Category Archives: Zimbabwe

The Unfulfilled Promise: An extraordinary student work

“Poor is the student that does not surpass his master.”

Leonardo da Vinci


 

The cycle continues. The UVI artists, some of whom have inhabited my studio for six years have moved on, once again. In their place I find my slightly deranged (at least en masse, and in the nicest possible way of course) class of 2016. I believe I mentioned them once before, and have little doubt that I will in future.

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Above, is the 2015 class with whom much fun was had, and from which some quite extraordinary work emanated. They look deceptively cheerful and refreshed, following the extraordinary toil of the A2 Coursework. And they look considerably smarter than usual, are not doing hair, nor are they hatching small creatures prematurely, all of which was known to have happened. Unfortunately the corner is cut off of the picture. I think it is symbolic of Raphael, who did not make the picture, or the exhibition of their final work. Sorry dude. Pity, he was the only male student of the year group.

List of Possible Reasons that Few Male Students Take Art:

  1. It’s for “whooses”;
  2. It’s for the academically challenged (which is not the same as);
  3. He’s a real high flyer – destined for the sciences;
  4. It’ll get you nowhere in life (unless you want to teach which is really the same thing;
  5. Neither of [his] parents (or grandparents) can draw a stick man.

Studio One

I wanted to write a post about this extraordinary work, the final outcome of ex-student Amike du Plessis. I have been putting it off until the Cambridge results were released, but also because of other factors: It is a work of such magnitude, that I can say it is without question, the most ambitious work ever produced by a secondary school student that I have ever encountered. Comprising more than 3000 nails and a life-size paper cast of a figure, it arrests the spectator with such extraordinary force that on encounter, one is literally left quite stunned. I will be as bold to say that it is a work of that holds its own within, indeed, is an important contribution to, the contemporary Zimbabwean art scene, and I hope one day to see it exhibited in a wider context.

In this regard, it deserves a thorough and careful reading, which I will write at a later stage. I have been a spectator to the process of creation, and advisor to the student, and think that some space would be beneficial before writing that analysis. I wondered how I would present it in a blog post until I found the opportunity in the February edition of Harare News in which the following Zimbabwean statistics are recorded:

  1. 2 in 3 women experience some sort of violence in their lifetime
  2. Over 40% of cases are not reported to anyone. Survivors rarely seek help.
  3. Mashonaland and Masvingo are the provinces that have the highest prevalence of child marriage – well above 40%
  4. 43% of adolescents aged 13-17 had their first sexual experience forced.
  5. 47% of adolescents aged 13-17 years [old] experience sexual violence and rape multiple times.
  6. 1 in 3 women aged 18-24 in Zimbabwe has experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.

(Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.).

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” . Nails and Paper, height 218cm. (Photograph by David Brazier).

It is observed that the students of a privileged private school have little to do with the environment presented above. I would argue, that in the face of these egregious statistics, how could they not? Further to that, GBV is only one of many possible starting points of the work. Viewers find meaning, it is not embedded in the work, as is so often observed. Perhaps we should find or consider the structures of a patriarchal society and the insidious behaviours that permeate almost every aspect of our society, the domestic arena; the public arena? Have these structure not conditioned our own histories? Do they not permeate the multitude of cultures, of ideologies and religions that grip so tightly onto our present existence, whether of privileged realms or other? As Mudzonga writes: “We live in a society that endorses and perpetuates an extraordinarily fixed hierarchy that cuts through all social conventions.”

 

 

Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

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Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe unequivocally that the arts are not some redundant field reserved for the incompetent, whimsical, non-academic, non-achieving members of society. They are the realms of some of the deepest thinkers and most courageous of people and provide a means of reflecting, recording, challenging and opening dialogue about the very nature, the make-up and intrinsic qualities of our existence.

In this regard, as a husband and parent of two daughters, in the face of statistics that give my children a 57% chance of not experiencing sexual violence in their teenage years, what the hell would I be doing if I do not allow or even encourage my students, whether or not privileged, privately educated, or empowered by some other means, to engage with these themes? I would most certainly consider that a failure of some magnitude.

“It is a tricky, dangerous, insidious practice, which is why it is so prevalent, and so hard to talk about. But it is a conversation we must have” (Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.)

