Sophisticated impressions - Muffin Stevens
I have long admired Guy du Toit’s sculpture. He has, by dint of steady production and consistently developing work, become one of South Africa’s most important artists, along the way winning the Vita Art Now award and numerous merit awards on major competitions. This competition is his best, (although he himself remembers his first in 1984 more fondly) and it both confirms and expands his reputation.
Seventy-two small, individual sculptures are hung in a line, at eye-height, all around the gallery walls.
Although each has its own title, they share an installation title: they are connected like the words in a sentence. No, much more than that. They are an essay, a poem, a text. In their rigorous arrangement they have the Zen simplicity of Japanese Haiku poems, but in the networks of evoked associations, they have the complexity and density of a post-modern novel.
Thus we can read them, their narratives, their histories, their passages and pauses, poetic flights, prose rhythms, allusions and alliterations, metaphors and similes, their nouns, verbs and punctuation. They set up webs of meaning and many strands to follow. One story is du Toit’s personal one. Until recently he lived on a plot, with horses, animals, children.
So there is nostalgia and autobiography in a patinated rooster, dog, horse, pig, pigeon. There are scraps picked up from the surroundings that he experiences everyday, such as twigs, pieces of bamboo and garden clippings. Some juxtapositions invoke his own history as an artist: the rooster is a leitmotif of many of his sculptures, the goat, bell and anvil have formed relationships before. This small cow is a reminder of the life-sized version he recently completed. There are signs of his very physical work as a sculptor and bronze-caster: pick handle, spade casting scraps, filings.
There is another story interwoven here, a subtext about art.
There is the story of du Toit the formalist, whose essential interest is in the visual game of space, form and shadow.
This minimal and linear arrangement of the parts refers to the modernist severity that underpins the best work being done today in both South Africa and internationally. Postmodernism has brought back meanings in layers and floods, but still a modernist visual rigor supports meanings in sculptors like South African Willem Boshoff, the British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor or younger artists like Rachel Whiteread or Damien Hirst. There is a knowing range to du Toit’s work, from the bronze “high art” of traditional sculpture to contemporary installation and the found object.
There is the post-modern wit and the cleverness in putting all these together. Then there is the philosophical play with dualities. An abstract shape, a blob or sphere, talks to a modelled and figurative cow.
A fragment, a shard, a feature, a goats ear, connects to whole shapes like gear, bottle, bowl.
The incidental and discarded scraps of our lives, the spill of wax or piece of detritus, meets the decorative in the form of part of an Indian lamp, or a carefully artificed goose. Nature meets machine part, beauty meets the banal, found object meets formed object, absence meets presence and the physical substance of bronze plays off against its own insubstantial shadows.
Are we to see each piece separately, or are they to play word-games in our minds: “pipefoot”, “warbowl” and “cloudeye” perhaps? In the best modernist sense, what you see is what you get. The rest is what you make of it. This show is a sophisticated and impressive achievement
’n Stoel is 'n geduldige objek - Amanda du Preez
Guy du Toit se beeldhouwerk het empatie met die alledaagse en die onopvallende. Hy giet voorwerpe in brons waarna ons nie andersins twee keer sou kyk nie of selfs oor sou gedink het nie, soos byvoorbeeld ’n stoel, ’n aambeeld of ’n hoenderhaan. Die feit dat hulle gegiet is verleen aan hulle die status van permanensie. In hulle gegote vorm word hulle byna tydloos en onvernietigbaar. Hulle doem by ons op en kondig hulself aan as verteenwoordigers van die alledaagse wat dreig om ernstig opgeneem te word. Die alledaagse verg dus nou ons onverdeelde aandag soos die stoel wat die kunstenaar tergend “die bekleër” doop. Die drama kring uit want alhoewel die stoel nou leeg staan weet ons dat die stoel weldra “beklee”sal word.
