Studio Visit with Mary Wafer

The DKP team recently paid a studio visit to artist Mary Wafer.

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Mary was kind enough to narrate the team through her current works (some in progress) for her upcoming show entitled Ninth Floor to be held at David Krut Projects in Parkwood on Wednesday 24 June.Ninth Floor showcases a new body of paintings and prints continuing Wafer’s interest in issues of structural marginality and exclusion in a contemporary South African context. Following previous inquiry into the Marikana events, current research on John Vorster Square, the police station which embodied the violence of the apartheid system, explore moments along South Africa’s post-democratic timeline to question cultural change (or the lack thereof).

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DKP: I know the paintings relate to the John Voster building so maybe just tell us, how does it make sense to you? How do you get to this point? Why is it (subject matter) particularly important to you? Because you are very socially and politically aware.

MW: I guess these things and this particular building matter to me because it’s kind of symbolic. It was built in the 60’s and it was designed, if you read the architect’s reports and the requests from the state on what they wanted the building to be, for what it turned into. It wasn’t something that just happened of it’s own accord. It was thought out that way, it was made to have spaces on the top floors that you couldn’t get to. It was made that there were lift shafts that ran from the basement to the 10th floor. So it was designed to intimidate and to be in-transparent… they knew what was going to happen. And I think that’s what I find interesting about it. If you walk around inside the building, nothing has changed, it still has the same furniture, virtually. The mind-set of the people who work there hasn’t changed a lot. They have been treated with terrible indignity, it has horrible, soul destroying, ugly morale. The building itself is quite compelling. This rhythmic, repetitive design is quite, well it sucks me into a vortex. I’m physically attracted to it. It’s in the way it looks, it has a pull for me almost like a physic feeling. And then when you know what happens in it you get that sort of sick feeling.

So I guess what interests me in the way that I’m painting it is that it’s about looking at the way the painting’s surface, as a pattern or something and you get the feeling that it’s well thought out. It’s quite difficult to explain but also the way a system operates hasn’t necessarily gone into the space, it’s like systemic violence and aggression that happens isn’t… there isn’t any ethos, it’s just like it’s a way of being.

I guess I’m also interested in the fact that people are put into the space and how difficult it must be to work there. They have also been subjected to the violence that manifests itself there every day and just keeps going… is this making any sense?

DKW: Definitely. Do you think about that when you are painting or do you think about a more formalistic approach when you are making the work, or when you are conceptualising you are thinking about that or are you thinking about the formal elements of painting? (the above mentioned)

MW: Yes, so when I’m actually painting, I’m looking at the way the lines intersect, the way the colour forms, every brush stroke and perspective.

DKW: That’s quite hectic, like this one, do you start drawing with a pencil or how do you prep for the painting? Because it’s quite precise and accurate. It’s labour intensive.

MW: it starts all from photographs, I spend a lot of time looking at the space and then think about it specifically for painting. Looking at these pieces that have a weird shift and looking at the surfaces, treating it as a cover, every now and then it breaks and you realise that it is just a skin. Then you realise that break is a light shining or a broken shutter which has got something behind it.

DKW: So it’s breaking down what you see initially to understanding that there is more to be seen behind it. It’s like that with these paintings, they seem very straight forward but then you look at them carefully and you can see that, there are different elements in it.

MW: You see these white lines here, they will become more apparent.

DKW: Hmmm interesting. So do you think your works in this show will be historic in a way? In terms of writing from an academic perspective?

MW: What is also important is that this is the building just as it is, it still exists, it still holds a power in a broken kind of way. It’s like these gaps here (pointing to painting) as parts of the façade that have fallen off, so it’s like this gradual decay, this rot that has always been there, it’s still there, it’s just like atrophy.

DKW: In a way, it’s also self-sustainable because it’s bound to fall apart but as you say, everything is still the same.

MW: Yes it’s crazy, it’s the same just in a less perfect state.

DKW: That’s also very interesting that you are saying “I think about the nature of the building” and why it was designed the way it was, I think that’s something important that when we talk about the work we can also do a bit of research on that and it’s important to know.

MW: I’ll send you my research materials to give you a bit of background.

DKW: That will be amazing. I think it’s not only for understanding the work but also in a wider context, seeing how it fits into the social landscape because that’s why I do think these works are very interesting because you are dealing with an actual thing.

MW: Yeah, because it’s a physical object that exists in this world and a part of our lives, I mean I drive past it twice a day and I see it, every morning and every night, when I come home and when I go to work and I’m just like “it’s still *%#king here!”

DKW: I think people should look at things deeper like that, you know, I fell that a lot of people are very unaware of what’s going on around them in terms of buildings, structure and you know just thinking about the history of the city as well.

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DKW: That’s also very interesting that you are saying “I think about the nature of the building” and why it was designed the way it was, I think that’s something important that when we talk about the work we can also do a bit of research on that and it’s important to know.

MW: I’ll send you my research materials to give you a bit of background.

DKW: That will be amazing. I think it’s not only for understanding the work but also in a wider context, seeing how it fits into the social landscape because that’s why I do think these works are very interesting because you are dealing with an actual thing.

MW: Yeah, because it’s a physical object that exists in this world and a part of our lives, I mean I drive past it twice a day and I see it, every morning and every night, when I come home and when I go to work and I’m just like “it’s still *%#king here!”

DKW: I think people should look at things deeper like that, you know, I fell that a lot of people are very unaware of what’s going on around them in terms of buildings, structure and you know just thinking about the history of the city as well.

 

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