Intraparadox – Interview with Dot Vermeulen: POSTING PRESENCE

Winning SASOL New Signatures 2013

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Good morning Dots, It’s a privilege to be with you at the Pretoria art museum and to look at the exhibition having won SASOL New Signatures 2013   Dot Vermeulen: Thank you it’s a privilege to be here [SMILES]   MAK: With the video installation, I can remember of the lady paging through a magazine or a book   DV: Yes   MAK: …and there was also a painting behind that animation of the exact image, but you know there was a stillness of the painting and there was an animation with the computer image or the images that was shown on the computer. One may wonder and say what were your thoughts when you won the SASOL New Signatures 2013, what went through your mind when you were told?   DV: I did not expect it at all, I was absolutely stunned and quite overwhelmed, feeling extraordinary, it was a very big surprise, very big surprise, yes.   MAK: Before then did you enter other art competitions or it was the first time?   DV: I took part in the SASOL New signatures twice before, and in the hundred finalists round, but I have never before become a finalist.   MAK: let alone a runner up?   DV: Yes   MAK: So you just went on to become the winner in 2013   DV: Yes totally surprised by that

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On Art Technique

MAK: Tell me Dots did you study painting? Did you study animation or?   DV: I started out as a painter, that’s my core, and still I have a very profound love for painting and the origin of pigments it’s something, it is a great passion for me. But then, after I completed my Bachelors degree I travelled to Taiwan and for a year I taught English and I become very frustrated because I used to have a big studio suddenly I was removed from my artistic surroundings and staying in a very small room.   MAK: In Taiwan   DT: In Taiwan. That’s how I started working digitally because I had no space, so I made small artworks on postcard scale. I use to scan them and put them on the screen and rework on them and send them around. And then I started a kind of a correspondence between tactile work and digital work. I think until today that’s been my main focus to combine the tactility of traditional media of oil painting with the screen technology, yah   MAK: So your work it’s a marry of traditional art and what is now taking precedence we speak about digital art or computer generated images   DV: Exactly, exactly…   MAK: Let’s talk about this exhibition, obviously you won SASOL New Signatures 2013, What did the price money entail? What did it mean? Did it come with a clause that you are now supposed to do something? obviously we now know you are suppose to produce a body of work. How dictating is, you know, the clause that says you must produce, do they give you a number of works that you must produce and of what you were suppose to produce? Or you do you decide as an artist, how does it work?   DV: It was a wonderful process in terms of the creative process because, uhm, the SASOL staff never took, dictated, they never dictated to me, there was no boundary set, I had absolute freedom with regard to what I wanted to produce. They just very subtly and sensitively approached me now and then, supported me in what I was doing and said go on, so there was no boundary or anything like that.   MAK: So you had the leeway and freedom to choose the theme that you were gonna work with, uhm, and what they did was to support you and to check how far you were with the work you were working on? Obviously when I look at the central piece itself I still see the process of the winning work of 2013 is carried into the 2014 Solo exhibition for SASOL New Signatures and there are also other renditions of the main central piece. What’s the process, especially with regard to the central piece, if we start with the central piece, because I feel it is the work that carries more weight if you look at that [piece and look at the remaining artworks, you sort of having now a vocabulary of looking at the other works, I could be wrong…. DV: No you are absolutely right… MAK: …but you know I was thinking if we could look at that work and you just take us through the process of how the animation was made and then we can look at the other works, because one gets a sense that if you take the central piece out the context of the exhibition is lost. Can we start by looking at this work?   DV: Yes it is a key   MAK: So the work is a key itself? Can we start by looking at this work?   DV: Absolutely, yah, I am often asked which medium I work in. It is quite hard to respond because I am always jumping in between mediums MAK: In-between digital art or animated, animation and as well as traditional painting? So you are comfortable with both…   DV: Photography , sometimes there is also Guash paintings, there is different kinds of paintings. So what I usually say to people that I deal with translations in-between mediums, the jumps and I am interested to see how images travel. I think images travel and they use different mediums as their vehicles, and they also use our eyes, it’s like they hitch a ride on our eyes and vehicles. And With the central work there kind of a ball throwing to and fro between digital medium and the screen, because, it started out as a series of photographs that I took at a place that’s very close to where I live.

