The artwork consisted of a GUNBOX; a device used for security, particularly on farms. It is attached to the farm gate, and in case a trespasser steps onto the gate to try enter the property an empty bullet is fired.
The device was secretly installed in the Wits gallery by the artist for the Martienzen prize awards. A warning sign that a disruptive event will occur was placed on a pillar in the gallery prior to the opening for the audience to see. The gunshot was fired during the opening and the artist recorded the intense and abrupt initial reaction of the audience.
The device in the gallery..
Me loading and triggering it during the speeches..
This reaction links the happening to the original function of the device. The experience of abrupt intense fright also parallels the experience of violence and crime; both are experiences which are unexpected, sudden and sometimes traumatising. This same unexpected, sudden experience can again compare in a similar way that competitions work. The announcement of a winner is always sudden and unexpected.
My father is a farmer. I draw quite a lot of inspiration from this culture/environment and lifestyle.
If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that I do not like being told how, what and when to do things.
This lead to me having a really miserable time at University.
Furthermore this also lead to work created during this time that resisted or challenged these institutions and the “norms” associated with Art School and studying such.
During my studies at WITS University (and for many years before me I believe), when entering your third year it was compulsory taking part in the Martiensen Prize exhibition.
As if this was not enough to put me off, the exhibition also functioned as a competition.
Students had to enter their work, and a winner would be selected at the end of opening night.
This to me (at the time, and still today) is greatly problematic.
Is placing an artwork next to another a valid and accurate indication of which artwork is more successful?
To me each artwork has a life of its own.
Not all artworks should be aesthetically pleasing. I am saying this because if art was merely decorative ,it could be judged in such a competitive way. Although, I would still think judging art is biased to stereotype as well as social norm and personal preference.
Nevertheless we had to take part in the competition.
The whole ordeal struck me as quite violent.
A winner and a loser.
Good and bad.
Life and death.
Beautiful and Ugly.
Black and White.
It made me think of an abrupt violent act.
A perpetrator (winner) and a victim (loser).
Competition, itself, is of an abrupt nature- with suspense building up, with a sudden winner and loser/s at the end of the competition.
Often accompanied by tears of joy and/or loss.
I did not want to be the victim, nor would I let my art be.
I chose to secretly fire the empty bullet during the speeches, just as the winner was about to be announced.
The adrenalin and nervous suspense before the announcement added to the audience’s intense reaction.
Stills extracted from the video of the audience in the gallery..
If I take this experience out of the gallery and into everyday South African life (and farm life), the fact that people here live in ‘fear’ every day is validated by the mere need for such a device to exist.
When taking this same experience into the gallery, the fact that we create competitions within something like art practice is problematic.it could even be an indication of just how power hungry, competitive and violent our society has become.
To me art is a way of life, it should happen naturally.
By placing artwork within a construct such as a competition, it takes away this freedom in a violent, forceful way.