In December 2014 my project on the South African TRC was finished.
January 2015 I planned to spend in Cape Town, partly to thank those people I contacted relating my TRC project, partly, I wanted to do some art work there.
I asked Willie Bester, if he would let me work in his "factory" for two weeks. My intention was, to take up sculpture work again.
I did some sculptures about 25 years ago and resumed this work last summer, when I wanted to build a fountain for Regina’s terrace.
building sculptures is of same interest to me, as producing stop motion videos, both areas of art, expanding painting to a wider platform, an expansion I very much felt pressure for (see later: freedom of objective).
Willie Bester immediately agreed and invited me to his place.
This was the beginning of a highly interesting learning process.
Later Willie told me of his youth, visiting an artist outside the township, where he lived. That he went to another world, which was forbidden for him. I felt also as leaving my used to environment and go to another place to do art. It is this childlike looking for experience somewhere outside, maybe also adventure, however by far not as dramatic and dangerous as at the times of Willies young years.
We started with a visit to a huge scrap yard. Searching a scrap yard became the important habit for every second or third day. Just to look for interesting forms of old iron. Sometimes iron is folded by compressing machines or caterpillars into more condensed pieces and these folds are exciting to interpret.
At home, we placed all acquisitions on the floor for interpretation and getting ideas, what to build with them.
I was very much attracted by a completely devastated typewriter, immediately associating with the dreadful Charlie Hebdo drama in Paris, only a few days before.
I thought to build a very small inclined perspectivish table on 1,50 m high legs. Cracked into the mashine would be a paper with a mohammed caricature.
But as this was a rather clear visioned project I let it to the end of my stay, as I will be always able to build it. In fact, there was no time at the end to build it. But maybe it was not so attractive to me, as it would be one of this million lamento art pieces, I do not find very exciting.
Instead I started on Monday 19th of January, to puzzle around with the different other iron parts, most of them fascinated me by their wild folding as well as their perforations, shedding beautiful shades onto the floor or the back wall.
I started to hang and position two of these parts in a way; they would form an interesting dynamic together. It turned out, that the upper part was folded very much like an angel’s wing and the lower part very much like a floating piece of cotton or cloth.
The next step would bet the face of the angel.
When I started to draw a face on a piece of cardboard, in order to be cut out in steel, the first „intervention“ of Willie came in and he suggested a head put together from a construction part of a car and a piece of a romantic fence.
I was reminded on Picasso’s cubist paintings and thought to reverse this attempt of making the third dimension two-dimensional.
There was a hand or an arm necessary to this body, but I was fascinated to leave out the arm and mounted a hand directly in front of the face. The absence of the arm is a fantastic freedom, an empty space for fantasy. Never build the complete form. Only mark at its important edges, so it can be identified. All the rest has to be completed by the observer himself, without being represented in the physical sculpture.
I asked Willie, to let me do it this way, in order that I get my feet on the floor and to get a feeling, what kind my work would be here. Next time I will follow his suggestions. And Willie helped me fixing the face according to my sketches. There was no reluctance and I am surprised even now, when I write down this process, that I could go ahead, without any problems of cooperation whatsoever. What a rare experience!
At this point of the building process of the sculpture, I thought it is finished. To add more pieces onto it would spoil the fascination of the parts already there. Then Willie came in a second time and added a second wing to the angel.
This was also very interesting, as in many cases I do not want to continue to do more to a piece, because I think I will spoil it. But you really have to try, if there is a chance for a higher „density of expression“ and in this case it definitely was the case. At last we put it on a tripod, so it can stand on its own.
Ideally in this case, when we work without any objective, we have the option at the end to give a name, an interpretation ex post to it:
I was remembered on a previous painting I did, called „Angelus Novus“.
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
This text by Walter Benjamin has impressed me very much: And I thought there is a similar angel a metaphor for our society today, also blown backwards into the future, but instead of seeing what he has done, he holds his hand in front of his eyes, not to see.
The painting I did within the series „Hidden Images Vienna 1938 and Berlin 1933“
The sculpture which „unfolded“ now at Willie Besters place may be called the „White Angel“, an angel, representing the white people, not able or not willing to see.
Already when working on the angel, I started to play around with other pieces. Also because often it is not clear whether these pieces fit together separately better, or should be combined with the existing sculpture.
This way a new sculpture came into existence.
I thought the sheer affluence of this piece of hair could be contrasted with a very reduced Matisse like face.
Then Willie came and did some changes:
I thought the face now is too brutal, but it is a matter of perspective. It also can be interpreted as African Expressionism. Just the way African masks influenced Cubism, this face is set up by the same means. But changes went on, and Willie
took other pieces instead of my hair proposition, transforming my European female head into an African, with a turban instead.
As I found the turban too horizontal, I suggested some additional piece on top.
Picasso and his Cubist colleagues let themselves been influenced from African masks. What a richness art can develop by mixing languages!