Bloemfontein – Kardinia Park  

MAK: By the way you stay in?   DV: In Bloemfontein in a lower middle class suburb, I am very fascinated with this particular place, because it’s a place where there is a lot of movement. There is a train that passes and there are lots of pedestrians that walk through that space every day. All the working class people who live in the southern part of Bloemfontein pass underneath that bridge when they go to work.   MAK: Different cultural groups, uhm?   DV: I think a variety yes, there is also a school around there so you see kids hanging around but also but the place there is a kind of a darkness. There is a bit of a nervousness around the space (and also…)   MAK: Do you care to tell us the name of the place? The area actually, the city or the suburb?   Dot Vermeulen: It’s just a suburb, it’s Kardinia Park

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Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Kardinia Park   Dot V: It’s not one of the richest neighbourhood, it’s a very ordinary working class neighborhood and there is a lot of segregation between groups. Some groups walk past, some groups drive past   Mmutle AK: And the train?   DT: And the train transporting freight mostly and its like all these groups they rub shoulders but they never mesh. So it’s very fascinating space for me   MAK: I think it is a very interesting tackling of a subject matter, if we think about the fact that you are using painting and the transposition, if you allow me to use that word, the transposition of painting as a medium into animation and back forth at the same time. And to think that these are two techniques of expression. You see if somebody look at them from a general perspective they may say these they cannot work together…   DV: They’re contrasting

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MAK: They contrast, and here you are talking about the contrast of the society that lives in Kardinia Park, where the people seem to be living, sharing the same space but because of social classes and perhaps maybe cultural differences these people seem not to, you use the word mesh or merge into each other due to the social differences that they share. And here you are talking about animation as well as painting and the merging of animation and painting into one, into entity which is the result of the video installation itself and the juxtaposition of the painting itself which actually is quite monumental. In my opinion if the painting was quite small if it was the same size as the rendition of that work which actually accompanies the exhibition it would not have made an impact   DT: that was something that was interesting for me as well why I chose that scale is to show how the characteristics of an image that is more or less similar change when it travels into a different medium.   MAK: Was that actually your main, the picture plane within which you worked while you produced this animation, the process itself, is this the same, how can I put it? Is this the same original matrix? That we see on animation, the painting itself, did you take that digitally and transfer that into a computer program and…   DT: Yes, yes   MAK: Worked on it layer by layer…   DT: Yes   MAK: What was the process, because this figure of this lady, which I think it’s you, looks like…   DT: Actually it’s not, but uhm it’s ok, people think it’s me   MAK: Yah in a way I thought that it was like autobiographical you know. Like the lad, she is exploring this sort of isolated landscape of some sort, this dark, you said there is a dark aspect to Kardinia Park and this which one can take as underneath a bridge actually and that this person is exploring, looking at the tagging of the graffiti that’s there…   DT: Yes   MAK: And she gets to add what she thinks ought to be there. What was the process, how did you construct this work?   DT: Well I specifically chose this character because she seems a little bit frail, she’s quite like a small and when she comes into the space she becomes even smaller and then,   MAK: …She is imaginary   DT: The space is almost like overwhelming her and she moves into the space. In this neighborhood there is also a hospital. I have a couple of close friends who are doctors. I converse with them on a daily basis and listen to the experiences that they have in the hospital, the doctors in training, so that they are still learning. The conditions are quite harsh. And I have a great respect for them, and I always, I think that they so brave with the work that they do and they are also very much overwhelm and to some degree I think, it’s like they risk a lot by going into that space, they give a lot of themselves and psychologically it has a great impact on them. And that was the inspiration for that character. In some of the images you see same character with the stethoscope…   MAK: Yes, there, there, I mean when she enters on the left side of the picture plane you can see you can see the ear pieces of the stethoscope,…   DT: Yes   MAK: you can see them as well as when she start to move, but obviously when she is far into deep into the picture you cannot see, you cannot make it out anymore   DT: …you’re not sure if she is drawing, you are not sure if the space is drawing on her   MAK: and then the significance of her eventually melting, what does that mean? Because it is as if the space consumes her, that she gets lost in the space as she is doing these activities that…, as if she reaches a crescendo, because she can’t do anything anymore, because the space is so overwhelming. And then that’s it, she vanishes into it, she becomes part of the space and the space becomes her in turn.   DT: That’s the mysterious part that I wont give a conclusion for… MAK: [LAUGHS]   DT: but I think the energy in a space is extremely extremely powerful to an extent that I think people sometimes in an anthropological way are naïve about entering spaces and having and having expectations of spaces. Whats the most important for me is the correspondence between this character and the space produces