OBSERVATIONS

1.Mudzonga does not provide sources for the statistics in the article. However, with only the slightest bit of scratching, the figures that are widely publicised make for some horrific reading:

At Least one Women is raped every 90 minutes in Zimbabwe (http://bulawayo24.com/index-id-news-sc-national-byo-50485.html) .

Msasa Project records 300 cases of violence against women mthly.(https://www.newsday.co.zw/2015/04/24/rise-in-rape-cases-cause-for-concern/)

15 Women are raped every day in Zimbabwe – Zimstat – (http://www.thestandard.co.zw/2012/08/15/15-women-are-raped-everyday-in-zimbabwe/)

There are numerous reports of this nature which cross our paths only too often.

3. The photographs of the work have been taken by the exceptional artist and photographer David Brazier, to whom I am exceptionally grateful.

2. The process of marking Art is a difficult one, especially as (correctly so) current art theory has dismissed the formal analysis of works, and with that, any independent standards (a topic that demands considerably more discussion). It is worth noting however, that all Cambridge coursework is marked by the respective teaching centres and moderated by Cambridge. Whilst the motivation for this is primarily for practical reasons, it also provides the various submissions to be read in the context in which they were created. In my view, this is very significant, especially as one of the four Advanced level marking criteria is “Knowledge and Critical Understanding”, which provides space for analysis of the work in it’s own cultural context. Our submissions are typically marked by three teachers, and our marking and reports analysed and moderated by the examination body.

3. In what seems a different era, I had a dog called Jezebel, whom I trained, or attempted to do so. I met a man who became my friend, Gordon, an extraordinary dog handler and trainer, who I am confident in saying has notched up more obedience champions than anyone else in this country (as well as numerous records in other disciplines of dog competition). He once told me that the highest achievement he could imagine would be for one of his students to surpass his achievements. At the time, under the influence of youth and I suppose my own delusional, mis-placed sense of self-importance, I was quite shocked. 20 years later, I am happy to agree with him, and also to note da Vinci observations above.

Greg Shaw, 6 February 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Roar Meet

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

-Pablo Picasso

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others.


We finished our final art exams for the term on Sunday. Form Three exams, an enjoyable period, where innovation and creativity is awarded as highly as technical skill. I am happy to say that for the most part, the ‘Threes came to the party! Our Art exams are quite well structured, with an emphasis on coursework and preparation, and only a part based on actual “controlled testing”. For the most part, I am an examination hater (h8r): The Art of the Short Memory Test: of Information that will Never Need To Be Recalled On The Spot Again. Unless I suppose one is a first-responder, or in some other crisis situation, or watching The Chase, etc. …. Of course there are the aspects of applying knowledge, and testing understanding of concepts; I get that. But still.

List of things I personally dislike about writing examinations:

  1. Studying.
  2. Writing examinations.

Let me not be mis-understood in regard to learning; I love that! And I love research and understanding, projects and creating, and most of all growth, which is I think what this post is about.

Picasso is famously quoted as saying “all children are artists, the difficulty is to remain an artist as one grows up.” I know this is true; my eldest daughter painted this this when she was very young:

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

She still makes beautiful art, but now with a little more self-consciousness, embodying Picasso’s words above. The youngest daughter does not suffer from that affliction yet. Hopefully never, though that is wishful thinking. There is too much process in the way; we are too enmeshed in the system, not to mention peer/teacher/parent expectation, nor I suppose the expectations of the self. But she is not there yet, and in recent months we have seen some extraordinary creations. Approximately 14 A4 sheets were glued together into a long scroll, which was illustrated and coloured from end to end. It included statements and conditions, being a petition against eating pigs which we were all invited to sign.

She loves pigs, this is a drawing of a rainbow pig. It can fly:

Eden, Rainbow Pig.

Eden, Rainbow Pig. A4

But it was the drawing below that motivated this post. This is a drawing of a crocodile in search of uncooked protein. It could also be a crocodile that is very vocal, in search of protein, or a crocodile that is in search of company. It was with delight that I stumbled on the work on Sunday evening, and also with the vaguest tinge of dismay, with the realisation that after more that 25 years of art-making, I will ever be able to make a drawing like this without it being utterly contrived:

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

I suppose in honesty, that it is the ROAR MEET which is the highlight of the drawing, and that most likely there are many readers decrying the employment of some quite suspect English (H8RS!!). Thankfully, 1: Dealing with that aspect lies in the more than competent hands of my wife, teacher extraordinaire (it is “her ticket”), and that 2. The Art aspect seems to be well in control.