’n Stoel is ’n geduldige objek. Dit ontvang sy sitter altyd geduldig. Byna beleefd. Nooit weier die stoel die sitter of bekleër nie. Daarom is ’n stoel soos ’n monument van afwagting. ’n Leë stoel hou altyd die verwagting in dat daar weldra ’n teenwoordigheid sal wees - ’n sitter wat sy plek sal kom vol sit. Hetsy dit die voorsitter se stoel is of die gewone staatsamptenaar se stoel – die stoel wag geduldig – dit lewer geen kommentaar en maak geen oordele nie. Dan is daar die rye en rye leë stoele wat wag om gevul te word voor die vertoning en wat amper op hulle eie ’n gehoor afwagtendes vorm. En wat van die stoele wat in verwarring agter gelaat is na die vergadering of haastig opsy gestoot is nadat die vertoning verby is? Hulle staan doelloos rond, selfs verleë en tog geduldig, want iemand anders – ’n ander en nuwe bekleër - sal binnekort weer kom sit.
Dit is moontlik hoe ons beeldhouer Guy du Toit se fassinasie met die leë stoel en die alledaagse kan verstaan. Want in elke leë stoel is daar beide ’n afwesigheid en die belofte van ’n teenwoordigheid. Die stoel in sy gedienstigheid dien as ’n alomteenwoordige herinnering dat sitters of bekleërs in en uit beweeg en diè wat vandag hier sit, mag dalk môre elders sit of sal moontlik nooit weer hier sit nie. Byna soos die spel van musical chairs word die maghebbers wat eens gesit het nou afgestamp en die nuwe magbekleërs kan nou hulle plek kom inneem. Die wat eens nie plek gehad het om te sit nie, kan nou gerieflik sit totdat die musiek weer begin speel en die speletjie weer van voor begin. Die dans van die lewe beweeg speels by die geduldige en afwagtende stoele verby. So vorder tyd en draai die wiel in sy stadige gang en sal geen haan daarna weer kraai nie – slegs maar die hoenderhaan wat as getuie op die stoel se rug bly sit. Of sal die klok lui wat aan die een poot van die stoel staan gemaak is? Wie sal getuienis lewer van die onregte reeds gepleeg en wat moontlik weer gepleeg gaan word, as dit nie maar die stom en gedweë alledaagse objekte is wat geboë soos biegvaders oor ons (wan)dade waak nie?
Dit is moontlik in die alledaagse en minder opvallende objekte wat Du Toit sy boodskap die mees dramatiese en kragtigste kan oordra. Ons verwag mos nie om een of ander lewenswaarheid of ontmaskering in ’n doodgewone stoel raak te sien nie. Tog konfronteer Du Toit ons met hierdie insig, naamlik dat die alledaagse ’n eiesoortige en unieke blik op die werklikheid kan werp. In die dinge wat ongesiens verby glip skuil daar dalk ’n betekenisvolle ervaring en insig.
Dit is egter nie net Du Toit se onderwerp nie, maar ook sy medium wat besonderse vermelding vereis. Die medium van beeldhou bied unieke moontlikhede in die era van vervlugtende beelde en nuwe tegnologieë. Waar ons gewoond geraak het aan immateriële ikone op flitsende skerms bied beeldhouwerk ’n teenvoeter, dit gooi wal teen die drang om alles tot beelde en sigbaarheid te reduseer. Beeldhouwerk soos Du Toit dit aanbied, lewer getuienis van tasbaarheid, materialiteit, duursaamheid en miskien selfs standvastigheid. In ’n wêreld waar alles wat skynbaar bewonderingswaardig is, vloeibaar gemaak word, staan Guy du Toit se beelde van die gewone en die aardse soos bakens.
Tog moet die kyker gewaarsku wees dat Du Toit se gewone objekte altyd met ’n knippie sout opgeneem moet word. Die kunstenaar het ’n swaar hand met ironie en hy sprinkel dit mildelik oor sy hamers en beitels, tregters en spykers. Die gewone word tasbaar ironies. Hierdie is nie nét die alledaagse terwille van die alledaagse nie, maar eerder ’n poging van die kunstenaar om ons oë opnuut oop te maak vir die ryke moontlikhede wat in die alledaagse skuil, veral as die gewone objek soms buite konteks en in nuwe verrassende verbande met mekaar aangebied word. Du Toit herskryf dus aan die storie wat gewone objekte vir ons vertel. Hy voeg ’n ekstra lagie by en gee ’n ander wending aan die verhaal. Die alledaagse verkry ’n dramatiese dimensie en word so tot ’n mate in ere herstel. Du Toit kan moontlik die beste beskryf word as ’n regisseur of choreograaf van die alledaagse.
More (than) Histories - Pieter Swanerpoel 2005
No story is ever complete; there are always gaps that need filling in. We can never know exactly where it begins or how or where or when it will end. We can only experience it as it unfolds.
