News and Trends

Renée Holleman

With this month’s April Art issue hitting the shelves, the HL team has been on the lookout for exciting, local creative talent. We asked Joburg curator Kim Stern for her selection of top up-and-coming South African artists. Here we chat with Renée HollemanWhat art do you produce? I work in a variety of media, so my work includes drawings, installations, sculptures, sound and text. What and who are your influences? That's always such a difficult question, not because an artist doesn't necessarily want to reveal their sources, but because influences can be so various and complex. I grew up in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape and I spent a lot of time on a family farm north of Cradock. It isn't quite the Karoo, but it's pretty sparse and I learned to love the economy of means and expression bound up in a landscape that is both stark and overwhelming. But in terms of visual art, I have an enduring appreciation for Paul Cézanne who obsessively painted more than 60 paintings of the same mountain – Mont Sainte-Victoire. He just kept revisiting the same subject matter, trying to portray it a little differently or more truthfully. He really looked hard for a long time. I'm a big fan of contemporary French artist Pierre Huyghe, a multi-disciplinary practitioner whose work ranges from sculptures and films to expeditions in Antarctica. I have enormous admiration for good short story writing; Michel Faber's 'The Farenheit Twins' and Victor Pelevin's 'The Blue Lantern' are favourites, as is the writing of Jorge Luis Borges. He's become curiously popular with artists, but if you discover someone on your own that never really matters. I also think it's very interesting that his writing seems to be so relevant to our contemporary experience. What is the main thrust/ message behind your art? It’s often said that we're 'drowning in images', and I think whether or not you agree with this, you would probably acknowledge that the proliferation of images online, on TV and in print media has certainly changed (is constantly changing) our relationship to the world around us. Images are political – they aren't static, passive or opaque but rather emblematic of vast and complex systems of exchange, commerce, power and distribution. So I'm interested in our relationship to images, and in the role of the viewer as an interpretive agent or translator rather than passive consumer. My work is concerned with the gaps in the narrative, in dislocations in reading/ viewing and in the importance of absence. What is your biggest challenge as an artist, both in terms of logistics and the message you are trying to convey? Aside from my practice I have two jobs, so logistically the big challenge is getting the balance right. But I think this is something that can be said to extend into my practice as well. I'm interested in very many things, which on the one hand is great – being an artist is the best job for someone who wants to work on many different kinds of things – but sometimes trying to measure how one idea plays off another successfully can be hard or complicated. I once read an interview with the artist Bruce Nauman who said that he thought that making art would get easier as he did it more, but then he realised that it was going to be difficult and maybe even painful every time because each work presents a new set of problems. Which made me laugh, perhaps a little hysterically, because that's what it can feel like sometimes (ask any artist). Tell us more about your past and upcoming exhibitions? My most recent solo exhibition at Whatiftheworld Gallery was inspired by the local neighbourhood of Woodstock, and took as its premise a mysterious event; the sighting of a ghost ship sailing down the city streets. Drawing on local fable, history, visual conundrum and text, the exhibition attempted to open up a space in which various story-lines oscillated between fact and fiction, the visible and invisible, the staged and un-staged. I'm busy working on a new smaller project for Blank Projects (also in Woodstock), but not about Woodstock this time. What do you think of the role of the artist in South Africa today? I think artists are always questioning the status quo in some form or another, asking people to think and feel or look a little more, and to expand their understanding. This is why art is sometimes uncomfortable or confusing along with being exciting or interesting or beautiful. Because of South Africa's legacy of painful division and its incredible diversity I think one of our biggest challenges as individuals grappling with the many inequalities we're confronted with daily is to expand our understanding, our compassion and humanity so that we can act effectively and with integrity. Being an artist (in any discipline) in South Africa is really important because there are so many questions that need asking, and sometimes (not always) artists can show us the way. Finally, if you weren’t an artist what would you be? When I was a kid, I really loved horses - riding horses was the only thing I ever wanted to do as much as be an artist. So I might have been a champion equestrian; you never know. Keep an eye out for the rest of our artist Q+As coming up in April… For more information about Renée Holleman’s work visit reneeholleman.com. Interviewed by Kim Grové