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MAK: And then finally I see that the space as much as this character tried to do something there there is small change that has happened. For me as a viewer, personally speaking, the change that I experience is the fact that somebody walked into the space and the space consumed her. You know, I am not sure whether that was intentional or not?   DT: Yes, uhm   MAK: What are your final thoughts on that?   DT: Well I had an interesting debate with a friend because there is also a kind of an exit that forms a kind of a door with this light that’s coming through.   MAK: Yes there   DV: My friend was confused she said why does the character go through that door, why does she not leave? And I said well I think that will be betraying the space or abandoning a space, a kind of a romantic way of going from the darkness to the light. Whereas this darkness is so interesting and so varieted so magical. So she chooses to stay   MAK: So in a way, you are negating the light, you’re saying…   DT: It’s not necessary always what we expect it be…   MAK: It’s not necessary the positive thing to go to and the light itself light is so interesting. The way the track looks, it’s like a triangle. And also one can look at it as a spotlight…   DT: Yes   MAK: …And that’s eventually where the character goes to that’s the spot she goes to right towards the end   DT: It is important because it gives light, it makes magic in the space, because there is this chiaroscuro light that flashes in.   MAK: Thank you Dots, let’s look at the other works. What interest me, is that if I look at this work, one of the works that I looked at yesterday was this work, but just briefly you know, and I saw that what you have done here. You have mixed oil and I think this is also a print.   DT: Yah It’s a digital injet print that has been reworked with oil paint.   MAK: And now that you have said something about the transposition of mediums, the transposition of images from one medium to the one to the next you know it starts to make a little bit of sense now. But now this character here seems to be so real. She now defies the fact that she is a made up person. Because now this looks like it was like a painting this, looks like it was an original painting which maybe you sort of scanned, I don’t know, and the reworked on it, can you maybe explain the process of this work.   DT: Well I like that confusion, what is going on there, is it painting or is it a photograph or what or what? And that’s something I really enjoy when I am working, when I work digitally I sometimes try and make very tactile painterly marks in a digital medium and then visa-versa I sometimes when I paint I try to do it in a digital way, it is very concentrated and clean. And by using these two methods that creates that confusion of is it real or is it fantasy to see and then and that’s what I wanted to achieve.

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Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: So in a way to me you wanted to defy laziness that sometimes we see when we look at what is called digital print art where somebody might just work on a computer laboriously producing an image and then then printing that image on fabriano or canvas. So in a way you are still working traditionally as an artist?   Dot Vermeulen: In a digital medium, exactly yes, exactly this particular artwork in this particular artwork the digital process took much much longer than the painting. But the digital process is also digital painting, so.   Mmutle AK: And the titles of your work they seem to be very potent with poetic or metaphorical associations of some sort. Uhm, Are you influenced by poetry to a certain extent or you just happen to be a poet who paints   DT: Very much, actually because I am working on a screen the screen becomes like my studio. But also the screen is a place of communication because while I am working, eh, I have a friend in Canada who is a poet, this screen pops up and says ‘hi…what are you doing?’ and then I send her the image and she becomes part of the image. Her conversation becomes integrated with the other things on the screen. So many of the texts that you see are suggestive of a digital correspondence that is going on…   MAK: While you’re working   DT: Exactly   MAK: So contextually speaking, you were forced to work on a screen because of circumstances at a time when you were working in Taiwan and you embraced that frustration and it became an inspiration. And as you worked, because you are part of a society at the moment that is online almost twenty four hours, instead of switching off your connectivity you have woven your connectivity into your work   DT: Exactly   MAK: …are we now beginning to say Dot Vermeulen’s idea of corresponding images emerges, uhm, as an interrelation between you and your friends or the friends you associate with you. That your work embraces the idea that it is not original in a sense that you have thought about of everything alone. But that other people have added to your thoughts as are working as an artist. Are we correct to make these connections?   DT: Absolutely, I think the correspondence is also the core aspect, and that’s where the notion of posting comes from yes, because these things get sent to me. People come and literary put them there on my working space where I cannot ignore them.   MAK: Let us just rephrase that expression ‘posting correspondence’, so in the context of your own work of your own work what would you say that is? Posting correspondence?   DT: Well these images that are now hanging on the walls, well continue to travel in other places on screens and also in these spaces themselves. Previously when we talked about contrast, that’s something that I really like is the contrast between this space that we are standing in. it is only very white and professional space ehm, which has a very specific audience. Contrast it to these [public] spaces which are very raw and tactile that has an audience of itself. And then I also place images on the wall in the spaces. Actually the winning work of last of the lady with the book. Before I had on new signatures I had it stuck up under the bridge in the street, and so…   MAK: The still version of it,   DT: Yes   MAK: …not the animated version of it   DV: Yes, the still version   MAK: How huge was it?   DV: Probably a thousand workers saw it on their way to work before the Pretoria Art Museum saw it   MAK: That’s very interesting, it was seen probably by people who would never have the time to visit the gallery   DV: Exactly   MAK: who would not be brave enough to visit an art gallery. So in the way you do acknowledge that the gallery as a formal space it’s not the only place that people can see art   DV: …and it is not an only place to post and then also the internet has a specific audience of people who never leave their offices and never have time to come to this space   MAK: So in a way now you are saying that the internet, as much as it is notorious for other things, it can be used to spread the beauty of art, the importance of art and the message that art carries. Eh Finally Dots, obviously you’ve settled most of my questions here. Let’s look lastly at the text that accompany your work. Because I saw with the central work, you know, when the figure enters on your left hand side there is words that’s say ‘beginning to type’ I see there is words here with this work and obviously tagging or graffiti it’s textual in a way. What is the significance of text? You know people are saying the written word is dying people are becoming visual. It doesn’t matter   what I think at the moment, because you know I believe in words, and I…for some reason I think before we see images words precede images, you know, but I saw that and I don’t want to sound as if I am thinking that you are siding with me because I saw that there was words and the words sort of prompts whatever happens later there because you say ‘beginning to type, or program beginning’ one can look at it and subvert it and say the program begins and you have all this interplay of images and so on. What is the significance of words and what is the significance of the graffiti? and over and above that, there is this expressive movement of your brush through your work there is movement in your work, so I would like you to just tackle each of these aspects, the aspects of these questions one by one, words, movement of your brush, movement of the image, because there is movement that is anchored by the words and the image, you know, and the expressiveness of your brushstrokes

