AW: You have called your forthcoming exhibition of work “Heritage Osmosis”. Please elaborate on this title and comment on the evolving nature of your sculptures.
MF: My work for this forthcoming show is very much the result of what I understand “Heritage Osmosis” to be, namely the mental and visual diffusion of objects or ideas with distinct history and tradition; a filtering of their essence through my own history and tradition, followed by a gradual re-assimilation into a different object or idea. For instance, the antique chair in “Sweep”. Singular components of a once functional piece of furniture, to my visual and conceptual understanding of them at that given point in time, lent themselves to reassemble in a free-standing sculpture indicating activity and motion. In terms of component count the sculpture is still mostly an antique chair. As “Sweep”, however, it endures as a figure sweeping.
AW: A significant part of your career has involved you working as a designer, specifically of jewellery. To what extent has this informed your practice as a sculptor and your choice of materials?
MF: I have been passionate about creating objects that are beautiful to me from an early age. What jewellery has done is discipline and formalize this passion and given it a constructive path along which I learned how to physically realise and apply my ideas. In terms of construction, my sculpture is to some degree an extension in scale of my jewellery. This is not to say that tools and processes are identical save for size. But the knowledge of jewellery making certainly informs and accelerates the understanding of the construction of sculpture. My collection of materials has been a gradual ongoing process over many years driven mostly by the passion for the objects themselves rather than by a conscious search for a particular piece or purpose. Some lend themselves better to sculpture; some are more suitable for jewellery.
AW: You were born in Johannesburg to Austrian parents but at age seven relocated to Munch where you would later be apprenticed to Master Erich Baldouf. What are some of the more important things that you learned from this experience, and how do these continue to influence your work and specifically your sculpture today?
MF: Mostly I gleaned an acute understanding of shape, balance and proportion. I was to analyse them until I understood them in order to reproduce accurately not only to scale, but also in keeping with the nature of the materials used. This experience continues to influence my sculpture most directly. Secondly, to think “outside the toolbox” so to speak and to realise that there is more than one solution to a given problem. Design had not to be limited by tooling, design had to challenge tooling. If the right tool was not available I was to make it, to invent a tool. In my sculpture this training allows me to overcome a variety of technical challenges and to look at objects inventively, to see them for what they could be in a sculpture and not merely for what they are. And thirdly, discipline, in many senses of the word, most importantly for my work today in the sense of understanding and accepting when a piece is finished; to resist overworking.
AW: It can be said that in terms of sculpture, very often the message is in the medium. You seem to use a variety of different objects in your works, many of them found objects. To what extent does an object’s history determine your use and application of it, and would it be accurate to describe your creations as assembled narratives – a re-telling of stories?
MF: My creations do re-tell stories, some more obvious than others. The stronger my interest in an object’s history, the more likely it is to influence the story of a sculpture. I then use it in a literal way and enhance it though context with the other elements of the work. Often, however, it is rather my history with an object or group of objects that I am compelled to explore in a piece. “Man from Pella” would be such a sculpture. It tells the story of the man with the springy sport-shoes running next to me at an every-increasing speed, chatting, as I drove along the road outside the town of Pella, where I had collected redundant metal objects which assembled in the sculpture of the man from Pella.
AW: Despite the physical and at times complex nature of your works I sense a certain whimsy to their personality. To what degree does humour play a role in the tough business of metal sculpture?
MF: My sculptures are a part of me and in some pieces my humour does come through. There is not much room for humour in the manufacturing of metal sculptures; the physical and mental focus is intense. However, creation and experimental play amuse me, so humour is intrinsic to my approach to concept in particular and life in general.
AW: You often travel to and journey in what could be described as ancient landscapes such as the Richtersveld. What role does the notion of time play in your work, and to what extent are you influenced by memory and geography?
MF: I am attracted to landscapes such as the Richtersveld for their rough and quiet beauty and how I experience my work and myself in the vastness of minimal stimuli and extreme conditions. Momentum and flow are key to creation for me. In this sense the notion of time and timing are essential to my work and how I reflect and go about realising and developing it.
AW: The original buildings still intact and in use at the Montebello Design Centre have a rich and varied history spanning almost two centuries. Your collaboration with David Krut Projects at their Newlands site seems apt given your established relationship to Montebello and the sense of history most apparent in the centre’s architecture. How important are the specifics of space and locality when exhibiting your sculpture?
MF: Spatial dynamics are important and it is obviously necessary that the practical requirements for exhibiting my sculpture be fully considered. Ideally there should also exist some sort of dialogue between the works and the context in which they are seen. In my mind the recently renovated David Krut Projects space at the historic Montebello site satisfies all criteria.
AW: Where to from here?
MF: In my sculpture and related creations, I would like to develop and further the relationship between my three-dimensional pieces and my works on paper, and I intend to explore the possibilities of intaglio prints in relation to my sculpture.
Images from Mischa Fritsch’s Exhibition titled, Heritage Osmosis.