Paul Edmunds: Subtropicalia

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/ Subtropicalia Paul Edmunds /

/ Subtropicalia Paul Edmunds / MICHAEL STEVENSON 1 October - 21 November 2009

Texts by the artist

This body of work began with my short story of the same title (published as an accompaniment to this catalogue) describing my coming of age in Johannesburg during the 1970s and 80s. While skateboarding and surfing were certainly not my only interests or preoccupations, I have consistently returned to them throughout my life. For this reason it seemed an appropriate motif and a means to explore aspects of my artistic practice. I don’t imagine the story is all that unusual for a white South African of my age, but it so happens that I’m able to recall things with particular clarity and detail. What emerges, I think, is that when you are younger, you are so immersed in your preoccupations that you are often not really aware of the place of your experience in the larger picture. In some sense you are not really present for your experience, and that experience, anyway, is often characterised by a slight dissatisfaction – perhaps you can’t pull off a move the way you want, your wheels are too slow, the conditions in your life are unlike those in a magazine, and, regrettably, you live 600km from the coast. The title of the story alludes as much to latitude as it does to the slight remove that ‘sub-’ suggests – a remove that becomes quite literal at the story’s conclusion.



Sleeve 2009 Wetsuit material (Neoprene), polyester thread, grommets 210 x 310 x 310cm (variable)

I conceived of Sleeve as a kind of introduction to this body of work, beneath which a viewer must pass in order to enter. The large roof-like structure is made from salvaged wetsuit material (Neoprene), cut into small triangles and assembled into a ‘hyperbolic parabola’. The form takes its inspiration from concrete structures made by 20th-century architect Felix Candela. He became enamoured of the hyperbolic paraboloid because of the simplicity of its construction and the great stability produced by its double-curved or ‘anti-clastic’ form: where a line drawn through any point describes a convex curve, a line perpendicular to this will describe a concave. The whole structure is produced by a straight line which rotates as it moves along the axis of the parabola (curve) which defines it. The curvilinear nature of the structure recalls the search for perfect concrete transitions and banks which preoccupied us as skateboarders. The appropriation of architecture for skateboarding is a universal phenomenon, traces of which are visible on ledges, banks and steps in many cities in the world. The work also has the pitch and scale of a sizeable wave. A wetsuit allows a surfer to be immersed in a medium while remaining insulated from it, a paradox I sought to evoke. Much of this body of work makes reference to experience at a slight remove. The object has distinct inside and outside surfaces, with the topmost surface being more sun-faded and weathered, peppered with logos. The under-surface is more brightly hued and smoother in appearance. This contrasting of interior and exterior mirrors the idea of simultaneous insulation and immersion, a dichotomy further explored in the interchangeability of peak and trough in the object’s form. The fabric I used came from donations to Mahala, an organisation that gives boards and wetsuits to less fortunate kids in the Western and Eastern Cape and teaches them to surf. People often donate old wetsuits which are too worn to be repaired or in sizes unsuitable for kids. I was able to buy reasonable wetsuits and exchange these for useless ones which were filling up precious storage space.



