The Wheel of Fortune
I spent 2 years in Newcastle growing up. We rented a home in a mining community approx 23km SE toward Chelmsford Dam. It was a place where the small group of white kids ran around barefoot, built forts in the pine forest, played hide and seek in the mielie fields, had claylite fights and only came home when it was too dark to continue to play. We used to catch the bus into school, and on hot summers days our mum would take us to the community, whites only, pool in town – where I learnt to swim. The year was 1981, and the entire Buzzy Bee pre primary school packed into the hall to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Diana.
Newcastle was one of many towns our family sojourned, and Buzzy Bee one of nine primary schools I attended whilst growing up in SA. A decade later, still pre democratic SA (1991), freshly matriculated from the last whites only Matric year from an all boys school in Durban, I revisited Newcastle and the Natal Coal Colliery that housed my formative memories. I was struck by the state of rack and ruin and by the stark predominance of poverty, which was incongruent to my childhood recollections. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
My political and social coming of age was by all accounts late. I wasn’t very conscious of Apartheid, The Struggle or any politics for that matter. Incredibly, the first time I heard the name Nelson Mandela was just a few years before his release. I, like many of my white peers, lived a privileged but sheltered existence. It’s not an upbringing I feel needs an apology – it was wholesome, if ignorant, but it did stimulate a latent curiosity around the economic, physiological, social and political hegemonies that shape our societies and sense of identity.
Through the vehicle of Art, I’m faced with many ironies, as I attempt to engage the difficult and dynamic challenges that face, not only South Africa as a developing African nation (in all spheres), but also South Africa in the context of a contemporary and rapidly changing global economy. A recurring irony of prominence is the strong economic position that South Africa finds itself in today at the expense of its historical exploitation of cheap labour. This is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to SA, in economic terms; it’s indistinguishable from the US commerce’s offset of production labour to Third World economies or ‘sweet shops’ as a practice.
I remain objective to the forces that both propel and limit our nation. And, I submit to the economic factors beyond my comprehension that create the push/pull, surge/recessive, growth/decline, profitable/responsible, progress/regress, investment/debt et al. I avoid ‘good’ or ‘bad’ descriptors in what I represent, and prefer instead to deliver a set of visual equations that can engage the viewer with a reflection of their own beliefs as a starting point to re-evaluation.
In the case of the Newcastle installation, The Wheel of Fortune represents the yin & yang of the notion ‘All that glitters is not gold’. It is a caution, and simultaneously a shiny beacon or testament to the labour force and industry involved in the ‘glitter’ of other minerals such coal, chromium, synthetic rubber and steel – past and present.
While the work is designed with didactic readings in mind, it is implicit in its reflectiveness of Jeff Koons & Anish Kapoor’s work, not just in the sense of commerciality and commodity, but more specifically because of Kapoor’s association to Arcelor Mittal and the £16mill material sponsorship of The Orbit (London, 2012). Furthermore, the recycling of the used open cast mining truck tyre for all its obvious readings and conveying my personal view of economically marrying unemployment with recycling, also draws the connection between Karbochem, in its association to Lanxess Chrome, and also for being the major synthetic rubber producer, providing amongst other things, rubber for the soles of school shoes and latex for the back of carpet manufacturing.
Altogether I’m satisfied with the reading as a literal and aspirant metaphor from dark to bright.