Conrad Botes: The Temptation to Exist

Page 1




Emil Cioran, whose book of essays lends its title to Conrad Botes’ new body of work, was a philosopher and writer who grappled with ideas of suicide, loss of faith, misotheism and tragic history. He was particularly adept at aphorisms, such as: ‘When we cannot be delivered from ourselves, we delight in devouring ourselves.’ ‘The temptation to exist’ is an expression of Cioran’s despair at the world, yet paradoxical desire to live. In Christian mythology, ‘temptation’ is accorded a singular power. The MARTYRS AND OTHER MONSTERS CHAD ROSSOUW

very nature of the word suggests a continual battle between desire and


repression. It points not only to the conflict between spiritual purity and earthly dirt central to Christianity, but also to the interaction of our reptilian id with our rational ego. Temptation is built into our psyches. The negative connotation of the word positions desire as bad and repression as holy. The title of Botes’ exhibition implies that existence itself is improper, something to be repressed. However, the titular work consists of 16 selfportraits, an artistic self-affirmation. These paintings on canvas and reverse-glass roundels, some clustered against a mural, are rendered in a distinctive brushstroke – a graphic linearity so particular to Botes, it reinforces self-identity in the portraits. Behind each head, glowing lines

Page 1 The Stolen Shadow Installation detail Pages 2 & 3 The Temptation to Exist 2011 Oil-based paint on reverse glass roundels 80cm diameter each The Trouble With Being Born 2011 Acrylic on canvas 130 x 90cm


radiate like a halo. The skin of each portrait crawls with comic-like figures who stab, dismember, shit and burn. While performing feats of violence and grossness, they are drawn with a loving glee. These maggoty figures, willingly placed across a self-portrait, remind me of the tale of St Simeon. Simeon was a stylite, an ascetic who sat on a pillar for 37 years. When the bugs and mites infesting his filthy body fell off, he would pick them up and let them burrow back into his skin. His radical self-denial made him holy, a saint – but also an insufferable show-off. Such rejection can only stem from either self-hate or pride; both emotions put the self on a pedestal, so to speak. St Simeon could be seen, then, as not only an ascetic but also a cynic. He withdraws from the world while living out his own existential crisis. Botes’ work is marked by cynicism, but its nature is different from the selfishness of St Simeon. In The Critique of Cynical Reason (1983), German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk considers cynicism as a dominant mode of contemporary life. He defines cynicism as ’enlightened false consciousness’. By this he means that particular modes and ideologies have been proven false, and yet one sticks to the form. One no longer believes in the purposefulness of authority, but still supports it. In daily life, one is indifferent, miserable and hopeless. An example would be the priest who no longer believes in the tenability of God, yet continues to preach. Or the graduate working in advertising while understanding Marx. Western society has grown up on a diet of God’s word as absolute, yet the critique of this since the Enlightenment has rocked its foundations. Even worse is the growing suspicion that the world’s leaders in industry and politics are the greatest cynics of all. They are reaping a bitter harvest of money and power, and have a vested interest in the status quo. In contradiction to this futility, Botes’ cynicism is tinged with melancholy and humour. In the large painting Origin, Botes presents a God-like figure squatting over his creation of a violent populace pounding each other into the ground. God is shown as the Great Shitter, who bears a blasphemous resemblance to Botes himself. His nastiness glows with a holy light. The pleasure here in obscenity is reminiscent of the Greek Diogenes, founder of the Cynic school of philosophy. Believing that most society was hypocritical and prevented


