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Johan Thom, Faust the African; The Enfant Terrible, 2015 Found objects, builders foam, mixed media 110 x 600 m

Notes for ‘Faustus the African’, a series of artworks by Johan Thom 2014-2015

‘Approach the brink serenely and accept the risk /of melting into nothingness’

(Goethe’s Faust, 57)

‘I look upon myself as a reasonable temple of God’

(Faustus of Milevis, Numidia, North Africa circa 350-400 AD)

Almost all the works from this series are casts drawn from a 19th century French ceramic bust of Faustus.

I fall in love with this bust of Faustus almost a decade ago. This Faustus is a wall-mounted ceramic in the kitchen my friend Guy Du Toit. Guy tells me that the sculpture has been in his family for as long as he can remember. His mother was frightened by it as child and so too it is with him and with his children. The bogeyman in the hall. But for reasons wholly unclear to me I am drawn to it. This attraction is the starting point for this series of works now known as ‘Faust the African’.

Two interrelated questions. First, why am I drawn to this devilish figure? And, then what does this attraction say about A. the artwork (this particular bust of Faustus, its formal and material properties) and B. about me?

Of course it is one thing to answer these question by speaking or writing about them and completely another to make series of artworks through which to consider and indeed process the answers to these questions. With this caveat in place I turn to a discussion of the working process.

Johan Thom Faust the African; The Explorer, 2015 Found objects, builders foam and mixed media 50 x 40 m

Johan Thom, Faust the African; The Explorer, 2015, Found objects, builders foam and mixed media, 50 x 40 mm

1. Process

Throughout the working process is more or less the same. First I make a silicone mould of the original ceramic Faustus after which I proceed to cast copies thereof in ordinary builders foam.

Builders foam sets in approximately thirty seconds and expands approximately fifteen times its original size. This makes for a rather unpredictable casting process, one in which artistic decisions have to be made in a split second. It is like drawing, or to be more precise like making a quick sketch of a moving figure. If you don’t get it exactly right in the moment, catch the gesture, the form or the movement, no amount of work after the fact can ever fix it.

I enjoy this game and refuse to tame the material. Each time I cast another copy I add however much of the mixture I feel is appropriate. When I add too much the foam bulges and bubbles out of the formal constraint imposed by the mould. The same gaping hole into which the mixture is poured is also the very same cavity from whence the rapidly expanding foam leaks back into the outside.

2. Frozen moments

The whole process of casting with builders foam is a game in which the process itself is captured as something like frozen three-dimensional moment. Again the builders foam sets in a matter seconds – even as it continues to gurgle and expand it coagulates and stalls seemingly mid-movement.

Process image of 'A lone dry skull' by Johan Thom, 2015,  (builders foam, found objects)

Process image of ‘A lone dry skull’ by Johan Thom, 2015, (builders foam, found objects)

I turn the mould around as I pour the thick gooey mix into it. When I de-mould Faustus’ neck and shoulders appear stretched far beyond the limits of ordinary flesh and bone. This Faustus’ plasticky foamy porcelain-like body is presented as if in process of being pulled apart, of oozing, of putrefying and/or of reconstitution itself anew. Over and over again.

A note in my studio reads: “Is this hell? No, there is no hope after hell. This body is being reanimated, given a new lease on life. Besides, I am not the devil”.

3. On character.

Each foam Faustus is unique. Some of the cast heads are smaller, others much larger, clumsy even. But perhaps more to the point, once mounted the different size and shape of each cast lends a particular character to the face of Faustus.

This one seems devious, another withdrawn, one more feminine and others meaner, delirious even evil. But as it is in life so it is in art. Each millimeter matters. Nudge a bust forward by only a fraction and loses its balance, it begins to fall. Suddenly the eyes appear drawn into the skull, the shoulders hunched and somewhat unsure. From a self-assured chin raised high to figure huddled in conspiracy in five millimeters. Add a dash of pink and blue and play havoc with Faustus’ gender.

