Louis de Villiers | We Ouchea
Solo Exhibition at Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg
08.09.18 – 02.10.18
Ultimately, ‘We Ouchea’ an exploration in how brands, style and learned cues create some sort of ‘hieroglyphics’ in the modern times – a form of cultural code that nods at certain affiliations and paints a perceived picture of an individual’s character, preference and philosophy in the viewer’s mind.
When I look at this body of work, it sparks a lot of ideas and then fragments into many other conversations. At first impression, I think of Medieval and religious English art and the period of the Dutch Golden Age. Having always worked on paper, the adoption of the banner-form is reminiscent of the theatre and presentation of Medieval and Western religious artforms – the vehicle now brings a level of spiritual reverence to these simple drawings that have now become objects.
The Dutch influence presents itself in the subject matter: How the artwork content takes a snapshot of middle-to-upper-class society in a moment in time – how clothing, fashion, pastimes and possessions paint a picture of the current privileged experience. If van Utrecht’s use of elaborate instruments and exotic food in a still life portrayed wealth and ‘cultured’ tastes in the 17th Century – why would limited edition sneakers and collectible toys not do the same in the current age?
These specific periods I do believe were influenced by my race and ethnicity. I’ve been trying to figure this out as exploration of cultural heritage is often in the forefront of the current, global artists’ discussion (and very necessary in most cases), but I feel in a quandary. Myself, identifying as a heterosexual, cisgender, ‘African-European’ male; I am trying to wrestle with this inherited history that seemingly does not qualify me for this sort of public exploration. As a white South African of distant British and Dutch lineage, I’ve been looking at these periods to try eek out some sort of visual heritage of my own, although fully realizing how problematic they were. I certainly do not lament my position – I embark on this exercise only to be more aware of it.
I also think of Warhol and his pop-art cohorts: How household brands and seemingly low-brow cultural elements were elevated to high art. In that era brands were simply elevated – they didn’t allude to any personal preference or affiliation. That was the 70’s however, today, familiar brands are much more – they’re ‘personalities’ and demagogues. To wear or consume a particular brand now entails an affiliation – a connection to the brand ideals and cultural position these brands represent (nevermind the allusion to wealth by the fact of even affording certain brands). When Andy said “Look! Buy This soup!”, brands today say “Join! Buy these sneakers to subscribe to this culture and ideology – follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more!”
In the extreme case, don’t you find it interesting seeing porn actors in their day-time clothes – how as performers, they are only flesh captured within a carnal moment; but as soon as they’re clothed, they transform into people – the color, form, style and brand of clothing now allude to some sort of taste, cultural preference, and even political or philosophical affiliation. Personal style alludes to a history – a path of how someone chose to position, present and ultimately represent themselves to this world. Don’t you find that a funny thing?
Exhibition catalogue is available for view here.