Short email interview conducted with Gerhard Marx for the exhibition project The Beautyful Ones, 2013
What do you understand, and think off when you hear ‘The Beautyful Ones’?
In terms of the word themselves (not the reference); there is unbridled optimism in that term, and of course I think of my children. One knows that ‘are not yet born’ is still to follow, which add a sense of futile nostalgia for what might be an impossible future.
Are there any particular African writers/theorists/intellectuals that have made an impact on you? Who, and in what way did they influence your practice as an artist?
There are so many. The seminal influences are the ones that made an impact very early in my thinking life. There I would have to mention the rich Afrikaans literary and poetic traditions; Breyten Breytenbach, NP Van Wyk Louw, Jan Rabie and so many more. Then there is Marlene Van Niekerk, J.M. Coetzee, Dan Sleigh. Later Vladislavic. Each writer becomes the landmark to a particular territory. But it is hard for me to mention the influence of writers in simple terms, because I find that the writers who influence me most (in the making of my work) are the ones who’s work I am ‘unable’ to read. I find that reading them is unbearable; since half a page into the writing I am overcome with the desire to make something. That was the real influence of someone like Breytenbach. The result is that I have not always really, completely read the books that have had the biggest influence on me and yet I live close to those books, in a fragmented intimacy. They act like doorways.
Are you comfortable being called an ‘African’ artist? Is it a valid term? Any thoughts?
I have to be comfortable being called an African artist as I am from Africa. I was born here and so are my children. But there are so many Africas, even so many South Africas that are all folded into and entangled with each other. It is a very fragmented,conflicted and sedimented description of personal identity. It is that density and complexity that makes for a contemporary African Identity.
Where is home?
We have just moved the family to a different part of the country, so it is been complicated. Right now is a particular constellation of rituals that revolve around my little family and my work. It is where (and when) all those overlap comfortably.
You engage drawing in a process of collage, cutting, splicing, sawing, sanding – inherently violent acts, but which also paradoxically is reminiscent of scientific and art historical modes of preservation and enquiry/study. Is this an accurate summation? Could you describe the importance of drawing in your practice?
A lot of my work uses ‘found lines’ to create the drawings (also sculptures). The idea is that I draw from the world to draw the world, or that I draw the world with the world. The drawing takes place by taking from place. The entire process is of importance to me – from the collection of the material; the act of walking, or lingering, and the direct engagement with immediate physical context that that provides. The development of the technique, which often overlaps with scientific references, tends to be a metaphorically – rich terrain. And then of course there is the time consuming process of drawing (or making).The mark is then really the trace of a much more important and rich process. And the process of mark-making, or drawing is not an act of simple execution. Instead it functions as a type of dialogue with a broad array of things (context, environment, season, tradition, the plant itself, the technique etc). It is correct that the processes tend to have a combination of the analytic and the violent; it is as much about dissection as it is about grafting.
Have you ever felt like a stranger?
One of the essential features of a South African identity must be the fact that one always feel both at home and like a stranger at all times.