Each millimeter another gesture, each gesture another world.

4. Combines

Whilst playing with a deck of cards I realize that if I combine these foamy Faustusses with other objects the difference between the casts can be explored with even more depth and complexity. In this case, I create a Janus-type head that resembles a figure from Victorian English Royalty: the Victorian ruff collar made from a spread of cards, one side Dutch blue and white, on the other, red and black figures (numbers, kings and queens and so forth). I laugh when I mount this obscene two-faced-figure on an ice cream bucket. Presto! The ruff collar is transformed into a sail for a tub. But where to? (The colonies is suspect).

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Johan Thom Faust the African; The Gambler – Royalty, 2015 Found objects, builders foam and mixed media 45 X 156 m

For “Faust the African: Health and Sanitation” the bust is coupled with a wooden toilet, an antique potty trainer. This a tongue in cheek ode to Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ of 1917 but also to the ‘History of shit’ (1978) by Dominique Laporte, a little known but rather amazing book about the sewers of Paris. To be more specific, Laporte chronicles the history of sewage in Paris and how, after completely re-building the city in the nineteenth century as the modern French capital, residents are finally forced to take ownership of their waste.

This game with found objects and meaning seem to me closely analogous to way in which I relate to the objects that populate my material surroundings and how in turn, these surroundings exercise a very real influence on my identity as an individual. Put two or more seemingly disparate elements together – a paintbrush, a speaker and a head cast in foam – and soon other things start to happen. ‘Other’ as something in between them that is really irreducible to any single element or predetermined causal structure.

This is some kind of magic, one found in the particular way surfaces rub off on one another. To use a metaphor, we are attracted to our mates because we desperately desire to be close to them. If this is so it is because there is always a fools hope that the magic that so imperceptibly draws us to them may rub off on us. But only if we can get close enough, for long enough.

And what of objects? Are we immune to their charms? I think not.

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Johan Thom Faust the African; Health and Sanitation, 2015 Found objects, builders foam and mixed media 160 x 61 x 40 m

5. Performative relations

My meaningful relationship with the objects included in this body of work is time and place specific. That is to say this relationship is indelibly shaped by the experiences, ideas, discrete histories and even the presence of the other objects that I may encounter in a particular moment.

During a breakfast at a small restaurant in Queenswood, Pretoria I discover standing beside my chair a wooden potty trainer for sale at the antiques shop next door.

Whilst browsing through a second hand bookshop, I read about erstwhile leader of the South African Communist Party Chris Hani’s disgust with the armed struggles’ military training camps during apartheid. In brief, Hani was infuriated by the fact that the exiled comrades and military trainers were living a life of luxury whilst the new recruits were dressed in rags, semi-starving boys with guns.

And Faustus? Well let me just say as a product of Afrikaner Calvinism I applaud the man that shunned superstition and chose reason, no matter what the final outcome.

In this way the foam casts of Faustus exist as the very material embodiment of my performative relationship with the original object and its varied meanings. Faustus has a meaningful history and I cannot neatly extrapolate my attraction to the object from those meanings.

But still, the object also exists in the here and now, and so it would be utterly foolish to pretend that all I love is its history, the story of Faust if you will.

To only love history, received narrative is to be trapped in a loveless relationship that will never be consummated in the here and now. And how could it?

To love a ghost is to love nothing but your own nostalgia.

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Johan Thom talks about “The devil made me do it” solo at the Goodman Gallery, 7 March 2015.

Thom is a multidisciplinary artist, frontrunner of a Now Generation of South African practitioners drawing on dramatic histories while creating self-reflexive journeys. His work encompasses two disparate elements: dark humour and light tragedy. It deals with the dividing line between the self and the other where the former fulfils the role of a crazy loner seeking agency, while the latter is a real life arbitrator of reason and knowing.

