Public Debate: Cape Town's Third Public Sculpture Competition
by Sean O'Toole
The notion of public space in South Africa is a contentious one, the idea of beautifying small sections of it with art rather than razor wire a praiseworthy ideal. This does not, however, detract from the fact that public sculpture is a problematic enterprise. This is capably hinted at by one of the three works short-listed for the current Third Cape Town Public Sculpture Competition.
Katherine Bull and Fritha Langerman's proposed work is a far cry from Brett Murray's Africa which won him the competition in 1998. As opposed to the humorously brute form of Murray's pop-vernacular sculpture, situated on St. Georges' Mall, Bull and Langerman have proposed a discreet little work. Shunning the phallo-centric design of previous public sculptures, they have suggested a design that would embed eight lighting-units into the designated site, on the corner of St George's Mall and Shortmarket Street.
It is a clever idea, one that draws its strength from the unassuming
presence it would suggest. That each light represents a feminine archetype, subverted from eight historical Cape Town patriarchs, only works to imbue the work with added resonance. A simple question however remains: Will anyone ever notice the work, let alone understand the fictional parodies?
Paul Edmunds and Kevin Brand are the two other finalists. Brand's
contribution comprises three table-soccer figures standing shoulder to shoulder. It is a delightfully pop suggestion, one that would certainly resonate with many South Africans, including myself. Soccer is, however, largely of the male preserve, a fact that further argues the points raised by Bull and Langerman.
An artist with an intriguing artistic output, Paul Edmund's orange monotone maquette somehow reminded of Anish Kapoor, the influential Indian-born sculptor. Judges Alan Alborough, Rayda Becker, David Brown, Marilyn Martin, Melvyn Minnaar and Zwelethu Mthethwa would certainly be going out on a limb were they to choose Edmunds' work. Sadly we still live in a time when public
sculpture must suggest meaning. This fact may tend to militate against Edmunds' use of opaque forms and gestures, although I sincerely hope not.
Jogging through the rest of the submissions, it is intriguing to note how the various entries received either extended on ideas suggested by Brett Murray's popular piece; wantonly plagiarised ideas from existing public sculptures; and in the case of Ed Young, simply opted for raising an elegant middle finger. Young, a Michaelis School of Fine Art MA student, presented a gilded dog turd. It may not represent the most sophisticated response to a contentious art form, but it certainly proffers a curt response to its critics.
A sum of R120 000 from the J.K.Gross Trust has been made available for this competition. R80 000 has been set aside for the making and installation of the chosen piece, to be completed within a twelve month period, and R40 000 is the prize money for the winning sculptor.
Association for Visual Arts, 35 Church Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 424 7436
Fax: (021) 423 2637
Hours: Mon - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm