Curated by Kay Abude at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, 2014
In conversation with Sanné Mestrom (excerpt from catalogue)
Kay Abude Throughout your different projects within your practice, you have shown a sustained fascination with the traditions of ceramics. Your ceramic objects embody a materiality that is distinctively crude and primitive in their making and execution, combined with a very minimal and raw aesthetic. Can you describe when and how you first began working with clay and what the material has revealed to you over the years?
Sanné Mestrom …
I first became interested in the medium via the ceramic folk art I encountered throughout Mexico a few years ago. I loved the way the artisans handled the clay in a way that seemed innate – they embodied a casual confidence in their process of ‘making’ that I’d not seen anywhere before. It was very inspiring. The trip was a real eye-opener in many ways and marked an important shift in my practice.
KA Pork Barrel takes the familiar form of a children’s piggy bank and invites active engagement from viewers to participate in the work by inserting and donating coins or bank notes into the sculpture. Over the period of the exhibition, as visitors keep adding to the piggy bank, its value increases. It raises questions about the value of the art object and the value of art itself; how can an artwork’s value and worth be generated or measured within a capitalist market? In this work, the piggy bank is without a plug. The only way to find out the value that has been collected over time within the vessel is to smash, destroy and sacrifice the artwork. Can you elaborate on the themes that you are exploring in this piece?
I think you’ve pretty much covered the answer in your question… But to extend your point, art is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. Ummm. Or is its value something more elusive, more ephemeral?
I’ve long been interested in the notion of ‘value’, which is itself an abstract concept around which the artworld orbits. Arguably, there is no meaning or value inherent in any of the objects we make, we inscribe meaning and value into them.
I like the idea that if someone were to buy my Pork Barrel, they’d get the artwork at whatever market value it’s worth – largely based on a mysterious kind of cultural caché that I don’t fully understand- plus ‘interest’. But, as you mentioned, said ‘collector’ must sacrifice one for the other. If they get tired of looking at the artwork on their shelf, they can smash it open and buy another (better) artwork. Though I’m not sure what you can buy for 3 bucks these days… and who knows what other treats they might find inside?
KA The classical optical illusion known as Rubin’s Vase is often illustrated pictorially, an ambiguous figure in seen both as a vase and two human heads in the same image. However perceptually, only one figure, can be maintained at any given moment, whether it be the vase shaped by two heads or its opposite, the two human heads taking form by a separation in space. In your work Pot Piece you have absorbed this two dimensional concept to create and reimagine this visual data as a three dimensional artwork. Transforming two dimensional source material into three dimensional sculpture is characteristic of the art that you make. Can you describe this process of translation and the ideas represented in Pot Piece?
In many ways, my sculptural practice is grounded in the language of painting.
Over the last four years my studio practice has been concerned with the life of art-historical images. My sculptural works – which explore the formal tropes of painting through sculptural practice – meditate on the way an art image or object traverses realms, such as from two- to three-dimensionality; mercurial memory to fixed form; singular masterpiece to generalised style.
Pot Piece, is a slightly deadpan debunking of the perceptual trickery proposed by Rubin’s Vase in 1915. My intention with the work has been to take something very familiar and – by subverting Rubin’s intended strategy – the Vase only ‘works’ if it’s flat, pictorial – playing with our assumptions or recollections of what the original looked like and how it actually operated as a visual phenomenon. We may only see the vase if we know what we are looking for – though of course, it isn’t really there at all.