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Measuring humanity at Sasol New Signatures 2014

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on September 5, 2014.

The 2014 Sasol New Signatures art competition was won by Elizabeth Jane Balcomb for her sculptural pieces from The weighed and measured series, I am you & Survival. The works combine the interplay between found objects, cement and bronze castings. I am you is cast from the body of Balcomb’s son standing on a moulded cement cushion carefully balanced on industrial type calipers which strengthen the concept of ‘measured.’ The sculptures create an uneasy compositional balance playing on the notion of ‘weight’ and ‘measure’. Self-taught artist Balcomb wins R100 000 as well as a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum next year.

Balcomb worked as a nature conservationist doing environmental education for children before becoming a full-time sculptor. Her work deals with the values and norms that instilled by society through the body we are born into, for example the distinction between male and female, race and culture. Through these ‘norms’, we are expected to act in a certain way.

Balcomb explores the spiritual aspects of being human and animal similar to the therianthropic figures of the San Shaman depicted in the iconography of San paintings. The Shaman are depicted as both animal and human mythical shapeshifters where they acquire the mental and spiritual attributes of various beasts. The work explores the animal tendencies inherent within our human psyche.

Competition runner-up who took the R25 000 prize is Adelheid Von Maltitz for her installation Bodies which represents the artist’s own personal loss and experience. The installation consisting of resin, earth & ash. The viewer moves through the open space between two light boxes of resin cast tiles and ash residue.

Von Maltitz is currently completing her PhD in Fine Arts at the University of the Free State and has participated in several local exhibitions in 2014, namely Fine Arts and Affiliated Artists, Torings, Absa Atelier, Turbine Art Fair and the 2013 Sasol New Signatures art exhibition. Later this year, she will also take part in the Bennetton’s Foundation’s International Exhibition in Italy, ‘South Africa: 10 by 12 @ SA, Contemporary Artists from South Africa’.

In this space, the viewer contemplates the process of mourning and loss on three levels. The first level, shown by two boxes on the floor filled with earth and ash, represent the first stage of death, the physical burial and dissolution of our physical bodies. Von Maltitz presents the second level as fragmented apparitions displayed in light boxes, referring to the ‘grey area’ between life and death. The third and final level is experienced by the viewer standing between the light boxes where the light represents openness, power and life. The work is extremely personal to the artist where she dealt with her own intense anxiety towards the death of a loved one in a fatal car accident. The work explores how one deals with and goes through various stages of grief and mourning.

The five merit prizes of R10 000 each went to Lucienne Pallas Bestall, Bongani Innocent Khanyile, Lorienne Lotz, Josua Strümpfer and Colleen Winter. The works deal with various issues from personal habits of Winter’s Cube I,II,III,IV; to various societal issues prevalent in South Africa today such as Abalone poaching and death in Stumpher’s There is death in the pot and Khanyile’s Helmets which explores the stereotypical view of the South African working class.

The Sasol New Signatures art exhibition will run until 19 October 2014 at the Pretoria Art Museum.

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