Sunday, June 26, 2011

Extracts from a masterpiece, the hare with amber eyes - from a ceramic perspective.

The cover, the hare with amber eyes,
a biography by Edmund De Waal.

Yesterday I spent the entire day rapped up in the warmth and comfort of my bed. Yes it was very cold, it was after all, the first day of the winter recess. Yes, there were many welcoming reasons to get up, get out and pursue more enticing options. What kept me in bed, was a fascinating read, Edmund De Waal’s book, The hare with amber eyes - a hidden inheritance. I was mesmerized by the engrossing narrative, but more importantly was the feeling of synchronicity; fondest memories and associations with my own creative experiences, transcribed in amongst these pages. I therefore share it with you here, in the hope that you will purchase a copy for yourself, to read and enjoy as much as I did. 

'A story as durable and elegant as this is a rare pleasure.....Like the netsuke themselves, this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece'. Frances Wilson - Sunday Times, as cited on the cover of the book, the hare with amber eyes..

Our inexhaustible curiosity. 
My students once made me respond to a few questions which in the end defined aspects of my personality. One distinguishing quality or characteristic stood out for me - I had the curiosity of a three year old kid.
De Waal’s curiosity to unravel the memories (history and significance) behind his netsuke collection, is defined as follows in the preface of his multi award winning biography.
‘...........and I am not interested in thin, I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers - hard and tricky and Japanese - and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it - if they thought about it. I want to know what it witnessed’. 
Adventures and aloof 
I have always been described as being aloof and adventures. The fact that I am one of three children, three sons in fact, the youngest and the creative one and therefore entitled to run free, is also alluded to by De Waal, when he describes the young Charles Ephrussi and himself. 
'Charles is free do what he wants. I want to think this is because he was the youngest  son and the third son and, as in all good children’s stories, it is always the third son who gets to leave home and go adventuring - pure projection as I am a third son.' 
the hare with amber eyes, netsuke, collection
Edmund De Waal, as cited on his website.
Defining our obsession with things tactile.
These tactile qualities inherent in netsuke is fully understood to be a key factor in the appreciation of ceramics the world over, and or any other crafts form for that matter - it is a key ingredient in the joy of making. De Waal aptly defines this expressed view as follows,
 - all this matters because my job is to make things. How objects get handled, handed on is not just a mildly interesting question for me. It is my question. I have made many, many thousands of pots. ............I can remember the balance of a pot, and how its surface works with its volume. I can read how an edge creates tension or looses it. I can feel it has made at speed or diligence. If it it has warmth. I can see how it works with objects that sit nearby. How it displaces part of the world around it. ...........But some objects do seem to retain the pulse of their making. This pulse intrigues me. There is a breath of hesitancy before touching, a strange moment. If I choose to pick up this small white cup with its single chip near the handle, will it figure in my life?
Netsuke, rats. collection De Waal
as cited on his website.
Our intrigue with Japonisme  
This book brought back fondest memories of countless visits to Musée Guimet in Paris (during my three months stay at the Cité Internationale des Arts). The Japanese collection alone amounts to 11000 works.  Being a Fine Artist my intrigue with artefacts, des Arts Décoratifs and everything oriental started here. Just as it did then for Charles and Louise Ephrussi (first owner of De Waal’s Netsuke collection - late 19 century) including Emile Guimet. They were ‘neo- Japonistes. 
Japanese art was a brave new world during the late nineteen century. De Waal states that
 “ introduced new textures, new ways of feeling things........This was an epiphany of new material: bronzes of a depth of patina that seemed far greater than those of the Renaissance; lacquers of an unequalled depth and darkness; folding screens of gold leaf to bisect a room, throw light. ....An there were objects that were unlike anything else seen in Western art, objects that could only be described as ‘playthings’, small carvings of animals and beggars called ‘netsuke’ that you could roll in your hands”. to view the collection follow the link above - netsuke. 
the cardinal and the queer.
collection artist, Hon 2009.
Christ, netsuke,
Musee Guimet.
see details below.
Objects made for digressive conversation, made for distraction.
My ceramic sculptures / ornaments have always been imbued with an alluring tactile quality and a variety of decorative surfaces to draw-in the gaze of the viewer, to exercise the power of fascination and lower certain defenses. The eye isolates and follows the decorative patterns and textures of the design (tattooed rats) before seduction subsides and the symbolism provokes the viewer to respond and engage the underlining meaning (often confrontational).