Those who are not too busy hating on the English may sense the extraordinary contour line of the reptile, at its most exquisite on the arch of the back, sway of the tail and along the bottom jaw; Perhaps some sense the quite spectacular relationship between positive and negative shapes formed between the land and animal, most profound in the relationship between speech bubble and jaws! Most students of art would understand that once a corner has been cut off from the composition, like the bottom left above, there is no way back – except that somehow, by virtue of the open ended triangle beneath the tail, a delicate balance is achieved.

Perhaps the more perceptive will notice how at the juncture of the lines that describe the land, a really strong suggestion of spacial recession is created. I cannot believe though, that anyone would look long enough to notice that the very same juncture seems to be reflected in the chance meeting of the base of the “A”, and the top of the “T”.  And I am almost certain, that only a select few (perhaps those schooled by the venerable Martin Van Der Spuy) would observe the employment of the concept of Theme and Variation, observable in only the most exemplary of draughts-people: Where the arrow of the speech bubble establishes the visual theme, the line of teeth takes the form, repeats it in the first variation. The line of spikes along the spine form the third variation and  the scales on the body a fourth…. If they noticed that, they may too have understood that the structure of the feet is directly inverted, varied and repeated in the structure of the grass, and that in both forms, they relate to the initial theme).

Why else would this drawing hold together so beautifully?

But I am not suggesting that Eden is some sort of child prodigy, or that she is in any way more accomplished of better than any one else’s child (she is, so is Hannah, but I am not saying that). The point is that like all of our children, she makes beautiful pictures, over and over again. And she tells stories and voices her ideas. And it is our remit (since we  have the absolute privilege, not only to provide education for our children, but also to teach them), not to bugger that up.

There is hope.

As I have written, the Upper VIs have departed (leaving a hole), submitted their sketchbooks, portfolios and research components and we await their results eagerly. But the result is only a part of the story – the rest is the growth and learning that has taken place during their time in studio. This goes beyond the visual arts, I hope that they leave having learnt a whole load more than that, as I have, from them. Nevertheless, if this growth can be measured within their work, maybe that is something.

One of them. Kayla, found her Form One sketchbook, and brought it in to show me. Here is the first homework drawing that she made for me, six years ago.There are many good qualities about the drawing, and during the course of that first term, her drawing improved considerably.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Here are some of her more recent works, in various media:

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Her work is very beautiful, and to see this small strand of this section of the journey laid out as such provides me with some optimism; that in the future, there will be places where people might not say:

“it’s Raw meat…”, but instead,

“how unique, how marvellous”.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. A total of 41 hours of exams have been written this term, although there was an 8 hour overlap. Typically, four of us invigilate simultaneously, making it a quite substantial input into the process.
  2. Martin Van der Spuy remains one of the most highly regarded teachers of art that has passed through this country. His influence is seen throughout many of the most highly regarded painters of the past two decades.
  3. Hannah still draws beautiful works.
  4. Eden remains obsessed with pigs.

Greg Shaw,10 November, 2015.

An Extremely Rare Space

“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.”

― Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road


This has been two weeks of extremely high pressure, as expected: A combination of IGCSE examinations, A’ Level coursework and Personal Studies due, as well as Upper VI final assembly, speech night and leaving traditions that have had to be attended to. I am immensely proud to be the Line Tutor for the Upper VI Year group, though I am never quite sure what qualifies me for that position… Nevertheless, it is highly rewarding to work with these young adults, and I am forever optimistic that these extraordinary young men and women will return to this beautiful land, and make their contribution. How else will our children survive these radicalised environs.

This is what I said to them at their Final Assembly. The second half is probably of more interest than the first:

Upper VI 2015

It is clear that the you have taken a step, and walked without the shadow and weight that previous years have carried under the status ‘new school’ carried. Rather than looking to the past for guidance, you have stood tall and walked forward, independently. These steps have made you unique; you have relied on your own judgement, brought strength, imagination and courage to this institution. You have every reason to walk out here with your heads held high; I applaud you for this.

