From the Perfect Human Series (2005- 2008)
Medium: Steel, sandblasted perspex, fluorescent lights, pencils, wooden rulers, padlocks
Sizes: 1200 x 50 x 20 cm (when fully extended)
Commissioned by ‘Anglo-American African Christmas Tree Project, 2006’. The Theory of Labour is an unofficial monument for the five victims of the Tau Tona mining disaster near Carletonville.
Abiel Koali Ntheko, 27 (of Quthing in Lesotho)
Jaime Auxilio Sambane, 35, (of Chibuto in Mozambique)
Daniel Sitoe, 39, (of Chokwe in Mozambique)
Jeremiah Songeso Dubeni, 29, (of Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape)
Lwandile Mgwenye, 32 (from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape)
Thom created a massive, functional folding ruler (12m in length) out of steel and mixed media. Each of the legs of the ruler was then turned into a lightbox containing different objects such as pencils, rulers, locks and lights. In one of these Thom placed a series of smaller rulers that were used as extensions of his own body in a series of performances this year (see for example http://coeo.co.za/waste/?page_id=122 ).
The names of the victims of the disaster, as well as the co-ordinates of their places of origin, appear sandblasted on black Perspex covering two of the lightboxes. However, the victims names appear as only as numerical values – perhaps referring to the spiritual practices of eastern numerology but also to the way in which individuals become only numbers either as statistics of a mining disaster for example, or as units of labor in the capitalist system dominating contemporary South Africa.
The combined use of black Perspex and fluorescent light tubes also create a subtle juxtaposition in the work: the shiny black Perspex simultaneously reflects and absorbs the light emanating from the rest of the structure. In this way the sculpture draws the viewer in from afar, signaling to them through the beautiful display of white light emanating from it. However, once the viewer comes closer they find themselves drawn into the negative, yet self-reflective space created by the intense blackness of the Perspex surfaces.
For Thom a ruler is a perfect metaphor for the way in which we measure, map and plot our course in contemporary society: it is an object that is simultaneously hostile and useful – its measurements are exact, its lines perfectly straight and its everyday functionality is beyond question. However, it seeming ‘perfect’ standards remains subject to human interpretation and to its relationship to nature in general. As the field of Quantum Physics has shown, though the field of mathematics is pragmatic, it is cannot be exact and its seeming objectivity is never fact.
The work was commissioned by Anglo Ferrous Metals and Industries and the exhibition will remain on view in Main Street, Johannesburg until 15 January 2007.
Liza Essers (Curator)
Production Manager: Brendan Copestake
Production house: Trent Wiggle from Tridarch