Interview with Brenton Maart on 'Production Marks: Geometry, Psychology and the Electronic Age'
by Cara Snyman
Brenton Maart's 'Production Marks: Geometry, Psychology and the Electronic Age' is now showing at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg after a successful run at the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown, 2008), and the KZNSA Gallery in Durban.
'Production Marks' includes work by Zander Blom, Marco Cianfanelli, Paul Edmunds, Retha Erasmus, Stephen Hobbs, Doung Anwar Jahangeer and Andrew Verster. The show looks at artwork that uses mathematical principles to disintegrate and reassemble forms.
ArtThrob Gauteng Editor Cara Snyman spoke to Maart about his curatorial process here.
Cara Snyman: 'Production Marks' was commissioned by, and first shown at, the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The space in which it was housed featured the mechanisms of a revolving stage. How did this feature influence your conception of the show?
Brenton Maart: The commissioning brief from the National Arts Festival was fairly open. They wanted a visual arts exhibition for the Gallery in the Round at the Settler's Monument. The space itself is a reinforced concrete cylinder directly beneath the main theatre stage, which used to house the mechanism to allow the stage to revolve.
Against the ceiling of the gallery, parts of the revolving mechanics are still in place - cogs, cabling, the pulley system - now rusted through disuse (the revolving feature of the stage was discarded during renovation after a fire years back which completely destroyed the theatre). Leading off from the circumference of the cylinder are two sets of identical alcoves. In other words, the space itself is symmetrical and composed of modular and repeating units. Totally cut off from the natural light, the gallery now is a concrete structure with awesome geometry and modernist high drama. The space itself was sufficiently assertive so as to dictate the kind of artwork required for the exhibition.
From this grew the curatorial concept, and the exhibition was formulated to examine how artists use the exactitude of mathematics to create chaos and, from that chaos, create new forms. I selected work of South African contemporary artists Zander Blom, Marco Cianfanelli, Paul Edmunds, Retha Erasmus, Stephen Hobbs, Doung Anwar Jahangeer and Andrew Verster to demonstrate that we need not lament the systematic collapse of structure.
Instead, the exhibition aimed to illustrate that entropy - the physical principle of constant collapse - provides the building blocks for assembly into new forms. It is this celebration of the unstable that ultimately allows for continual and creative construction. In essence, the exhibition is an acknowledgment of inevitable anarchy, and a celebration of the new forms that grow from the rubble.
A key text that informed these curatorial decisions was Synchronizing Geometry: Landscape, Architecture and Construction (Actar, Barcelona, 2006), published in response to the retrospective exhibition of the work by the Carlos Ferrater Studio (Office of Architecture in Barcelona), Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, September 2006. They write that, 'Modern architecture was a hedonistic movement; abstraction, rigor and severity were no more than kinds of artifice that led to the creation of the most provocative description of the experience of modern life. Today it is possible to employ this conception by adapting it to contemporary conditions. In the presence of a globalised economy, the extraordinary zenith of the media and the complexity of computer networking, abstraction, rigor and severity will once again become the things that will lead us to create the most provocative description of contemporary experience.
CS: One might even suggest that the show, as articulated by three very different spaces, deals with the curator's 'production marks'?
BM: I chose the title 'Production Marks' to indicate the relationship between evidence of process in the artworks, and evidence of process in the construction of contemporary societies and psychologies: an attempt to seeing the living components of history. It is inevitable that my personal process finds its way into this. A strong feature of post-modern research methodologies is the acceptance, assertion and declaration of the researcher's role in the process of research and formulation of conclusions: who is asking the questions; why those specific questions are chosen; what the questions are, and so on. My specific personality and identity is based on an almost obsessive enactment of structure while simultaneously almost obsessively subverting that structure - breaking it down - and using the resultant components to try to make sense of the chaotic contemporary world that I occupy.
CS: Stephen Hobbs, speaking about his 'Under Construction' series in the walkabout, called architecture the 'dominant art form', and there is certainly a focus on the built structure, from Jahangeer's playful subversion of architectural material, to Edmunds' assembled pieces and Erasmus' Incubator.
BM: The architecture and modular symmetry of the artwork, and the shifts of these structures to make new forms, is used as semiotic proxy to describe the change from modernist psychological structure - through a process of collapse and restructuring - to a post-modern structure characterised by a celebration of fluidity, incoherence and instability (the beauty of flux).
CS: 'Production Marks' speaks about process, particularly it charts the development from two dimensions into three (and the other way around). Can you explain your understanding of the fourth and fifth dimensions that you mention?
BM: Different people have different ways of making sense of their existence, and the artists on this exhibition make use of complex mathematics and geometries to visualize and comment on contemporary realities.
The first exploration concerns the interplay between two- and three-dimensions, and the relationship between form and dimension. This methodology is evidenced through centuries of art history. What sets apart modern and post-modern art and architecture production from their earlier counterparts is the introduction of the conundrum of the fourth dimension, the visualisation of which requires the construction of models.
I wrote in a recent text on the work of Paul Edmunds (www.artthrob.co.za, April 2008) that mathematician and artist Adrian Ocneanu (http://www.physorg.com/news7409.html) notes that four-dimensional models are useful for thinking about and finding new relationships and phenomena. Using the example of a map, Ocneanu outlines the conundrum: the way to add another dimension is to think in one dimension less. Thus, the way to represent the fourth dimension is to represent its three dimensions on a flat, two-dimensional plane. It is this mathematical possibility that gives rise to the sensation of the fourth dimension.
By layering these models upon each other, and introducing the ephemeral and qualitative magic of light and time, the artworks on exhibition begin to hint at the fifth (or spiritual) dimension. This is a heady concept, and may be explained by the fact that, through the ages, the realisation of the spirit has always been accompanied by time (mortality vs immortality) and light (auras, halos, the symbol of the light bulb as epiphany, the forces of light and dark).
But the key reason why I assert the spiritual nature of the artworks is that, without exception, they all require a degree of contemplation (functioning in a manner similar to the way Rothko paintings are thought to induce a spiritual feeling). It is this process of meditation, discussed in my text on Paul Edmunds (www.artthrob.co.za, April 2008) that requires focus. It is only when interacting with the structure - uninterrupted, alone, for a while - that the viewer may approach the state of calm needed for interpretation. It is within the peace that arises through this action that the viewer may find comfort.
CS: There seems to be a constant play between oppositions in the show: chaos and structure, strength and vulnerability, and an idea of the hand-wrought as apposed to the machine-made.
BM: I am less convinced by the binary and more intrigued by the process that leads from one point to another. By implication then, these processes become ongoing where, for example, structure leads to destruction which, in turn leads to structure, strength leads to vulnerability which leads to strength. It is the process of continual flux that I find interesting, this never-ending change that implies some kind of infinity. And it is the very process of change which defies modernist binary constructs, which subverts the insistence on the absolute, and which allows for conscious and continual growth.
Opens: September 1
Closes: September 25
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