Whilst you have moved forward, you have not ignored the past, nor the structures that have been created. You sought to build on and improve these where possible, accept and move around and beyond the barricades when impossible, and you have responded to inconsistencies with humour and good nature. When I have lost focus, you have reminded me of one of my own central tenets; that a group only has value when each individual embraces and retains their own individuality. When I have strayed across that imperceptibly faint line, you have pointed it out: that subtle margin between Line Tutor and Dictator.

Your achievements have been extraordinary. You have excelled academically. Your results to date are the highest achieved by any year group at the Academy. You have excelled within the sporting arena, leading your colleagues, peers and the school body with determination and courage. You have represented us culturally, through service and charitable endeavours, with humility, in a way that has brought pride to the Academy. You have created music, art, and drama of an intensity, that has arrested, challenged and astounded us.

You brought us the Knight, you brought us Matthew Mole. You paid for your dance. You wore the most elaborate braids, the largest ‘fros and the shortest skirts. Your parking is wantonly lacking, even by Zimbabwean standards. You acknowledged that whilst good grammar was important, oversized, inflated incapacitatingly large biceps, was importanter (Internet Meme, ibid). The value of your collective late arrivals, would pay for a year of education in this institution. You hold the record for the most so-called “sick” days of any year group to date. You broke the fountain, you broke the driving rules, you broke the record for swimming in the filthiest pond in the city.

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One of our fine leaders…

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The consequence of a bad bet

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 8.22.46 PM(You can find the video of “The Unveiling” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYlzIyM6VDs

You have constantly surprised me, I am often humbled by your imagination, vision and achievements. It is with immense pride, that I am associated with you. You are, and always will be, one of the finest groups of young adults I shall ever work with.

There are few amidst you, who do not understand the extraordinary privilege that it is to be part of this institution. One does not have to look far to notice the extraordinary facilities, to witness their constant development, and the dedication with which they are tended and maintained.  One need not beyond this marquis to see that the administration is constantly driving the Academy forward to keep it abreast with the rapidly changing technological horizons, and ensure that as you leave these environs, you will not be at sea in the world beyond. You do not need to look beyond your classrooms, your common room, your mentors’ rooms, indeed, you do not need to look past your phones to witness the fact that you have at your finger-tips teachers and guides who have invested in you with dedication beyond that which you cannot, at this point, possibly conceive.

But there is a greater, more subtle, more profound privilege of which you are a part. One that you will only begin to comprehend as you move beyond these realms. That is the sacrifices that have been made, the labours that have been endured. Your families’, guardians’ and benefactors’ investment in you that has afforded you an opportunity, a chance, a moment in this space, this place of shelter, this place of protection.

What is the nature of this place, for which sacrifices have been made?

This is a place that acknowledges your right to exist, to grow and to mature in harmony with your kin and countrymen. A place without violence. A place without corruption. A place in which the person with the largest stick does not stand as the head of the hierarchy. The same cannot be said about the space beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a place which acknowledges that the ability to make an expression with a note, brush or movement, is equal to an expression of a work of prose or poem. And that each of those expressions are equal to the study and understanding of our histories and of our physical, social and economic environment. And that each of these, are equal to understanding the make-up of our world, of the chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics that underpin and structure both our past and present. If it is not yet the case that a musical or theatrical performance is equal to a world cup rugby match, then this is a least a space which acknowledges that it should be so. The same cannot be said of the spaces beyond this immediate boundary.

This is a space in which each of you has stood as equal; irrespective of the nature of your particular strengths and weaknesses. A place where provenance, race, or religious bias does not determine your status. A place where you have stood as equal, irrespective of culture, of gender or sexual orientation. The same cannot be said about the space immediately beyond this boundary. This is an extremely rare space and unusual space, and you have had the privilege to pass through it.

The young writer and speaker Adora Svitak said this at a recent TED conference;

“Progress happens because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It is the reason we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children, so that we can grow up to blow you away.”

I believe that we have given you an extraordinary opportunity. Now I offer you this challenge:

Grow up, and blow us away!

Aien, Aristeyein: Always Excellence.”