Ply 2009 Polypropylene, steel 190 x 115 x 168cm

Ply is a large translucent polypropylene helix made of about 90 similar forms. Each has proportions related to a skateboard deck, although only one is seen in its entirety. In addition, the elements are joined in such a way as to give them a bent profile. This work explores the process of lamination I have addressed in earlier pieces. Normally laminates, or plies in a lamination, are held together by some sort of glue or bonding agent, but here they are held by hardware. The profile this produces relates to the convex and concave surfaces typical of surf- and skateboards, described by terms such as ‘rocker’ and ‘camber’. The profile also alludes to the centrifugal and centripetal forces intimated by the whole structure. The repetitive radial arrangement of translucent forms bears some resemblance to a stroboscopic photograph describing a rotating object. This is a typical device in surf and skate magazines where a sequence of moves is depicted in a series of frames shot with a motor drive. As skateboard tricks became more complicated in the 1990s, many made no sense if illustrated by a single shot. Often such pics are taken with a very wide-angle lens resulting in a distorted image, alluded to here by the form’s overall convex form. In famous footage taken from directly overhead of 1970s skate pioneer Stacy Peralta, he spins around, interminably it seems, with only his skateboard visible beyond the outskirts of his long blond hair which lifts with the centrifugal force of his revolutions. I began this body of work (aside from Weft) after a trip to London in 2008, when a friend and I skated down some hills on his longboards (long skateboards made predominantly for cruising and riding downhill, a sort of old man’s skateboard). On my return I made myself a deck from vertically laminated wood which I routed into the profile I used for this work. The translucent laminae and progressive form also bring to mind the incremental growth of seashells.



Pitch 2008 Perspex, brass 66 x 55 x 6cm

Pitch is a Perspex and brass construction which perhaps bears a passing resemblance to an abacus. Nine horizontal rows of twisting red and yellow plastic forms sit atop one another. Three rows make one revolution in their passage from left right; another three twist three times, and the others twist nine times. As a result, in three places, all of the twisting forms (helices) are at exactly the same place in their revolution, creating four distinct flat areas from the top of the work to its bottom. Like the video Weft, this work makes reference to harmony. Here, however, the pitches of the respective waves are related to each other by factors of three, a harmonic interval common in Western music. The red and yellow plastic elements recall a small surfboard pendant my older brother made when I was young, described in Subtropicalia. Aside from the excitement afforded by the object, it was my first conscious encounter with Perspex, a material which fascinated me. A lot of my early work included fragments of broken Perspex car lights which I first collected as a child. The elements were designed in such a way that I was able to make regular, curved forms using only straight edges, a formal device I have employed in several works here. Once again I use a kind of lamination to produce slowly evolving forms.



Slope 2009 Silkscreen on 5 sheets of Tyvek 84.5 x 59.5 x 5cm Pool 2009 Silkscreen on 4 sheets of Tyvek 59.5 x 84.5 x 5cm Trough 2009 Silkscreen on 4 sheets of Tyvek 59.5 x 84.5 x 5cm

This series of cut-outs is made from Tyvek, a polypropylene film similar to paper in appearance but extremely strong and resistant to the elements. Each work comprises layers of cyan, magenta, yellow and white sheets (and a black layer in the case of Slope) with a series of designs cut out of each. Slope began with a digital photograph I took of a gently pitched beach, where the sea proceeded uniformly from millimetres deep at the picture’s base to the distant, deep water of the horizon at its top. In so doing, the colour changed from the off-yellow of the beach to a deep blue. Using Photoshop, I tracked the changes in colour in terms of the pixels’ cyan, magenta, yellow and black make-up. I translated this information into a system whereby an arrangement of diamonds would reflect the varying composition of colours in a given part of the image. I transferred this information onto sheets of the respectively coloured sheets of Tyvek which hang one in front of the other with white at the front. I cut out selected diamonds from each successive layer, allowing colours beneath to be seen in the determined positions and proportions. A similar process was used for Pool, but here the colour remains unchanged, theoretically depicting an ocean of unchanging depth and undisturbed surface. For Trough I chose a single part of a photograph, and then, drawing in three dimensions on my computer,



I incrementally tilted each row. The topmost figures are drawn on the picture plane, but by the time we reach the bottom, each element is tilted about 45° away. In this way, the hue remains the same but tone, or saturation, is subtly altered. The results are an illustration of the colour information I extracted from the photographs, which, while not strict representations as such, remain faithful to the rich sensual nature of their source. Together, the three works explore the search for perfection or ideal conditions which almost defines the surf or skate experience. A particular combination of swell, wind, tide and structure on the ocean floor would give rise to a perfect wave. A surface of a certain texture, oriented in a particular way and accessible to a skateboarder, promises the ultimate experience. Trough depicts a perfectly uniform transition from horizontal towards vertical, free from obstacles and imperfections, while Pool denotes a uniform, flat surface. Of course, I have never experienced such a perfect collusion of conditions, and quite likely neither has anyone else. However, images from magazines and movies seem to promise us that this perfection does exist, somewhere currently out of our experience but tantalisingly available. The designs all began with drawings I made thinking of the construction of the blades in a camera’s shutter mechanism. The process of screening and revealing selected sections of colour evokes the mechanism of sight and photography, whereby light of certain frequencies is reflected into the lens, giving objects their characteristic colour.