Netsuke image above, Christ on the cross, Edo period, 17 - 18 century.
The persecution of Christians after the decree banning Christianity in Japan in 1613, contributed to the use of “hidden” objects such as this netsuke, which enabled the continuing dissemination of Christian artistic themes. as cited at Musee Guimet website.
De Waal describes his inherited collection of netsuke as perfect for the life of Charles and Louise’s salon during the late nineteen century in Paris. 
The golden Louise opening up her vitrine of Japanese things, fishing, handing things out to be looked at and handled, to be caressed, shows that Japanese things are made for digressive conversation, made for distraction. These netsuke add something very particular to Charles’s way of living, I think. They are the first things that have connection to everyday life, even an exotic everyday life. They are wonderful and highly sensual, of course, but they are not princely like his Medici bed or his Marie Antoinette lacquers. they are for touching. Above all, they make you laugh in many different ways. They are witty and ribald and slyly comic. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Indigenous designs South Africa; isitayela esisha /new style

Various spoon design option (conventions) realised in Rhino
 by Keith Henning (Industrial Designer). 
A few months ago I did a blog entry titled Hon's Ultimate coffee experience. It featured products I designed, including one of my espresso coffee cups and one or two of my spoons. However I never provided the context and or the design development of the various products. This entry and future posts provide insight into my design ideas and concepts (project proposals); the various prototypes and creative drawings, including CAD renderings and manufacturing options.
Cup and saucer design with spoon -
inspired by a Zulu indigenous design.

A number of factors led to the design development of the product proposals. In 2002 I was made design coordinator for an R&D project linked to the beneficiation of local precious metals, sponsored by DACST (SA’s Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology). The Hollow Gold Project, an Innovation funded program, introduced me to Jewellery Design and Manufacture. The idea behind it, without going into too much detail, was to focus on Indigenous knowledge and hospitality rituals in the context of design and development. We worked with Italian Designers in the development of new and applied Jewellery manufacturing technology, associated with the research-funded program (a consortium made up of representatives from the University, Government and a cutting edge technology based company).
Cup design with various handles inspired by headrests
 including spoons inspired by a Zulu indigenous design.
Being the co-founder of South Africa’s Crafts Council, I had the opportunity to coordinate one of our major national Craft Competitions for a number of years - the FNB Vita Crafts Now Competition. I also served on the committee of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The committee was ultimately responsible for developing and maintaining its permanent collections; purchasing art and craft on a national level. These projects amongst others provided me with an opportunity to keep abreast with the development of crafts, rural and urban on a national level. 
Zulu spoon handle Detail (wood) - crafts person unknown.
Reference for contemporary design development.

The joint activities also provided insight into historically significant craftworks within the context of a redress of South Africa’s Cultural Heritage – the post colonial/apartheid era (New South Africa). It is important to note that due to the apartheid homeland policy, indigenous crafts people produced work mainly for local consumption – community based, specific to their regions (homelands).  Local and international tourists therefore very rarely ventured into these regions. 
Manufactured equivalent of Zulu spoon - handle (Detail)
Craft development remained authentic in the true sense of the word, as artifacts were made for purpose, within the context of rural hospitality rituals – untouched by collectors and tourist’s demands and preferences. Local museums therefore had to extend their collection to incorporate indigenous crafts, to be more representative of our diverse cultures. Various academics and collectors worked closely with companies and banks to sponsor the purchasing of major international collections, to boost the redress program.
Bowl design of spoon (detail)
Fine examples of
Indigenous Zulu

Funding was and has become an even greater problem, as the artifacts become almost priceless and available resources far a few between. Wits University was particularly active on the JAG committee, due to their credible research record and accomplished academic team and more importantly their close partners with Standard bank. Individuals like Anitra Nettleton, Karel Nel and the late Alan Crump in association with Christopher Till, the director of JAG, made significant contributions on many levels. Their research contributions and subsequent exhibitions like Art and Ambiguity was the beginning of a new era.  Karel Nel’s knowledge, dedication and personal commitment to the preservation of our indigenous cultural heritage on home soil has found favour with major sponsors and funding institutions ensuring timeous interventions. 
Various sizes designed based on function.
Various design style options -  location of detail.