The exhibition will consist of a series titled Faust the African made up dozens of heads cast from a 19th Century bust of Faust, in builder’s foam, and inlaid with found objects making a macabre and carnivalesque gallery of types. These include an explorer, a gambler, a musician as well as the well-worn men one would find on a travelling vessel, taking an epic journey of exploration. Video, discarded books, drawings on blackboard ink and cast bronze artifacts complete the hellish depiction of a semi-fictitious person seeking out dangerous

Johan Thom gesels oor sy nuwe uitstalling “The Devil Made Me Do It”. Wees deel van kykNET se Youtube kanaal vir soveel meer kykgenot. Volg kykNET op Twitter:…

 

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Johan Thom / The Devil Made Me Do It / 2015

07 March – 11 April 2015

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CATALOGUE LAUNCH
[WORKING TITLE] 2013

AT GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG
SATURDAY 25 OCTOBER 2014 AT 11H00

PLEASE JOIN US FOR A DRINK
[Working Title] 2013 Catalogue Launch

The launch of the [Working Title] 2013 catalogue will happen at The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg on 25 November, timed to coincide with the closing day [Working Title] 2014 at Goodman Gallery Cape Town.

The [Working Title] series is focused on developing work that can go beyond the run of the exhibition, and it is important that the catalogue exist in a similar way. The texts aim to extend the questions and subversions the artists provoke as opposed to just explaining and describing the works on show.

Some texts take the form of conversations – Raimi Gbadamosi and Gerald Machona discuss the role of art in representing tragedy and violence while Haroon Gunn-Salie, Simon Castets and Hans-Ulrich Obrist discuss the role of intervention and activism in Gunn-Salie’s practice.
Other contributions like Jessica Webster’s short stories, the co–authored essay by The Brother Moves On and the Frown’s manifesto of worship – are texts which exist as self referential semi fiction.

Kalia Brooks, Adjunct Professor in Photography at the Tisch School of the Arts, explores themes of control and compassion in Tegan Bristow’s interactive video work Coming and going but never leaving. Bristow herself reviews the use of digital and online media in Cuss Group’s work Untitled (Johannesburg screen saver) arguing that medium is definitive in representing the state of South Africa’s socio-political climate. In his analysis of Vinatge Cru, anthropologist and director of the LGBT rights programme at human rights watch, Graeme Reid investigates the centrality of performance to queer visibility in South Africa. Adreinne Edwards, associate curator at Performa New York writes on Nelisiwe Xaba and Mocke van Vueren’s work Uncles and Angels, understanding the work as an experimental meditation on ritual, the feminine, technology. Working Title exists as a space where relationships between the Goodman Gallery and artists, creatives and writers can be incubated.

The catalogue launch will happen alongside an exhibition which showcases works, performances and collaborations which have happened post [Working Title] 2013. Haroon Gunn-Salie, Jessica Webster and Johan Thom – all of whom have solo exhibitions next year with the Goodman Gallery – will exhibit works which are in preparation for their respective exhibitions or which have happened in association with the Goodman Gallery.

Gerald Machona, who was awarded the [Working Title] award in 2013 will exhibit a new series of ‘dictators’ headgear’ made from his trademark medium of decommissioned currency. A film made by The Brother Moves On, which focuses on the collaborative performances done since 2013 will be screened at the gallery.

The [Working Title] exhibitions are part of an initiative by the Goodman Gallery aimed at supporting young artists, curators, independent projects and major installations and performances.

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Johan Thom

‘For me, art is always about surplus value. In that sense it is a non-representational activity where one investigates and even creates new possibilities. So it’s about the attempt to look beyond what is already in existence. This is not about making “progress” in an old avante garde sense. Art is more about acknowledging that things are constantly changing and that we do not know what they may become or what exactly they are doing,’

 

Read more here: Full report here (UP news website link)

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New works from the Animal Series 2013 - 2014

New works from the Animal Series 2013 – 2014

Nirox Projects at Arts on Main presents a new series of works from the Animal Series by Johan Thom. Central to this series of works is Thom’s ongoing investigation of his own material encounter with an African elephant skull.