Weft 2008 Digital video, no sound Duration 4 min 5 sec Edition of 5 + 1AP

Weft was first produced around 2003 with the help of Greg Streak, a Durban-based artist with whom I had worked on a number of projects. The Endless Summer by Bruce Brown, made in 1964, established the dominant theme of most surf movies ever made – the search for perfect waves. The film’s climactic scene takes place in textbook conditions near St Francis Bay, almost exactly halfway between Cape Town and Durban. Surfers ride near-perfect waves for minutes at a time at this legendary right point break. Streak and I took this footage and showed it on a split screen, with that on the left-hand side reversed. We upset this symmetry by alternately and independently speeding up and slowing down the footage on either side. As a result, the surfers’ rides are slightly out of phase with each other but meet at regular intervals where the images mirror each other for a split second. These moments are in a sense like a harmony, that brief instant where two waves interact in a constructive way, resulting in a whole greater than the sum of its parts. I had originally conceived of this work on learning of (possibly apocryphal) studio trickery apparently pioneered by the Beatles. They had created a ‘phased’ sound by running two tapes of the same passage simultaneously and then manually slowing down first one tape and then the other, and recording the result. In this way, the music appears to fall behind and catch up with itself as the two tracks shift in and out of phase. This work was remade in late 2007 with Brendon Bussy, a musician and artist, also originally from Durban. We decided to swap the images around so that the surfers move away from each other and a great, shifting, periodically symmetrical mass of water occupies the centre of the screen. We also slightly altered the pitch of the algorithm, so that symmetries occur more frequently.



Period 2008 Expanded polyethylene foam, aluminium, galvanised steel Two sections, each approximately 140 x 140 x 90cm

Period comprises two large irregular structures made from black polyethylene foam. Each features a series of wave-like profiles (reduced to an idealised crest and trough) arranged sequentially along the length of the element. There are 13 different profiles; placed one in front of the other, a series of growing and contracting waves emerges. The material is similar to that used in the manufacture of bodyboards, a material I became intimately familiar with and fascinated by as a child. The closed-cell foam is ideal for flotation devices as its structure does not allow water to pass from a ruptured cell to any of its neighbours. The foam distorts fairly easily but returns to its original form almost indefinitely. The changing profiles depict a series of waves which increase in size over seven steps and contract again until the cycle repeats. This series refers to the commonly held (but difficult to prove) belief that waves occur in sets with the largest in each occurring every seven waves. I recall counting waves while in the sea, hoping to catch the largest of a set, or at least not be caught by it. The construction is a kind of lamination, a process often employed in this body of work as a means to generate forms accumulatively and making reference to similar processes used in the manufacture of objects in the surf and skate industry. It allows one to produce complex forms and to combine various materials with differing properties in one object. It also allows the construction of voluminous forms from thin material.



