Wim Botha: Rooms 2001-2014

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Rooms 2001 – 2014


Rooms 2001 – 2014

Vir Jozua en Anabel



Wim Botha describes the evolution of his room installations in extracts from an interview by Brenton Maart at Botha’s Cape Town studio in preparation for The Epic Mundane, his exhibition at the 2014 National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

Each room is a constellation of objects ranging widely in material, form and execution, suspended in an illusory space. The space is defined abstractly and minimally by a black line, suggesting walls, hallways, ceilings and cornices, like a three-dimensional architectural drawing. This space is overlayed onto the gallery floorplan; it enters the gallery as parts falling outside the boundaries of physical space; it is formless; it can permeate things. This implies that the objects inside are also not quite as real; although they are currently visible in the gallery, they are part of the metaphysical space, without concrete form. Inside, things are weightless and floating, thus the objects can take on other natures; they don’t have to mean what things in the real world mean. Portrait busts – in this space – are no longer objects; they become entities, people, inhabitants of some other reality; animated. [Making the portrait busts] used to be anguish, because each one needed to be absolutely unique (which is farcical). I now see them as parts of an ongoing process. I would be making one, and an element would stand out as unexpectedly beautiful or interesting. In the next, I would take that element and build on it. Sometimes it’s the way that books are packed that leaves parts incomplete; sometimes it’s the colours of the spines that work in a certain way. The one begets the other; it’s almost as if the same bust is being constantly remade.


The technical issues have been sufficiently resolved so that I can create the parameters within which chance can happen. Sculpture is oppressively technical and physical, and always absolutely processbound. This is the factor that led me to the polystyrene carvings, in order to make spontaneous sculpture – large, voluminous forms that can exist as if by thinking them, like brushstrokes, like a painted gesture (something not usually possible in sculpture). In this instance, trying to negate the technical is an attempt to let the sculptures become more free, expressive. The spontaneity of mark-making allowed by the polystyrene led directly to the really rough, semispontaneous wood carvings. The angularity in some of the wood carving led to a more fragmented treatment of some of the paper busts. Some of the chainsaw marks on the wood busts allowed me to leave much of the marble process marks, because this had established itself as a viable language. That’s why I keep circling between them. They feed each other. I follow a vague idea without desire and intention, and then there’s a moment when it’s done. And this is new to me: that moment when images overlap, in focus. It’s a kind of ecstacy, when a certain type of energetic experience can be engendered from a visual experience that transcends object, beauty and technicality. The illusion is low-tech: things are propped up on unpainted pine legs, and they hang from cables with dangling ends. The hardware shows the intention of allowing them to be something which they’re not. Thus the illusion is consciously [only] a suggestion of an illusion. It’s as if this space becomes a virtual museum where, inside, objects are interchangeable. I can remove the black wooden wings and replace them with a white polystyrene bust and, instead of changing the work, it will shift the balance of it slightly, like a mobile, to accommodate the new element, or the possible meanings of that new element. The space is fluid; it allows objects to interact. Within that artificial world the nature of things can change and I can imagine –


the viewer can imagine – these objects having abilities and characteristics that are possible. Like a virtual three-dimensional world, it operates with different rules. It’s not a complete fantasy, but it’s shifted slightly on its axis; it’s between the wall and the paint, behind the wallpaper, just inaccessible (or maybe we’re just blind to it). Like an overlayed, parallel existence, there are multiple realities functioning at the same time ... Conceptually it’s almost irrelevant, because the meaning that might be ascribed to a work will become [just] one more ingredient in this soup of references. It’s not that I don’t want to prescribe a meaning: I don’t think I can. I don’t think it’s possible, anymore, to say what these things must mean. The variability and the interchange between objects is so wide, I don’t think I can come to a firm conclusion. I just walk through and see some of these links. There is something melancholic to these spaces, I’m not sure how and why. They have a kind of sadness. It’s not overt; it is there in the corner of a mouth sometimes; in a certain angularity between two piece of wood. There is a stillness, and that stillness is not always calm. But I know that a lot of the chaos is meaningless, a chasing of tails. At the same time things bounce off each other; they interact in a way that becomes playful. And certainly my constructing of it is a kind of play [within] a metaphorical world where I can explore elements of our world with impunity, without reality interfering. There’s a certain kind of way, and there are certain times, where I may see everything around me as particles, as a hive of buzzing elemental bits of matter currently taking this form, always in flux and shifting into other forms later; fluid, in movement. At this moment this is what it looks like, and these are the rules according to which it operates, and it will change, and it will be fine. I cannot make moral judgment; that’s just the way it is. It’s not so much a conscious move towards making things be unresolved, to fly apart. It’s an unconscious realisation when something has reached a place where it is complete enough.