The exhibition is divided into three bodies of works: etchings; drawings and sculpture. Over the period of eight months Thom produced a set of five large-scale etchings in collaboration with Willem Boshoff, Diane Victor, David Koloane and Bevan de Wet. In collaboration with Thom, each artist was invited to create an aesthetic response to the elephant skull: Thom would first work on the plate by for example making a full body print or scratching the plate’s surface with the elephant skull. After this, the plate was given to the collaborating artist to work over and layer by adding further marks, visual or conceptual elements, drawing from the encounter with the elephant skull.

The exhibition also includes a set of charcoal and mixed media drawings that remind of Rorschach patterns. These observational drawings appear almost ghost-like in their rendering of the three-dimensional shape of the skull in shades of white upon blotches of ordinary blackboard paint.

Also showing as part of this exhibition is a bronze and mixed media sculpture produced in collaboration with Guy du Toit.

The artist wishes to thank the Nirox Foundation for their generous support throughout this project and the Artist Proof Studios.

Opening Sunday 16 February @ 12:00

Exhibition runs until 9 March 2014

Dimensions: 42 x 29,7 cm

Dimensions: 42 x 29,7 cm

For more information, please contact Neil Nieuwoudt on T: +27 (0)11 7887902 | M: +27 (0)72 350 4326 |

E: neil.nieuwoudt@gmail.com

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Nirox Projects | 264 Fox Street | Arts on Main | MABONENG PRECINCT |

Johannesburg

www.niroxarts.com

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ALSO SEE: Animal – a new series of works | May – July 2013

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“I am the director (we must have direction beyond the mere fact of our course, of our direction, our charter, the map and the stars we follow)”web-2014-J-Thom

Photographic still from HOUSEBOAT #1

Performance on 31 January 2014 in Antwerp as part of the exhibition ‘Nomad Bodies’ curated by Elfriede Dreyer with glass sheet, flour and honey.

This work is part of a new series of works by Johan Thom centred on exploring the notion of the ‘houseboat’. To be clear this is distinct from the more commonplace concept of the ‘boathouse’ (a boat on water that doubles as a human habitat).

In this sense the houseboat signals a rethinking of the ordinary house as being a stationary built environment inhabited by individuals, families and so forth.

In this series of artworks the notion of the house as an ordinary private dwelling is displaced in favour of a more open-ended understanding: the house become a space through-and-by which real and imagined journeys into the world are undertaken on a daily basis. The house now becomes something like a ghost ship – a simultaneously ethereal & concrete framework that accompanies and informs ones myriad interactions with the surrounding world. The houseboat is never left behind as one travels into world but an every present reality in ones daily life.

For Houseboat #1 my voice became a virtual ‘speaking of’ the houseboat and its crew as they journey into the world. For me, these multiple voices are the material embodiment of the interactive relationship between the houseboat, the various individuals that inhabit it and the world they encounter on their journey.

At the end of the performance I simply let go of the glass sheet.

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“I dislike the uncritical celebration of form that often accompanies the idea of outrageous fashion and costume as some kind of new-found freedom of identity” Johan Thom

Quoted in the article ‘Welcome to the cabaret of art’ by Sean O’ Toole and published in the Mail and Guardian.

Artists are dressing up – or undressing – to make a point about who they really are. But is the spectacle more than just cheap drag?

Full article here:
http://mg.co.za/article/2013-10-11-00-welcome-to-the-cabaret-of-art

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Fried Art presents: Games People Play (a group exhibition of South African Artists)

Preview on Thursday 17 June at 18h30 by Dr Franco Colin

Music by Bongi Nthombeni

June 2010, the ears are numbed by the cacophony of vuvuzelas in the crowded South African soccer stadiums. What’s happening on the field is what does justice to the idea of GAME. Yet, such formalised games are often only a mild version of the kind of games that are played out in the human arena of political, social, personal and business games, agendas and encounters.  These games are ongoing; there’s plenty at stake and much tug of war.