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Upper VI 2015 donated a series of “gates” on to which leavers’ locks will be locked henceforth

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Callum Du Plessis and I, the final moments of the departure…

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Observations

i. You say the Hellenic Academy motto as “eh En, Ari STEH veen”. It means “Always Excellence”.

Studio One

Just to say that the work that has been submitted, makes this job more rewarding than any I could imagine.

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The progressive decline of the very beautiful studio during the late night mounting endeavours…

The Disembodied Traveller

“In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us – not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.”

– John Irving, “Until I Find You”


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Hannah and Eden on top of the cleft rock at Cleveland dam.

I have an A’ Level student who has been considering places to mount an installation, and the cleft rock at Cleveland Dam came to mind. It has been as excellent opportunity to revisit the spot, which I did with my family, and inspired a series of small explorations to the haunts of my childhood. Three years ago, I was invited by the inaugural Toastmasters’ club of the Academy to make a speech. Given my recent preoccupation with the South-Eastern side of this city, I have decided to re-hash that speech, and present it here. I hope that the speaker’s voice is not too irritating to the reader:

The Dam at Makuvisi Woodlands last Sunday

The Dam at Makuvisi Woodlands last Sunday

Rufy in the

Rufy in the “Dam” Makuvisi river…

The Flying Boat, Balancing Rocks, Epworth.

The Flying Boat, Balancing Rocks, Epworth.

Hannah and Eden in the cleft rock, Cleveland Dam

Hannah and Eden in the cleft rock, Cleveland Dam

Balancing Rocks, Epworth

Balancing Rocks, Epworth

The ‘place’ of my early existence was the Southern suburbs of Harare. Within this domain was, amongst other features, the Makuvisi river, which I have dammed in numerous places, the Balancing Rocks, Cleveland Dam and quarry and mountainous lime dumps brilliant white, with turquoise lakes on top. The Northern end of the runway and the five levels of the Parkades, were nightly haunts and became for me the most romantic spots in the city. Every square meter was cycled and explored. Owned. As I look back, there is one significant aspect that I remember about my inhabitance of this domain:

Wherever I went, whatever I did, I took my body.

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Me climbing at the Balancing rocks about 1991 (both in in a greener state). Zoomed in, I notice the most awesome, respected Jack Robinson in striped shirt: One of very few people to mitigate the wreck of my secondary school education.

Climbing at the Balancing rocks about 1991 (both in in a greener state). Zoomed in, I notice the most awesome, respected Jack Robinson in striped shirt: One of very few people to mitigate the wreck of my secondary school education.

Today, the “place” of my inhabitance is considerably more vast. Indeed, it is the same territory as yours: the digital domain which extends literally, across the globe, and into space. Within this, we play and study, we are intimate, we shop, we explore. As we do so, our brains undergo the same chemical reactions that we experience in the physical world, and we are subject to the usual experiences of intrigue, pain, heartbreak, lust, jealousy and anger. And as we travel we abandon our physical selves this side of the digital frontier. We become disembodied.

It is a harsh, vulnerable condition to travel without one’s physical self. We are stripped of the defences we have so pain-stakingly constructed: our be-gymnasiumed bodies, the four corner shoes, dyed hair, multiple earings, “porno-shorts” and bizarre slippers, each which mark our individuality and sense of belonging within a particular group or structure. The curators of the spaces we inhabit know this. They acknowledge our predicament and offer us a solution:

The Profile.

We begin with a little badge; Status. I have “mined” various What’s App Profiles to illustrate my point: One declares that she belongs and that she “believes”; “Your need was abundantly supplied before you knew it”. Just as we do in the physical world, we proclaim our identity as defined by another: “SA” proclaims one. “JS”, says SA, and with a touchingly feminine flair, she adds a heart. On the day of his first anniversary,  “PR” was “available” – very, very bad, whilst his celebrant counterpart offered the disturbing winking tongue-pulling emoji. Altogether, a most disconcerting arrangement.

We proclaim our sporting knowledge; “definitely the best keeper in the country”, says one, and stroke our egos; “Keep up, or cheer me on” announces another. Through public, visible marks, we flesh out our disembodied selves, reassuring those we encounter that we have a life: It is bigger than you see here, it has more depth. “Getting rid of memories is easy”, claims one, unconvincingly; “how do I make you fight?” writes another. Each statement is a breath, a pulse, evidence of our existence.

