Bev Butkow re-weaves networks of care in her latest exhibition
Posted on 3 August 2023
Networks of care will converge and entangle at the Origins Centre, Wits University, during Johannesburg-based artist Bev Butkow's upcoming solo exhibition titled re-weaving m/other, which will run from 20 August until 30 September 2023.
These networks of care raise questions around collective knowledge, co-existence, materiality, excess, the body, women's labour, and the traces one leaves on the world.
The works are the result of Butkow's collaborative, physical approach to studio activities. Working synchronistically with her materials - dressmaking scraps, artificial pearls, beads, textile offcuts, plastic jewels, masking tape and other mass-produced, synthetic items - Butkow forms abstracted woven, stitched, printed, painted and mixed media works.
Four key themes animate Butkow's exhibition - the body and art, a material uprising, the value of women's labour, the traces we leave and the impact we make. Together, they serve to provoke, question, and reframe how we exist in the world as individuals, in community, and in relation to all other living beings.
The body and art consider how gesture, physicality, and the performance of the art-making process inform the work of art in both its making and viewing, while a material uprising speaks to the build-up of excess and material waste in the contemporary world. The value of women's labour looks at the presence of mothering, nurturing and care in the studio and the domestic space, and the value society places on this labour. Finally, the traces we leave speaks to our impact - materially, socially, environmentally and otherwise - on each other and Mother Earth in the age of the Anthropocene.
"Underlying my making process is a deep awareness of responsibilities that come with making material objects," explains Butkow. "What ethical, moral and material responsibilities do I have to the traces that I leave? How do I walk upon this Earth?" Woven throughout these myriad themes, and embedded in the works themselves, is the presence of care - care for an ailing planet, for the body, and for one another.
This body of work is particularly interested in "what happens when the mode of caring that defines woman/motherhood - that contradictory pull between nurturing and extending - turns into a creative methodology that guides my way of working in my studio?" The artist adds that "mobilising the immense power of mothering, nurturing, and care in the studio has allowed the materials to speak, and to reach their full potential."
The works are the result of an intuitive and habitual process of weaving, painting, layering, entangling, collapsing, and reconstructing, all of which centre the artist-woman body as a vital site of sedimented, tacit knowledge.
Considering both the nature of Butkow's work and its location in the Origins Centre - a space committed to studying the origins of humankind through the lens of creativity to assess our impact on the world - physicality also becomes an essential part of the exhibition. Through a mixture of wall-based works, installation, and projection, re-weaving m/other invites viewers to actively engage with its tactility, physicality, and immersive, meditative qualities.
Activating the body of the viewer is critical. It's important that they physically move through the space while engaging with the artworks. "Viewing the artworks is about more than just the act of looking," explains Butkow. "It's a physical, embodied engagement with the work, that evokes a receptiveness to the world which is different for each person."
Speaking about the process of building up to this exhibition and reflecting on her journey as an artist, Butkow says: "While much of my previous work has been about a process of unravelling, un-becoming and re-becoming, this body of work activates an immense feminine power. It celebrates and relishes an intense mothering, nurturing, caring spirit that comes through in the work."
A SERIES OF CREATIVE GATHERINGS
A series of four creative laboratory/gatherings will run concurrently with the exhibition around the broad theme of 'women's work as artistic practice'. This public programme and educational project - which are supported through grant funding from the National Art Council (NAC) and the PESP4 - will bring together women academics, creatives and thinkers in South Africa and the diaspora, spanning a cross-section of the creative sector.
By inviting collaborators and like-minded creatives to lead the conversations on these topics, the gatherings create a space of shared creative and intellectual interests.
Curated by independent curator, academic and researcher Candice Allison in conjunction with Butkow, the gatherings will host a broad spectrum of speakers, like 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art Buhlebezwe Siwani, who purposefully inserts her body into her deeply spiritual creative practice, and Mary Corrigall, who will rely on her research into the African arts ecosystem to discuss whether the creative labour of South African women artists is valued fairly. Another fascinating topic will be presented by Cape Town-based artist Zayaan Khan, whose creative practice investigates indigenous food reclamation as praxis.
The creative laboratory/gatherings will be held from 4-6pm at the Origins Centre, Wits University on:
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