 So in a way now you are saying that the internet, as much as it is notorious for other things, it can be used to spread the beauty of art, the importance of art and the message that art carries.

DV: well uhm you know, well uhm, when people asked me about art or being an artist I always cringe a little bit because that word is so burdened with a lot of definitions uhm, because I have never looked at art as this kind of capital canon of a discipline or something like that I always see this medium of visual expression as a kind of a language, as a kind of a means of communication. To me it’s not only a career it’s not discipline it’s not a category in academia. It’s a language and to me the graffiti and the internet, typing and the brush marks are just like different sentences or different paragraphs in a conversation that are layering on top of each other and in some ways they are speaking uhm they are not reaching each other but there is some kind of a mutual desire to post to put my opinion there, to put my sentence there. I think when a person who cannot afford a car, who has to walk through the space to get to work and chooses not to take a taxi. Uhm goes and uses money to buy a can of spray paint, that must be a very important urge for that person to make that mark there, yah.   MAK: In as far as graffiti is concerned or as far as, I wouldn’t say vandalism you know, but suppose it is vandalism, so it is important that this person is trying raise an opinion of some sort. Is this what you are saying?   DV: He wants to make a marks, maybe it is a territorial thing to say this is space I walk through every day and I want to add something to it, yah.   MAK: In your own opinion as we close now, what do you think it is the role of the artist in South Africa?   DV: Opff…you see there’s that tuff word ‘the artist’, because uhm   MAK: Or what do you see your role?   DV: My role opff?   MAK: Let’s remove the word ‘art’, what is your role in all this having achieved the solo exhibition. It’s a great milestone in an artist’ career to have a solo exhibition especially when we look at the venue where your exhibition is showing, it is an international platform, you know, and you have this huge sponsor behind you SASOL New Signature, uhm, what is your role at the moment or we can even ask you what’s next? Obviously you have other projects and so on, maybe there are doors which have opened for you meanwhile in terms of other possible exhibitions and so on.   DV: Definitely, well I have always wanted to form correspondences and start conversations. That has always been my fascination in making art. Throughout the process of this exhibition and winning SASOL   that has remained the same what SASOL has done they have really speeded up that process, supported that process. The momentum and pace of that process became much faster so. The core remain the same but the medium got the lift got the speed basically. I will continue with exactly same mission but perhaps in different media posting in different spaces, yes.   Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Thanks a lot Dots for giving us the time to speak to you. Thank you.   Dot Vermeulen: I am glad you enjoyed it.

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14 September

© mmutle arthur kgokong 2014