In the first part of our series commissioned in conjunction with the Prix Pictet, a global award in photography and sustainability, photographers who have won or been shortlisted for the award over the last decade have been asked to make a personal response to the Covid-19 crisis.
, provided by Flowers Gallery:
Some occasions or occurrences in my life present themselves in a way that, if not ignored, inform me as to how I tick, what is fundamental to me. What it is I constantly strive to grasp and express. It has the effect of bringing understanding to that that is intuitive. At the point this lockdown began, I was no stranger to solitude and the effect it has on me and my practice as an artist. When we separated ourselves, I was very aware of the feelings that arose in me from the forced distancing and shocked at how quickly my surroundings, which were until that moment a safe place, became quickly alienating and unsafe to me. Another human being becoming a threat, an enemy, a carrier of a deadly disease. I began thinking about the importance of touch to non-verbal communication and how the lack of it would produce a yearning for connection. My knee-jerk reaction was to go to my studio and riff off these feelings, which I tried but then resisted knowing the knee jerk in my case always results in work of little value.
Weeks later I began again. This is work with the guts of solitude, melancholy and longing which bring up feelings of both beauty and terror. I think of a quote by Rilke: “Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.” So many feelings are at play and I was aware that in this quiet time there was a much bigger picture playing out, and it will continue to play out in our future. As a child growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, we had no TV. I had an electric train set that was made in Germany where my father was born. It was set out on a spare dining room table. No hills or tunnels, just a figure of eight with a station. There were small human figures dotted about, who with my imagination performed many duties depending on how I saw my mini world that day.
In my studio I have many items on shelves that, out of context, are odd, causing to arise a mildly uncomfortable feeling in a viewer. Animal skulls, dolls, wigs, porcelain flowers, crucifixes and small humans, some from my train driving days. These folks performed once again for me and mirrored back at me the feelings of Solitude – Quietude – Contemplation that I felt most strongly in the first days of lockdown. The feeling of the unknown. It seemed not by chance that the Royal Academy show of Leon Spilliaert was opened just before the lockdown. The painter wandering alone at night near the water’s edge in Ostend and bringing his memory into the studio to paint the feeling as much as the scene he had just experienced.
This series of work I hope brings up feelings of isolation, distance and contemplation in a viewer as well as a realisation that this time in history is bigger than just this virus. That it holds potential in its invitation to consider that this event is willing us human beings collectively to move towards balancing our indiscriminate use of nature’s resources. This is not a warped reality, it is just reality, and it comes out of man being out of balance with nature.
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