Emma Willemse 'How to' exhibition 2011 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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'How to' exhibition 2011 | The Gallery at Grand Provence

'How to' Contemporary art exhibition by Emma Willemse and Hester Viles

“The remarkable position that we find ourselves in is that we don’t actually know what we actually know.”
Bill Bryson (American author 1946 -)

Against the background of a contemporary consumer society addicted to instant gratification aided by technological sources, the two artists Emma Willemse and Hester Viles seek to question the ways in which we acquire knowledge.

The title of the show, How to, refers to the practice of finding information at the press of a button by using technology, for instance by using search engines such as Google. This way of acquiring knowledge has become the dominant convention in our society. It is a quick fix solution to almost any problem that may arise. By assuming that knowledge can be obtained in a neat and packaged, step-by-step formula, the notion that knowledge is yet another a consumer item is thus confirmed and gradually becomes entrenched in our society.

Through their artworks executed in a wide range of materials, techniques and formats, Willemse and Viles engage with this phenomenon in a playful yet critical way, posing different scenarios in which this mindset is interrogated. Ranging from the absurd to the sublime, their works expose a range of How to scenarios, such as the dissonance of How to tweet effectively, or the hopelessness of How to long for a home. By subverting the very notion of acquiring knowledge in an instant formulaic way, the artists ask questions about the connections between information, knowledge and experience. For instance:

Does information constitute knowledge?
Can knowledge be obtained and internalized without experience?
Can knowledge about human emotions be packaged in a formula?
Can we really know (and control) our natural environment?

Furthermore, the works expose our current fascination with the virtual and its role in knowledge acquisition as voiced by Antonio Glessi: “… interiorized knowledge acquired through study or experience appears to lose importance in favor of contextual information passed on to the electronic devices that support us.” This fascination has certain consequences, clearly stated by Jean Baudrillard in his book Passwords (2003):

“In its current sense, the virtual stands opposed to the real, but its sudden emergence, through the new technologies, gives us the sense that it now marks the vanishing or end of the real.”

It is for this reason that the concluding impression of the works in the How to exhibition renders them to be a playful disruption of the real.

In the How-to exhibition Emma Willemse uses her interest and research on the phenomenon of displacement as background to comment on the way displacement has been handled as a knowledge field. She investigates the failure of existing theoretical models to explain why resettlement is often not successful. In addition she raises questions about whether severe traumatic experiences such as displacement, which entails the loss of home, memory and identity, can indeed be theorised or known by using super-imposed, neat and ordered formulaic models.

In the installation: ‘How to remember a home’, Willemse used parquet floor blocks that she has salvaged from a house that she used to live in, while it was in the process of being demolished. These are inverted and suspended in an organic way, using a cut-out of her own thumb print. The accompanying monotype of a partial section of her thumbprint talks about how identity is lost through displacement.

The title: ‘Pick up the pieces and find peace of mind’ was sourced from a Google search. The work was constructed by cutting an oil painting into small blocks, suggesting the notion of pixilation apparent in enlarged digital images. The viewer is invited to participate in a kind of do-it-yourself resettlement by constructing a new image with these blocks of paintings.

Willemse has embarked on a long-term project to create an imaginary manual entitled: ‘101 ways to long for a home’, consisting of 101 artworks in various techniques. On display in this exhibition are several pages as well as the middle page of the manual, page 50 and 51, from which the narrative of ‘how-to instructions’ unfolds to the left and to the right. Using devices such as distortion, blurring and fragmentation, and the inherent qualities of processes such as polymer gravure and monotype, a story of knowledge loss and misrepresentation is revealed, much like the current way of knowledge acquisition and transfer.

The intention of the artworks on display is to coach the viewer to re-view the fragile, complex and fluid nature of knowledge on human consciousness.

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