Roll 2009 Polyurethane 26 x 45 x 3cm Edition of 10 + 1AP Foam 2009 Skateboard wheels, cable ties 24 x 50 x 4cm

The development of polyurethane wheels in the early 1970s probably influenced the evolution of skateboarding more than anything else. The plastic, available in compounds of varying hardness, combined traction, durability and absorptive qualities. It could be produced in a range of colours and opacities. The shape and size of wheels varied according to their intended purpose as well as fashion. In the late 1980s, companies began printing graphics on the surface of the wheels, making them even more enticing. Roll began with a wheel I acquired in the early 1990s, a 66mm Santa Cruz ‘Bullet’. I made a digit al drawing of it and altered this in a few ways. The circular form is made into a hexagon and the radius of its edges shifts as it moves around the circumference. This object was rendered in resin by a three-dimensional printer, a process akin to lamination, where an object is produced by numerous successive flat layers of material. The resulting object was moulded. Into that mould I cast polyurethane ‘wheels’ and these are assembled in a construction. A wheel is defined by its ability to move most economically in a linear fashion. The construction’s flatness explores this, but at the same time, the alterations I have made to the form take note of the wear and tear which typically affects skateboard wheels: flat spots from sliding, and uneven tapering from a tendency to turn or slide in one way more than another. The flatness is offset by the way in which the structure actually comprises a series of shallow, alternating peaks and troughs. The hexagonal nature of the construction demonstrates the design principle of ‘closest



packing’ which is evident in structures ranging from beehives to bubble rafts, where the minimum amount of material and energy is deployed to create a stable structure. I explored this in earlier works like Froth (2005). Foam is a regular structure made from used skateboard wheels given hexagonal profiles and held together by cable ties. The wheels were given to me by a friend who has built and runs a skateboard camp in rural KwaZulu-Natal. He collected these for me and in return I donated some money to his venture. The work is closely related to Roll, here pitching a more regular structure against the lack of uniformity in its components. Signs of wear and tear, damage and the remains of graphics and inserts used to distinguish one product from another are evident. The work has a front and a back, just like the wheels from which it is made, where only the outer surface of the wheel is seen. Although the same hexagonal template was laid over all the wheels, those on the bottom left were larger than those on the top right, and this is evident in the way the packing varies across the work’s surface.




Paul Edmunds Born 1970, Johannesburg; lives in Cape Town MAFA degree, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1995 Selected Solo Exhibitions 2008 Aggregate, Bank Gallery, Durban 2007 Array, Art on Paper Gallery, Johannesburg 2005 Phenomena, João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town 2003 Cloud, João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town 2001 Houding, João Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town 1999 Scale, Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town 1998 Once, again, Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town 1997 Water, The Space Below the Lounge, Cape Town 1996 Stones, Leaves, Water, Phemba Kahle Centre, Pietermaritzburg 1994 Paul Edmunds, NSA Gallery, Durban Selected Group Exhibitions 2007/8 Production Marks: Geometry, psychology and the electronic age, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; KZNSA, Durban; Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg 2005 In the Making: Materials and process, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town 2003 HIV(E), site-specific project in Durban; exhibition at Franchise, Johannesburg 2003 Prints and Multiples, Warren Siebrits Modern & Contemporary, Johannesburg 2002 Silence/Violence, simultaneous exhibitions in Durban and Nieubethesda 2002 Bodies II: Sublimation, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn 2000 Cast, Bronze Age Foundry, Cape Town 2000 Images of Self, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn 2000 Unplugged V, Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg 1998 Family Ties, Sandton Civic Art Gallery, Johannesburg 1996 FNB Vita Art Now, Johannesburg, 1996 Jabulisa: The Art of KwaZulu-Natal, national touring exhibition Awards 2007 Tollman Award 1992 Volkskas Atelier Award


Artist’s acknowledgments Many people have helped me with this body of work. Thanks to: Charlotte Amery, Stuart Boyd, Andy Davis, Gideon Els, Justin Fiske, Toby Groenewald, Piers Mansfield-Scaddan, Daniella Mooney, Heath Nash, Dallas Oberholzer and Chloë Townsend.

Catalogue no 43 October 2009 Cover image Ply, 2009 (detail) Cover image (short story) Artist’s technical drawing of Ply Right Artist’s technical drawing of Sleeve Michael Stevenson Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 Cape Town, South Africa Tel +27 (0)21 462 1500 Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini Image repro Ray du Toit Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town



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