Studios: Penny Siopis | Cape Town

13 - 29 May 2021
  • Penny Siopis writes:


    'When lockdown hit, I vacated my studio at Michaelis and relocated to my small apartment. Furniture to the side, carpets rolled, pictures down – making way for canvases, paper, glue, ink, oil paint. It was exciting to continue my usually expansive way of working in my tiny home space with its large view, taking in a succulent garden, wildly changing light, an unusually quiet street, and in the distance the ever-protean sea.  


    With this non-human scene set to the soundscape of endless media reports of humans recounting the events of our uncertain day, a strange alchemy took place, a mingling of the ‘out there’ and ‘in here’. Alchemy is central to my way of working, change at the core of my longstanding engagement with flux and unpredictability enacted in my glue and ink painting, which casts the medium as an active agent in the process. 


    Gravity and canvas are also players in the event. Usually the canvas is stretched. Placed horizontally on the floor, the stretchers lift the canvas face a bit, allowing some ‘give’, a feature that determines the flow of glue and ink and the shapes that emerge. When dry, and seen in vertical relation, these visual incidents become ‘potential images’ – potential because, in their essentially formless form, the boundary between any figure (shape) or ground is porous, emergent, open.


    An open form is an enabling space for imaginative projection and a site through which new images can be born. And the time we are in will, like gravity, have its way in what we see, including the idea and reality of the dissolution of the figure (read human) into the ground (read non-human – nature), or the ground becoming figure … Whatever the view, there is a merging of subject and object, which tallies with the relational philosophy through which I articulate my concerns about the state we are in, not least the state of the environment. My very method of working with glue is to set the conditions for something to happen and then respond to what ensues. This bears out a kind of material thinking that seems special to painting, a practice being both an embodied state and a creation of a pictorial world, an imagined state we might cast as dreamstate, the unconscious.'

  • 'For a while now I have resolved to work only with the art materials I had to hand – including...

    'For a while now I have resolved to work only with the art materials I had to hand – including older works - rather than bringing more stuff into the world. I wavered in lockdown. As strict rules eased, I visited the art shop and bought two swathes of fine Belgian linen, just the right size to fit on my apartment floor. The medium acts differently on unstretched canvas that lies flat on the floor - there is no ‘give’ to direct the flow of matter. But there is always gravity that pulls one way or another even when we cannot know the exact dynamics. And then there is the weather, which was hot, and affects the drying of the glue. 


    What emerged in these conditions could only really come to light after lockdown restrictions were lifted and I could go back to my large Michaelis studio. Here, I hung up the canvas swathes to see, in vertical relation, how they prompted me to act. And so oil paint joined the fray.'

  • Penny Siopis is a multidiscipinary artist and an honorary professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. Her diverse practice...

    Penny Siopis is a multidiscipinary artist and an honorary professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. 


    Her diverse practice encompasses body politics, migration, history and memory, grief and shame, climate change and the relations between the human and non-human, with all her explorations characterised by her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’.


    Solo exhibitions include Moving Stories and Travelling Rhythms: Penny Siopis and the many journeys of Skokiaan, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo (2019); ‘This is a True Story’: Six Films (1997-2017), Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town (2018); Penny Siopis: Films, Erg Gallery, Brussels (2016); Incarnations, ICA Indian Ocean, Mauritius (2016); Time and Again: A Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Gallery and Wits Art Museum (2014-15) and Three Essays on Shame, Freud Museum, London (2005). 


    Shadow Shame Again, her new film commissioned by Birkbeck, University of London, is currently screening online until 21 May. Her previous film, She Breathes Water, can also be viewed online as part of Galleries Curate: RHE.

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    Photography: Mario Todeschini; Marc Barben