stuff virtually free. I’ve had to make up some fairly strict rules for myself, such as keeping toy collections on the dashboard and not filling the entire car, and a really important one: if I don’t use it within the year, it has to go back into circulation!