These were the first two pieces built together with Willie and looking back, it was so important, to design it only out of abstract beauty of forms. The content or what is interpreted as content came later, if at all.
This was the one most interesting experience of this work period for me, to do work fully absent from intention or objective. Only „playing around“! For me this was such an important experience, because in painting I always want to express something. The painting is only good, if it is able to mobilize a feeling I want to express. It is a means of communication. There are moments of coincidence, when unexpected feelings come up and this is extremely interesting, but in the usual way of designing a picture, these coincidences are rather failures or mistakes, how welcomed they may be.
In the next pieces to come, I gave this freedom up again and became intentional. And it is important to observe, that this is the reason, why all the pieces to come, had less artistic quality than this first unintentional one.
Back to intention:
It is difficult to stay in South Africa, specifically in Cape Town, not to discuss the social and political impact. Having studied urbanism and practiced it professionally for many years, my thinking got more and more absorbed from the vicious circle produced in the townships. The TRC was a historic achievement to change society for democracy and racial mix. But the townships are left overs from apartheid and they are reinforcing machinery for poverty, crime, rape, drugs and HIV. They are the showcase for whites of the failure of the black people and the wheel of history is turned backwards. Worse so townships are completely isolated and nobody cares about them.
What could be the role of art in this case? Black people have been completely destroyed as family. Men had to live in sleeping shacks, while women and children had to stay in the homelands, hundreds of miles away. Very often family members did not know of each other because of these separations. On the other hand, if nothing counts, for a young growing up man or woman a „hero“ in the family would be important to identify with. It is important for our personality’s strength to „integrate“ all the strong and bravour parts of the parents, as Sigmund Freud says.
Why couldn’t art develop a tool kit, to write and document the families’ heroes’ history? This became my new objective.
I started with my own family to show what I meant.
The workplace of my father
Although he had quite a big „salon“ within the apartment my family stayed in, his real workplace was a very small table, with only a small scale for diamonds and a loupe on it. There he used to welcome traders of diamonds from Belgium and Israel and they were talking for hours on soccer. While they were talking he was looking to the diamonds with his loupe and separated different qualities of stones and sizes out of the order the traders brought to him. At the end of their soccer conversation he had selected those diamonds he thought he could sell at a good price and offered a very low price for the whole package he has selected. While the trader refused the price offered, they continued to discuss soccer. In some miraculous way they in some point in time, after hours of soccer debate, they agreed. I was a very small boy at that time and the only words I remembered were „und wu is die geld?“ said by the trader, when he was going to leave. Obviously my father was talking so intensively on soccer with him, that he almost „forgot“ to give the money.
This small space and equipment was all my father needed and it was as if he rather was on the move all time.
There is a mutual interest between Willie and me, to learn about our families’ history. Willie told me a lot about the atrocities, black people of his family had to suffer under apartheid and was very interested, to hear about my father´s fate in Auschwitz. He told me, that his father was a fearless man, who did not care too much, to go to prison, instead of giving in too fast to discriminatory police action. I could not say my father was fearless. He would have been eliminated immediately. „He always was walking with his shoulders along the wall“.
I was fascinated by the quality of fearlessness. How do you represent fearlessness in a sculpture? I wanted to discuss our father’s history by means of a sculpture of fearlessness.
At first I thought of a face with very expressive teeth. But this was too aggressive to me. I soon arrived at the metaphor of acrobats high in the air. This has something to do with ballet and aesthetic body movement, but still it has to be performed without fear and this fearlessness has to be seen in the bodies.
And again it was necessary to create a face for each of the two acrobats.
When I observed Willie working in his „factory“ he was like Hephaestus, handling his fire tools, hammering the red glowing iron and often I had the feeling his role in art is a fighter. A fighter against all the atrocities and humiliation he had to suffer from in his youth. So it became obvious, that the fearlessness of the acrobats was not Willies father´s fearlessness. It was rather my personal identification with my father, when he developed keen ideas of ever new jobs to do.
This research could go on further and further and what is fascinating is, that it starts from talking with words, but it continues with built forms, which then are questioned: do they correspond to my feelings, or do they express something else.
Still busy with my township ideas, I asked Willie, what Mandela would have done, to solve the problem of townships. His answer was that Mandela would have set up a coalition of strong companies to help for a solution. He always went directly into the problem and got those people regardless their color or attitude together, to solve the problem.
If we in Europe do so hard with the integration of Moslem people into our society, shouldn’t we do the same? Why don’t we cooperate with Muslim artists and build on our common grounds of humiliation and extinction. Common wounds become common grounds.
Again I find myself in the role of „learning from South Africa“.
What is the story, binding all this? For me it is the mystery of male friendship. I never experienced male friendship without disappointment. Paradoxically in our case it could be the woundedness of both of us in history, which produced a common basis. But in addition to that I always felt a high degree of sensitivity and responsibility, to respect and not to hurt the other.
Cape Town January 19th – January 30th 2015