With status as well developed as possible, we manicure our avatars, our imagery and visual attributes: fat rolls hidden, best smiles and correct lighting. Everything constructed to best represent our self-conception, and thus embodied, we are more adequately armed to occupy these vast territories. The braver ones expose themselves, they write and blog. Some inhabit depraved spaces – but they do so under false identities, masked, like thieves. Others hack, troll and spam – the vandals of the domain.

For most, the reality is that there is little of significance that can be said to many friends, and little of value that we are willing to divulge to largely undefined and unknown audiences. Illusions are created, happy photos, great lives, good times. We engage in the curious modern phenomenon of posting the most inane, inconsequential trivia. We erect billboards for our identities, marking our success with “likes”, carefully garnered through dead-end posts such as: “Like, if you wish cancer didn’t exist”. We make desperate pleas for popularity, adding tags such as “I follow back” (The “I’ll be your friend if you’ll be mine” of social media). It matters little what is said, so long as we are noticed – It is the most fundamental of human concerns. As the philosopher George Berkley observed: “To be, is to be perceived”.

My own Facebook page prompts me daily to “complete” my profile, as though I can be neatly packaged. Nice. It wants me to state where I went to school, a miserable wreckage that I would rather conceal. They want me to state where I work, but I do not define myself by the institution that pays my salary, rather by the human interaction I engage in whilst I am there. But that is not an available option. Daily, they prompt me: “The most popular posts are short, friendly and conversational. Write a post.”

Piss Off.

The quantity of information, the nuances and complexities of my identity does not easily fit this curator’s options. The fleshing out of my new body is a picture of what does not hurt, what is not admitted, the mistakes I have not made. If to “be human is to err” then this identity is arguably everything humanity is not. And I have already spent an extraordinary amount of time constructing it. How complex. How frustrating. How frightening. This is not the simple fathomable arena of my youth.

The Northern end of the runway is marked by a row of red lights. About one hundred meters past these is an impenetrable, heavily monitored fence. There is a road which leads to the Airforce Base to the East, and on its left is another large fenced area, perhaps of about 25 square kilometers. Within this is a large signal beacon about three meters tall, which indicates the line and direction of the runway. For what it’s worth, the beacon is accessible from the Old Twentydales Rd. It provides a spectacular view of the low flying aircraft as they land and ascend.

If you go, take your body, you will feel the downdraft as they pass.

The beacon and the row of lights, taken at lunch today.

The beacon and the row of lights, taken at lunch today.

OBSERVATIONS

i. The internet cable network that runs under the sea is 885,000km long. It is long enough to circle the globe 22 times. This link includes an animation which demonstrates this quite extraordinary thing: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/there-enough-internet-cable-under-sea-circle-earth-22-times

ii. A quick internet search of Cleveland dam reflected my own view; an interesting spot, pleasant walks and fun for children. But spoilt by an excess (even relative to our somewhat questionable standards) of litter. It appeared to be an afternoon drinking spot. Nehanda Radio (http://nehandaradio.com/2013/01/28/cleveland-dam-turned-into-sodom-and-gomorrah/) paints a slightly darker picture, likening it to Sodom and Gomorrah – one would neither enjoy the company of the nightly “bouncing” cars (with tinted windows…), nor the guns allegedly pointed at the guards. Notwithstanding the fact that, according to one featured individual, if you have paid your entry fee, “[y]ou cannot be denied quality time with your wife even in the kitchen, dining room or even car.”

Greg Shaw 3 October 2015

Razor wire, a gash and some burnt wood (Part 1)

“My songs have nothing to do with war. They are all about the sad insecurities of a balding rock star”

– Chris Martin (The Guardian 17 March 2003)


I picked a piece off of a painting and painted the hole red. It looked like a small wound in flesh. The surface had been afflicted. It was a small wound, it could be construed to have been caused by a sharp stick. There were also scratches, quite deep I suppose. There was a slight translucency in the layers of oil, which spoke to me of a sort of bruising. Once, when I was using my sisters stilts, I slipped. There was a rusty screw sticking out of the handle, and it stuck me hard in the shin. It made a hole right into the bone, quite deep. I never talked about it because of the fear of going to hospital.

