Liani van der Westhuizen is the Creative Director at Spier Architectural Arts, where she oversees the various studios, artists and designers in curating and producing site-specific and large scale art interventions, and she directs every step of the creative and construction process.
We chatted to Liani about the work they produce at Union House, a majestic old warehouse building which now hosts Spier Architectural Arts.
What did you do before you joined the Spier Architectural Arts team? Tell us about your background, and how it has directed you to Spier Architectural Arts.
With a background in architecture, I furthered my career abroad. A Postgraduate study in ‘Design for Development’ at Kingston University in London allowed me to move beyond the design of buildings, to designing on a more practical level. This interdisciplinary course gave me the opportunity to focus on the value of design as a problem-solving tool, where I put theory to practice. I was involved in a range of educational and community development projects with community groups and young people, where we ran design workshops, happenings and events to engage users with the spaces they spend time in.
Spier Architectural Arts offered a good merger between my passion for the built environment and cross-pollination between creative practices, providing an environment to work across disciplines to develop inspired solutions for whatever the challenge or task might be.
Take us through the different branches of Spier Architectural Arts, and your involvement in them.
The scope of work produced by Spier Architectural Arts is vast and ranges from monumental public works down to the most intricate pieces of micro mosaic jewellery. Works are realised in a range of mediums including outdoor murals, graffiti, beading, mosaic and refined ceramic elements. The various studios offer participating artists the opportunity to produce artworks that are unlimited by size, technique, palette or permanence.
Within Spier Architectural Arts is the Spier Arts Academy, where apprentices are sponsored during a three-year employment-based programme, and they specialise in contemporary use of a traditional craft as a fine art medium. The training promotes a holistic teaching experience and incorporates working on real-world projects with theory classes. The course is also supplemented with business skills, to ensure graduates have the necessary knowledge to succeed as future arts entrepreneurs.
With the start of the Academy in 2008, mosaic was the only speciality of choice. In the beginning of 2013, the Ceramic Studio was re-ignited where handcrafted ceramic elements provided a vast palette of possibilities for artworks, as well as architectural surface treatments.
A tight-knit team (consisting of a Fine Art Specialist, Architect, Interior Designer, Brand Specialists and Logistical Support) works in co-operation with the selected artist and ensures the seamless turn-key execution of the project, from conception to installation.
Which projects are you working on at the moment?
We’re delighted that three of the studio’s projects have been included in the official WDC2014 programme, and it’s keeping us rather busy! #WDC382_Half-square and #WDC522 _Accidental Art will both launch in May 2014.
One project in the Ceramic Studio includes a 8m x 8m outdoor wall relief in collaboration with fine artist, Paul Edmunds. The piece comprises of over 4500 modular tiles, all individually moulded, glazed, fired and hand finished in our Cape Town studio.
We are also very excited about collaborating with international large-scale paint specialists Colossal Media on a massive 4 x 14.5m mural for the new Nando’s HQ Campus in Lorentzville, Johannesburg. Five prominent local artists (Wayne Barker, Xolile Mtakatya, John Murray, Kilmany-Jo Liversage and Jaco van Schalkwyk) were invited to conceptualise and design the wall, whereafter one artwork will be chosen to scale up in May 2014.
Tell us about your World Design Capital 2014 project.
#WDC382_Half-square is a co-created ceramic artwork project that provides anyone anywhere in the world the opportunity to design a modular format, which can be translated into a large-scale handmade ceramic artwork in our studio. Restricted to use only set sized triangular components, each layout will form a unique composition when the modules are displayed together.
For #WDC522_Accidental Art we’ve teamed up with Nando’s to celebrate their ongoing support in African art through their growing art collection of over 7000+ artworks displayed in over 1000 restaurants across the world. Accidental Art takes art outdoors, and will include several site-specific, public art interventions on building facades, road surfaces and pavements within close proximity of the Nando’s restaurants in Kloof Street and Lower Long Street in Cape Town.
What do you love most about your job?
The nature of collaborating with a variety of artists and designers results in no two days being the same. What a privilege to be able to work with the most esteemed creatives in the country! The process of making is also very rewarding, there’s no better feeling than successfully installing a project after months of planning, preparation and production.
Which projects are you especially proud of, and why?
I was thrilled (and honoured) when CONSTRUCT, a set of three jewellery items I designed, was nominated as Most Beautiful Object in South Africa as part of the Design Indaba Expo 2014.
CONSTRUCT was developed through the desire to employ the same handcrafted production techniques used in realising large-scale artworks, on a much smaller scale. These wearable artworks are sculptural artworks in their own right, without referencing the familiar notions of jewellery. It provided the studio the opportunity to work with precious metals and gemstones to create these detailed once-off wearable art pieces that could easily double-up as maquettes for larger sculptural artworks, but when worn on the human body, their function becomes apparent. The pieces are made from 9kt brushed rose gold, and each features a micro-mosaic inlay with precious and natural stones.
Another highlight was the mosaic studio’s collaboration with artist Gerhard Marx for the 2013 Joburg Art Fair. Together with the artist we conceived and produced an ambitious 3.2 x 5.6m freestanding sculptural artwork, titled Vertical Aerial: Johannesburg (the artwork depicts an aerial view of downtown Johannesburg).
It had to be produced in a short span of time, and seven professional mosaic artists (4 travelled from Italy) together with 9 apprentices from the Spier Arts Academy worked for 5 months to complete the artwork using natural stone such as marble and travertine, fragments of red brick, ceramic elements and chipped pieces of Venetian glass. The 56 panel aerial image weighs nearly three tons, and appears weightless thanks to genius engineering!
What do you do when you’re not working, and how does that affect your work?
I have a keen eye for detail and enjoy wandering around (or cycling) through city streets, camera in hand, to discover and capture unforeseen delights. It gives me a good sense of what’s happening in the city on street level, and I can quickly point out a couple of dull building facades in desperate need of an artist intervention!
Any exciting projects we can look forward to?
The Half-square project launches on First Thursdays in May. We are collaborating with five Cape Town based artists and designers to conceive of unique Half-square designs. These panels will be displayed in galleries and shops around town during the launch month. Look out for panels at Skinny laMinx and MeMeMe!