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Picking Porky's Brain

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Following the recent opening of the Monstera Deliciosa exhibition at the Southern Guild Gallery in Cape Town, we caught up with artist Porky Hefer to delve a little deeper into his thinking behind the show and to learn more about his general philosophy and his career to date. For those not in the know, the display features a series of hanging seats in the form of water animals made mainly from leather (see a photo of the crocodile and its conceptual sketch above). Here’s what this fascinating creative had to say.

First of all, why the rather odd name 'Monstera Deliciosa'?

I have always loved the name and the plant and have wanted to use it somewhere for quite some time. The designs are quite scary at first – they’ve got big teeth, big scales and are made from real leather. And the fact that they are suspended makes you feel a little unsure. But they quickly become endearing and invite you in. They are the softer side of a monster, the delicious side. It’s also just nice hearing people speak Latin again, even if the pronunciation is a bit dodgy. It feels like school again.

Why did you specifically decide to go with water animals?

The underwater theme was an extension of the idea of suspension. For me the roof of the gallery became the water surface, and the animals are suspended in the water. The shape and space of the gallery also dictated the theme. It was the perfect fish tank.

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We understand one of your aims is to make people think about nature and the importance of protecting it. How do you see your work achieving this?

I think the nests I’ve created in the past achieve that the most. They put you in nature and you become part of nature when you’re sitting in them. Most buildings tend to separate people from nature and this gives humans a superiority complex and makes them feel omnipotent. But take away a person’s warmth and dryness and the barrier between them and the creepy crawlies and they come down to size somewhat. Also, it’s better that children’s narratives revolve around birds rather than cops or robbers or extremists.

Why do you feel it’s so critical to preserve and revive traditional crafts?

The thing that is worrying me about the rapid development of technology is the disappearance of the expert. The expert nowadays is no longer the person with the most experience and knowledge of a particular subject but rather the developer of a tech concept as they are the only one who knows how it operates. This downgrading of knowledge and experience is seriously worrying as it starts to strip away the traditions and cultures of our world. That said, the hipster generation has done a great job of reviving traditional crafts. Love or hate them, they have made a lot of old-school stuff relevant again: barbers, coffee brewing, craft beer and custom motorcycles, for example. And this creates new local economies.

What are some of the challenges involved in putting on a show like this?

It’s difficult to pull off big shows, especially solo shows, because of the financial burden that falls on one designer. Most designers and artists are self-funded, so things only become possible when they have the support they need to achieve beyond their norm. It’s only with the support of Southern Guild and Woodhead’s [local leather merchants] that the Monstera Deliciosa exhibition was possible.

Too often companies try to take advantage of designers and artists for their own self-gain, but this is not sustainable. Learning how to mutually benefit from each other’s strengths can take us to another level. It’s time the private sector started taking responsibility and enabling more greatness from this country.

International audiences have been enjoying your work at shows for years. Why has it taken a while to have a solo show here in South Africa? 

I believe the timing has been perfect. I think you need to have a little success overseas before locals start taking you seriously. I also had to get my sh*t together and get my work up to a standard that would be worthy of a solo show.

Read more about the Monstera Deliciosa exhibition and the quirky creatures involved.

Image Credit: Picture of Porky taken by Justin Polkey for Ogojiii.