It’s not reductive; it’s not taking something and breaking it down. It’s reaching a stage of completion that describes the whole sufficiently. If it already says what it needs to – if it describes that thing sufficiently – why belabour it? Leaving it incomplete – leaving it up to people to make up their own minds – used to be something I consciously thought of. I wanted that open-endedness, and I still believe in it. Incidental sounds like it’s unintended, and it’s not, but it is also not manufactured. It’s a welcome result of me not wanting to define something in its entirety. Aesthetically and conceptually, it becomes much less interesting for me to complete it. The more complete something is, the more you reduce its possibilities. I like allowing my mind to complete it, because as I grow, so it changes. In constructing the rooms, I consider them formally: lines, balance, shape. I used to be very aware what the possible implications of the relationships between portraits might mean, for example. Now, however, it’s become formal. The relationships are about colour, volume and mass. I try not to think about meaning and, although I know it does create a tension, I try not to dwell on what those relationships might be. By concentrating on the formal and on unintentional interactions, and by only obliquely taking notice of conceptual concerns (but not giving them life), more of myself is in there than would have been had I been thinking about them. Unconsciously, more of myself filters in because I am not judging, categorising, naming or defining relationships. It becomes a narrative the moment I want to construct it chronologically. Before that they’re just traces, remainders, results of processes, things that are left behind. If afterwards one tries to piece them together, and to find the sequence, only then does it become a narrative. I try not to do that, because every one of those essays then becomes a filter, a barrier. I came to the realisation a long time ago that my conceptual intention can become an obstacle. If something needs to change, but I won’t allow it to change because I’m holding onto a conceptual concern, it becomes an obstacle, holding back the work.


The earlier rooms – smaller, specific tableaux – were spaces engaging with parts of the histories they seemed to emulate. They were trying to come to grips with – trying to understand – things that were there. To resolve these issues, like a parasite lodged in my backbone, I realised I could just let go. Perhaps, in that way, some of those concerns got left behind, and were resolved, and it is then – by my not ascribing meaning – that the rooms became more concerned with allowing things to have their own nature. It is then that the objects themselves began to describe the boundaries of a new exploration, and now my most recent rooms deal with mimicking spaces that are ambivalent to histories. The idea of us having come into existence is improbable. The idea of making art is ridiculously improbable. So making art is the most unbelievably unlikely, precious thing imaginable. And at the same time it is utterly meaningless. It has no effect whatsoever. It does not change anything at all. And at the same time again, those two realities – both profound and inconsequential – are true; they exist, and they don’t negate each other; they live side by side.

Brenton Maart is director of the AVA Gallery, Cape Town. He is the curator of Wim Botha’s solo exhibition, The Epic Mundane, at the 2014 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and commissioned Botha’s Study for the Epic Mundane as curator of Imaginary Fact: South African art and the archive, the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale


commune: suspension of disbelief 2001 Bibles, surveillance equipment, steel Installation views, Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Oudtshoorn






commune: onomatopoeia 2003 Simulated found objects: wood, stonecast, etchings, stained glass windows, fluorescent light, steel Installation views, Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Oudtshoorn




Untitled (onomatopoeia) 2003 Simulated found objects: wood, stonecast, tin, etching, stained glass windows, fluorescent light, steel Installation view, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town



Mnemonic Reconstruction 2004 African hardwoods, Oregon pine, artificial marble, stained glass, etchings, water, steel Installation view, Personal Affects: Power and poetics in contemporary South African art, Museum for African Art, New York





Mieliepap Pietà 2004 Maize meal, epoxy resin Mirrored replica: dimensions correspond to Michelangelo’s 1499 Pietà Installation views, Personal Affects: Power and poetics in contemporary South African art, Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York





Premonition of War (Scapegoat) 2005 Inkjet prints on satin paper, burnt African hardwood, resin, gilt Installation view, Cold Fusion (solo exhibition), Michael Stevenson, Cape Town