Communist II 2011 Oil-based paint on reverse glass 80cm diameter


us from attaining happiness, Diogenes refused to partake in it. He slept in a barrel and never worked. His beard grew wild and his clothes were rags. He dismissed all authority. Decency itself was a product of the dominant ideology, and so Diogenes shat in the theatre, masturbated in the market and pissed on passersby. As Sloterdijk suggests, Diogenes’ eschewal of theory for action, however inconsequential that action may be, is a far cry from the indifference of contemporary cynicism. This joyful, critical and self-reflexive cynicism is closer to Botes’ spirit. In Botes’ work religious authority is continually put under fire. The diptych entitled Communist and Socialist portrays Jesus next to Osama bin Laden. Each has a glowing background and a web of writhing facial tattoos. While upending accepted views of these religious figures, giving them secular, political designations, it also equates the horrors perpetrated in their names. Cioran has a maxim which says it best: ’The fanatic is incorruptible: if he kills for an idea, he can just as well get himself killed for one; in either case, tyrant or martyr, he is a monster.’ The play between tyrant and martyr is illustrated in a more ambiguous way in the large sculptural installation The Stolen Shadow. The work comprises almost normal domestic items: a wall, a cupboard, a chair, a tub. These objects are marred by black paint and scrawled creatures. The bucket contains a severed hand, the cupboard a disembodied penis. Gazing out from this uncanny environment is a life-size figure in a grey smock. He wears a black dog mask, with glaring blank eyes. Riding on his shoulders is a twisty little homunculus. It is unclear who is demon and who is victim. The work is cloaked in a shadowy, encircling despair. Cracks of light, however, break through. Scattered on the floor are stubs of chalk, like little signals of the positive act of creation. Far from sinking into a bitter and vengeful depression, Botes’ work finds redemption in action, and specifically in art-making. Through self-awareness and expression, cynicism can turn from its futile nature into an act of criticism. Indifference is replaced with vitality. Emil Cioran, after all, lived to the ripe old age of 84.


Communist and Socialist 2011 Diptych Acrylic on canvas 350 x 170cm each



The Temptation to Exist I 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 130cm


The Temptation to Exist III 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 120cm


The Temptation to Exist II 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 120cm


The Temptation to Exist V 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 130cm


The Temptation to Exist IV 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 150cm


The Temptation to Exist VI 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 145cm




The Temptation to Exist 2011 Installation view, wall painting with roundels Dimensions variable



Ocean of Shit I 2011 Oil-based paint on reverse glass 104cm diameter


Ocean of Shit II 2011 Oil-based paint on reverse glass 104cm diameter


The Proximity of Obscenity 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 145cm


Pilgrim 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 130cm


Origin 2011 Acrylic on canvas 200 x 350cm



Terrorist and Anarchist 2011 Diptych Acrylic on canvas 250 x 140cm each





Lovesick 2011 Acrylic on canvas 165 x 250cm



The Fiscal Agent 2011 Enamel paint, jelutong, meranti, zinc Approx 120 x 123 x 74.5cm



The Stolen Shadow 2009-11 Mixed-media installation Figure: enamel paint, jelutong, obeche, approx 177cm high Installation dimensions variable




politics and strong voices, MU Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Born Ladismith, Western Cape, 1969; lives and

The Beauty of Distance: Songs of

works in Cape Town

survival in a precarious age, 17th Biennale of Sydney, Australia

RECENT SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2010 On Earth as It is in Heaven, KZNSA Gallery, Durban House of Judas, Fred, London 2009 Crime and Punishment, Brodie/

The Graphic Unconscious, Philagrafika 2010, Philadelphia, USA 2009 Cyclone BD festival, Reunion Self/Not-self, Brodie/Stevenson, Johannesburg

Stevenson, Johannesburg

Conrad Botes, Anton Kannemeyer

Hostile Territory, Aardklop arts festival,

& Henning Wagenbreth: Recent


prints and drawings, Gallery AOP,

Cain and Abel, Michael Stevenson,


Cape Town

Bitterkomix: Un certain regard

2007 Satan’s Choir at the Gates of Heaven, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town 2005 Conrad Botes, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg Notes from Underground, Gallery

sur l’Afrique du Sud, Angoulême International Comics Festival, France 2008 Farewell to Post-Colonialism, Third Guangzhou Triennial, China 2007 Apartheid: The South African Mirror,

Momo, Johannesburg

Centro de Cultura Contemporania de

Devil’s Bullets, Erdmann Contemporary,

Barcelona, Spain

Cape Town

South African Art: Modern art and cultural development in a changing


society, Danubiana Meulensteen Art

2011 Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to

Museum, Bratislava, Slovakia

Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2010 Glanzlichter: Reverse glass paintings in contemporary art, Museum Villa Rot,

Turbulence, Hangar-7, Salzburg, Germany 2006 Bitterkomix, Michael Stevenson,

Burgrieden-Rot, Germany

Cape Town

Peekaboo: Current South Africa, Tennis

Africa Comics, Studio Museum in

Palace Art Museum, Helsinki

Harlem, New York

Ti Piment festival, Nancy, France

Ninth Havana Biennale, Cuba

Rio Loco festival, Tolouse, France

New Painting, KZNSA Gallery, Durban;

... for those who live in it: Pop culture,

Johannesburg Art Gallery

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 326 0034/41 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 Catalogue 58 September 2011 Cover Communist and Socialist, 2011, details Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.