Guy du Toit’s current exhibition consists of a range of works from his past, yet it does not represent a complete story: it is not a ‘retrospective’ exhibition in the traditional sense of the word. Nor is the exhibition a genealogy as no clear ‘beginning’ is ever indicated: we never quite know how it all began. We are left only with scattered remnants. What might seem like discarded bits and pieces from previous exhibitions, works, experiments, examples, are presented side by side. Although it is obvious that the artist rummaged through his own past he did not do so as the archaeologist would either. That is, he gathered the fragments not in order to reconstruct what was, but to deconstruct, to find the bits and pieces that had fallen to waste and to then rearrange these excesses not as a totality but as yet another fragment of an anticipated future which is sure to arise from this presence. This, at least, we might assume, is a deliberate act on behalf of the artist.
The exhibition is a constant reminder of how difficult it is for any reading or interpretation to pin down certainties in a quest for understanding. While we may admit that any interpretation goes beyond what is given, it can not be a purely arbitrary matter either. Rather, we should look for clues in the actual artworks, in the way they are presented, and above all, in how they were made – including the conceptualisation process as well as its manufacture. To come to knowledge thus, through a process of experience, will show how no interpretation will ever yield a singular meaning or absolute truth but that it may nonetheless add to our understanding in order to elucidate the experienced reality.
As far as Du Toit’s current work is concerned there are enough signs indicating possible insights, such as the artist’s endeavour to re-read his own work through the probing of its past. Within this already identified understanding we come to yet another realisation, namely that the work is clearly self-reflexive. This self-reflexivity, itself a pertinent theoretical issue since modernism and carried over into post-modern culture, alerts us to the fact that as much as each and every fragment on exhibit can be seen as separate in how one differs from the other, any number of theoretical issues concerned with art could be applied as models of possible understanding. Instead of forcing a singular understanding through the presentation of one particular, finely self-contained piece of art, the fissures caused by fragmentation results in an opening up; and it is these gaps so self-consciously created by the artist through the making and the presentation of the artwork that generates the space necessary to accommodate a multiplicity of interpretations.
Having works dispersed throughout a designated space, while at the same time appearing side by side, and more particularly in selected ‘groups’, the viewer is often tempted to enter into a narrative journey: a process of comparing the current work (the one we are looking at right now) with the previous one (the one we had just looked at before) with the next one (the one we will look at soon). When we move from the current work to the next, the next work becomes the current work; the current work which we are looking at now, will then become the past work, and so the story goes. Such comparison, however, never happens in a unilateral fashion. On the contrary, the very repetitive nature of the exhibition indicates an artistic intent; many forms or objects or themes or materials appear again and again as reminders of one another, yet never as identical, always transformed. In any case, the works/pieces on exhibition are not at all presented in a linear fashion demonstrating a time span of some twenty years with the earliest examples as one enters the exhibition and the latest pieces upon exit.
The majority of these disjointed examples are immediately recognisable objects: chairs, masks/heads, cows, dolosse, and the like. But although we might be enticed to pause every so often to study each piece as a separate example, they are arranged in a number of groupings or configurations. Seen together and presented in the format of an exhibition the various individual fragments and the different configurations can thus be read separately while they – as individual pieces as well as groups - also configure to become a composite work. The visitor to the exhibition is hence confronted with ambivalence, an ambivalence not unknown to most artworks: that fragments (or at times details) meant to contribute to the understanding of the artwork as a totality become independent artworks, each with its own possible separate meaning. Such fragmentation of meaning could be seen as distracting, indeed as disrupting. However, as is clearly the case here, the multiplicity becomes a contributing factor in expanding viewpoints, resulting in an added wealth of meaning instead of limiting understanding. And so, despite the fact that the various objects can be listed or gathered into collections, the narrowing of the possibility of such congregation is negated by the way in which the artist constantly separates/fragments/disrupts groups and works in order to persistently afford comparing one with the other.
The fact that one piece can – and most often asks to be – played off against another, that the next piece impacts on (contaminates) the previous piece, that any particular piece can be set off against any other (combination of) piece(s) and that any of these pieces in fact refer back to any other number of pieces previously made and exhibited by the artist marks a rich intertextuality, which ultimately results in excess. Such surplus at once adds/distracts meaning, implodes a content that could otherwise be formally determined.