Minimal damage.

Contained.

My painting spoke nothing of the carnage that was created and endured at that time. Perhaps that was not the objective. Perhaps that was simply too big to consider. But as a hole in a dam, a picked scab, the injury beneath a toyed with, nuisance piece of loose skin grew and grew: Visually, physically, contextually. I engaged with that initial hole, that small puncture wound. It was the beginning of an obsession with surface and texture, with representation and literalism that would endure till the present.

This is Part 1 of a post about that preoccupation. I write it as my work “Elegy” hangs on the Art/Artefact II exhibition at Gallery Delta, a work a long way from the painting described above. I don’t think I can really speak about it without writing of one element of it’s history, which is what I shall endeavour to do here. I will post the second part next week. (The painting with the hole (Scratching the Facade) formed part of the 2005 exhibition “Embers of Dreams”.

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

Between then and the present lie a collection of stories of corrupted foundations, damaged structures, isolation, wounds and destruction. Stories of despair, defence, of light, of patience. Of burning, embers and ash. Not ash. Ash has less value – it is a symbol of something departed – it is hard to work with, grey, lacking contrast, lacking substance. Stories that end with charcoal. Charcoal is different. It has another quality; It’s dense, black. It has substance. It possesses the power to be rekindled. Charcoal is potential.

As the wounds grew, so did the necessity to represent them. The acrylic/plaster base became insufficient for the task. Scratches and punctures were no longer the nature of the environment. In search of a sense of greater depth, I took to ripping and layering pieces of canvas, still incorporating the earlier base. There was a transformation taking place; what began as a representation of a wound, gave way to an actual rip and tear. The surfaces which had until now seemed to form a bridge between the abstract and the figurative became literal embodiments of the ideas about which I was thinking. I didn’t ever name the parts, though the surfaces seemed to reflect different aspects. In one a type of skin, in another, panels or rusted metal, in a third burnt panels, broken, insufficient to cover or piece together the carnage. I worked on numerous pieces at a time, as over the layers of canvas, were numerous layers of oils – glaze upon glaze. I think that they had a richness and depth, from memory they were strong, resonant images. Amidst them were moments of light, of dreaming an hope.

The works below are of that era. They were part of the 2007 solo exhibition “The Valley of the Shadow”.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

The culmination of these ripped and layered works ended with: “Enough Said”. What a load of crap. An total misnomer. As if there could have ever been enough said.

List of paintings that I can think of that (when standing alone) are truly able to describe horrific moments:

1. Guernica.

Not that I would rename it, it was a good title. I think for me it was enough said. It marked the end of a two and a half year obsession with those stories, and those processes. It was painted for the 2008 HIFA exhibition, “determine: Nation”, at the National Gallery. At almost two metres in height, it was somewhat overbearing, the colours were strong, the composition had some tension. It remains for me a really significant painting, one I am proud of.

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

OBSERVATIONS

  1. The product DM6, was an acrylic base which dried into a transparent flexible and extremely tough surface. It had the added property of being extremely sticky. It was developed by Peter Eyllis of Pigmento, as far as I understand, with a certain amount of artistic input from his sister-in-law, the renowned artist Helen Lieros. It is a product no longer readily available.
  2. I now use the PVA “book-binding” glue from A.T. Carter. It is as good a water-based glue as any I have used in my career.
  3. Operation Murambatsvina/Drive Out Filth, also known as Operation Restore Order, was a wide-spread government clear-up (decimation) of informal settlements across the country in July 2005. According to Wikipedia, the United Nations estimated at least 700 000 people were directly affected, and over 2m indirectly affected through the campaign.

Studio One

Still from

Still from “Contamination”, Isobel Fox

We are entering the really frantic period (more frantic that usual) of our academic year. The coursework deadlines are looming for the IGCSE students, and the Upper VI. Despite the high pressure, it is also one of the very exciting periods, as the student work peaks and the Final Outcomes are turned in. I spent last Saturday morning with some of the Form Fours. Isobel Fox presented her installation, a work entitled “Contamination”. It is a complex and intriguing work that will hopefully be included in the Hellenic exhibition next term. I have included a link to a tiny detail here: https://vimeo.com/139447880

Greg Shaw, 21 August 2015.