Tremor 2005 Simulated found objects: stonecast, stained glass windows, steel Installation view, Cold Fusion (solo exhibition), Michael Stevenson, Cape Town


Sublimation 2006 Rhodesian teak parquet blocks, kiaat, crushed marble, maize meal, electric motor Installation view, Apocalagnosia (solo exhibition), Michael Stevenson, Cape Town



Double God Vitrine 2007 Books, wood, paint, mirror, steel, pen and pencil on paper Installation view, Political Iconography, Galerie Jette Rudolph, Berlin




Vanitas Toilette 2008 Rhodesian teak parquet blocks, books, wood, gold leaf, mirror, brown paper tape, water, pen and pencil on paper, oil on canvas Installation view (solo exhibition), Galerie Jette Rudolph, Berlin


Amazing Things from Other Places 2009 Wood, gold leaf, paint, books, steel, ink on paper Installation views (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town






Joburg Altarpiece 2009 Linoprints on tea-stained paper, stained wood Installation view (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town


All This 2011 Books, wood, steel, fluorescent tubes Installation view (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town




A Thousand Things 2012 Treated pine, acrylic enamel paint, fluorescent tubes, steel Installation views (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Johannesburg





Time Machine 2012 Wood, paint, steel, fluorescent tubes Installation views, Subject as Matter, The New Church, Cape Town


Study for the Epic Mundane 2013 Books, wood, steel Installation views, Imaginary Fact: South African art and the archive, South African Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale






The Epic Mundane 2014 Books, wood, steel, paint, glass, oil on canvas Installation views (solo exhibition), Albany Museum, Grahamtown







Predicates II 2013 Books, wood, steel, paint, polystyrene, oil on canvas, pen on paper, fluorescent tubes Installation views (solo exhibition), Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria




Linear Perspectives 2014 Wood, marble, polystyrene, black ink, paint, oil on canvas, glass, steel, fluorescent tubes Installation view (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town








Untitled 2014 Wood, cardboard, lacquer Installation view, Linear Perspectives (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town




Prism 10 (Dead Laocoรถn) 2014 Bronze Installation view, Linear Perspectives (solo exhibition), Stevenson, Cape Town




WIM BOTHA Botha was born in Pretoria in 1974, graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BA (Visual Art) in 1996, and lives in Cape Town. He has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Helgaard Steyn Prize for sculpture in 2013, the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2005, and the first Tollman Award in 2003. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (2014); Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria (2013); and the Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch (2013), as well as Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and Galerie Jette Rudolph, Berlin. Notable group exhibitions include The Divine Comedy, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and other venues (2014); Artists Engaged? Maybe, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2014); Lichtspiele, Museum Biedermann, Donaueschingen, Germany (2014); Imaginary Fact: South African art and the archive, the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); the Göteborg Biennial, Sweden (2011); Memories of the Future: The Olbricht Collection, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2011); the 11th Triennale für Kleinplastik, Fellbach, Germany (2010); Peekaboo: Current South Africa, Tennis Palace Art Museum, Helsinki (2010); Olvida Quien Soy – Erase me from who I am, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (2006); the seventh edition of Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennale (2006); and the touring exhibition Africa Remix (20042007). Botha’s work is in the collections of the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth; Unisa, Pretoria; University of Johannesburg; South African Reserve Bank; Absa Bank; Sanlam; Sasol; BHP Billiton; Spier; Gordon Schachat Collection; Museum Biedermann; Sammlung Stahlberg; Olbricht Collection; and the Jochen Zeitz Collection; among others.

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)11 403 1055/1908 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 info@stevenson.info www.stevenson.info Catalogue 77 | July 2014 © 2014 for works by Wim Botha: the artist © 2014 for text: Wim Botha, Brenton Maart Photographers p9-15, 19, 23-25, 48-49, 54-59, 66-68, 73 Wim Botha; p20-21, 31, 37-43, 51-53, 65, 70, 75-78 Mario Todeschini; p17, 27-28 Kathy Skead; p44-47 Anthea Pokroy; p33 Lepkowski Studios; p34 Till Budde Photography; p60-63 Christian Vorhofer Design Gabrielle Guy Image repro Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town – Published on the occasion of Wim Botha’s exhibition The Epic Mundane at the Albany Museum as part of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, 3-13 July 2014 –

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