 At the time I was dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture and therefore one of  the Directors of BusiTech, a company setup to generate valuable income for the tertiary academic institution. Two deans, as part of training and development, were selected to attend an executive development programme as offered at the University of Stellenbosch. This meant the submission of assignments for the various subjects (Strategic, Marketing and Finance to mention a few) one such assignment I submitted was specific to IT. 
Design Styles incorporating spoon design conventions
Manufacturing options also included plastic (basalt black)
The project I proposed (innovative ways to utilize IT in a business environment) focused on the scanning of all Artifacts in JAG Collection. Due to limited space these products are in storage (security was also a major factor). There was a need to scan the products for record purposes; spinoffs would be marketing and communication products (mainly educational). The end products would include three-dimensional visual documentation of the products on an in-house database (website access in the future), available to visitors to the museums (access to the entire collection). DVD’s could be sold and or made available to key stakeholders especially schools, academics (for research purposes) and mainly researchers.
Espresso cup and spoons.
photographs above and below - Angus Cambell
Industrial Designer and academic UJ.
 a national Identity of local Crafts – historically significant archetypes

This brings me to an important point; very few individuals at the time had a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of a national identity of local crafts. The international tourists had no reference to spot a local craft product, let alone make an informed decision when purchasing a South African indigenous craft product. Local flea markets were flooded with products from neighboring countries as far up the continent as Nigeria. Due to sanctions and the cultural boycott (during apartheid) the production of local crafts remained underdeveloped and mainly for local consumption on a regional scale – mainly batch production, a small number per month. The past ten years has seen crafts skills focused on one-of-a kind-ware to ensure the value remains significant in terms of demand. To speak of production then and now is wrought with all sorts of problems. It is in this context that I proposed the project and business proposition to the University and Gallery.
Books such as The Art of Southeast Africa written by Sandra Klopper and Karl Nel published in 2002 addressed many of these issues, but more importantly showcased the incredible design skills and style of master crafts-people in this region. It once again inspired me to design and manufacture products based on work in our collections (cultural heritage), refined and restyled for contemporary use – meeting present lifestyles and consumer demands. Various individuals at the time accused me of plagiarism and copying. What they did not know and understand that it was part of a greater incentive that was of mutual benefit to the cash strapped museums and galleries. 
Even the exploited crafts people based in rural areas, far out of reach of their markets and unable to batch produce their products would have benefited from the program. They would have had access to viable manufacturing techniques and processes, and to tap into the expanding local and international tourist markets (gallery-shops based at museums) we would create for them. This idea first came to me when I spent time in Paris at the Cite. The PEI Glass pyramid extensions of the Louvre included shops selling perfect reproductions of work in their collections, generating valuable income for the museums, whilst imprinting on the minds of the tourist the memory of the artifact on display in the museum.

The business concept and idea behind the designed products were.

Snuff Kerrie as cited in the art of southeast Africa page 102
The Brand / Name.

isitayela esisha (new style)

Dictionary explanation English – Zulu / Zulu English
 Style (stail) 1. n. (i) (instr.for / writing)
Insimbi yokuloba. (ii) (mode0 indlela,
U(lu)hlobo, umkhuba (2), inhlobo*isitayela;
s. dress : umbinco (2) old style – isitayela esidala;
new style – isitayela esisha.

Stylish (‘stailif) a – ngumkhuba omusha, -
Nobugwili, * isitayela, - ntalayo.

Snuff spoons, Nothern Nguni/Zulu as cited
 in the art of southeast Africa page 147. 

The Design Vision
The development of African designed products; referencing indigenous artefacts and hospitality rituals seen in the context of contemporary lifestyle concepts.

The development, manufacturing, packaging and marketing of a range of products appropriating the designs of indigenous artefacts. The original artefacts referenced, form part of major Art Gallery and Museum collections including the Brenthurst Collection of Southern African Art, on loan to the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). These collections are of major cultural historical significance.
Objects that have over time been removed from their original context, because of the working of certain historical factors, were rescued and they have become” treasures saved from a destructive history, relics of a vanishing world…objects to be kept, remembered, and treasured” (Clifford 1988: 231).
Staffs Nguni as cited in the
 art of southeast Africa page 142.

 The artefacts are selected for direct reproduction and or refined as contemporary designs for local and international export markets. They are mainly sold through gallery and museum shops. Each and every piece chosen has “its roots in cultural contexts in which art was congruent with life, and in which artistry was integrated with utility”(Davidson 1991: 18).

The research based, income-generating venture was therefore to reaffirm by means of innovative mechanisms (the design, labeling and packaging) the recontextualisation of the chosen artefact. Indigenous knowledge and cultural information is disseminated by means of these appropriated indigenous artefacts.