Even as a composite the exhibition therefore never forms an ideal unity. This is a clear sign of the artist’s unwillingness to put forward his own particular brand of what we would be able to identify as a grand (speculative) narrative, which would moreover be indicative of over-simplification. Du Toit’s emphasis on technique, on the means rather than the end goal furthermore supports his repudiation of any such possible allusion to the work as reflective of a master plan which would be the key to a clear-cut and absolute understanding of his work.
One of Du Toit’s recurring interests concerning theoretical matters in his work is that of the art/craft debate. This involvement with what would in post-structuralist terms be considered as binary polarization is moreover indicative of the artist’s interest in how theory and practice feed off each other. Arising from this is Du Toit’s approach to creativity which depends not only on an intellectual conceptualisation process but relies quite heavily on intuition driven by the unconscious.
Finding an object to be used for an artwork or deciding on a particular theme most often happens in an accidental manner, i.e. the artist does not force a preconceived idea upon an object. Rather, the object, or any combination or configuration would suggest a way forward for the artist. Combining elements from various artworks or the configuration of a mixture of parts into groups also happens in a playful manner so that it is a combination of play and work which results in what is finally presented as an artwork.
The interactivity between two apparently disparate worlds of work and play that characterise the creative process can also be found in how Du Toit emphasizes both the art and the craft in his work. This moreover indicates how the artist engages what deconstructionists would refer to as the ‘border tensions’ between the traditional and the contemporary. And just as the artist never privileges unity over multiplicity or heterogeneity, the elements of art and craft – despite the evident dynamic tension – appear as equals throughout.
There is clearly more here than meets the eye. Not even the artist’s preoccupation with recognizable objects should be taken at face value as this does not necessarily mean that the work as such is concerned with what is known; on the contrary, the fact that any understanding of the exhibition depends on recognizing the artist’s use of ambiguity, should send out a clear signal that what we are dealing with here is not only the visible, but also the invisible; what we come to know from all of this is indeed not what is known, but perhaps more what is unknown. Accordingly the actual sculptural forms turn out to be a legitimization of how they were conceived and produced.
The realism in Du Toit’s work, including the concretisation of objects by means of the traditional methods of sculpting and casting, could for example be seen as an expression of nostalgia, of a sense of loss of the real objects and of reality. In re-calling these objects from the past, they become real again. The contradiction here: the sculptor is at once producer and consumer of these objects, if only through appropriating them from real life. But the contradiction remains metaphorical as it leads us to a further clue in our investigation. Such consumerism through appropriation even through recycling or re-use is once again a reminder of the temporality of mundane things. Yesterday’s discarded bits and pieces are reassembled to become today’s artworks. As viewers we are drawn into the process: we participate in consuming these artworks in finding meanings in them, meanings that are not necessarily immediately determinate, meanings that are in fact imprecise and incomplete, meanings that shift as new needs for further, for other, for unknown understandings arise.
Within the broader context of self-reflexivity as can be noted in the artist’s pre-occupation with the artistic process, it becomes evident that Du Toit is not only borrowing from his own past. The act of re-presenting objects previously made and exhibited elsewhere, at some other time, in fact reveals the artist’s need to critically reflect on his own professional practice as an artist. Rather than periodising a personal history which would be typical of the canonical tradition of the master artist, Du Toit’s conglomeration of scattered pieces shows an interest in disclosure through continuity instead of an arrival at a particular goal such as would be the case of the so-called master piece. Still, if any goal is to be identified, it would be that Du Toit, discarding the mantle of master-of-ceremonies as it were (master artist driving the master narrative), suggests interaction through his own enquiry of the interplay of seemingly incongruent objects ranging from the purely utilitarian to the subliminally aesthetic. It is clearly not consensus Du Toit is after, but a consideration of one of the most prominent paradoxes within current discourses on art: an agreement from all participants that there is no final reality.
Although it remains impossible to come to a final analysis – arguably due to the fact that no
interpretation is infallible – this much is obvious: just as each fragmented piece on exhibition
is never complete, not even within this intertextuality with its resultant excess of meaning, the
exhibition as composite unit can never be the entire story either; because even as a community of
fragments, this exhibition (as a work) remains a node within the broader playing field of general
interaction, a fragment of a wider narrative, a stage on the way to another work.
Website of South African Artists