During the 1960s, game theory became a popular study of the way in which human beings operate and compete especially in the fields of computer science, politics, agriculture and economics. Game theory has proven instrumental in understanding how and why decisions are made. Games People Play (1964), a groundbreaking pop psychology book by Eric Berne, introduced the notion of such human gaming based on Freud’s psychodynamic model, particularly the ego states, as a psychology of human interactions called “transactional analysis”. According to Berne, games are ritualistic transactions or behaviour patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions.  In a general sense it can be argued that human encounters involve mind games in which people interact through a patterned and predictable series of “transactions” that are superficially conceivable, but sometimes could mask hidden agendas.  Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) came to the view that within each person were three selves or “ego states” which often contradicted each other. They were characterized by the attitudes and thinking of a parental figure (Parent); the adult-like rationality, objectivity and acceptance of the truth (Adult); and the stances and fixations of a child (Child). The three selves correspond loosely to Freud’s superego (Parent), ego (Adult) and id (Child). Berne (Butler-Bowden 2007) further argued  that we teach our children all the pastimes, rituals and procedures they need to adapt to the culture and get by in life, and spend a lot of time choosing their schools and activities, yet we don’t teach them about games, an unfortunate but realistic feature of the dynamics of every family and institution. The book spawned a well-known song by the same title written, composed and performed in 1968 by singer/song-writer Joe South.

During the eighteenth century, a game called “stag hunt “was developed by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This game, also known as the assurance game, involves making a choice between individual safety and risky cooperation and involves the idea that two hunters who must decide whether to hunt a hare alone or a stag together.  ‘Arguably, the stag hunt describes the ethical dilemma of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Roughly: The world would be better off without the bomb, but we have to try to build it because our enemy will. Better we have the bomb than our enemy; better both sides have the bomb than just our enemy’ (Poundstone [s.a.]).

In an interview with Arthur Holmberg, Milan Kundera (1985) stated: ‘ … playing games is an important source of pleasure. Real life is linked to a series of deceptions. It disappoints us with its futility. But when we consciously play games, as on stage, we already know that the game is not serious. Thus, the tragic futility of life becomes the joyous futility of play. In totalitarian regimes one quickly learns the importance of humor. You learn to trust or mistrust people because of the way they laugh. The modern world frightens me because it’s rapidly losing its sense of the playfulness of play.’ The playing of games can provide various satisfactions: aggressive and masochistic; expectant readiness with contempt of danger and consequent mastering of situations; repeated endurance of symbolic castration with resurrection of potency when one wins (Stokes 1956).

Accordingly, the “games” people play form the core of the subject matter in the works on display in Games people play.  The artworks on exhibition comment on the playing of games through a patterned and often predictable series of “transactions” that might not be superficially conceivable, but mask secret motives, feelings or emotions. Similarly, there are many word games, echoed in the game of the “language” of the artwork that is open-ended and  often cloaked in metonymy. The philosopher Wittgenstein maintained that words have a “family” of usages and resemblances: the word “game”, for example, could indicate board games, card games, virtual gaming or soccer games. Such games do not hold a single critical mutual attribute, but rather possess common characteristics and similarities.

Fried Art

http://www.friedcontemporary.com/

430 Charles St Brooklyn, Pretoria, South Africa 0181

TEL/FAX:   +27 12 3460158

E-MAIL

General information and art courses: info@friedcontemporary.com

Exhibitions and artists: art@friedcontemporary.com

Sources quoted

Butler-Bowden, T. 2007. 50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do: Insight and inspiration from 50 key books. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007 . [O] Available: http://knol.google.com/k/games-people-play#. Accessed 14 June 2010.

Poundstone, W [s.a.]. Excerpts from Prisoner’s Dilemma. [O] Available: http://www.heretical.com/pound/staghunt.html. Accessed 14 June 2010.

Stokes, A. 1956. Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXVII:185-192.

Kundera, M. 1985.  Interview with Arthur Holmberg. Performing arts journal, Volume 9, 1:25-27.

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Poster-Layout

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