Kyra Papé has just completed her BFA at Wits School of Arts and was awarded jointly the top student prize. Her graduate installation draws on Freud’s theories of the double and bodily repression, Athanassoglou-Kallmyeer’s critical writing on ugliness and Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject. The organic sculptural forms that comprise this considered body of work are uncomfortably indeterminable. Amorphous shapes that resemble insect larvae nests and molten earth interplay with sharp geometric angles. These sculptural pieces are studies in materiality and the way in which materials – expandable foam, sugar, tar, soap, membrane, and wood – respond physically. A beautiful and unsettling tension is suspended and left unresolved between the oozing expanding substance and the sharp geometric plains that endeavour to contain.
In this Fresh Meat interview Kyra tells us more about her graduate project, how watching horror sci-fi films influences her and how she began working with these unconventional materials.
How, why and when did you first become interested in fine art?
From a very young age I was interested in art. I always enjoyed working in a creative and practical environment. During pre and primary school I participated in extra art classes and from there the passion just blossomed through to high school. In high school I was introduced to a more developed understanding of art, learning the basics of art history and initiating my first visits to galleries and museums.
What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons have you learnt along the way?
As a student my experiences have been vital in developing not only my art but myself as well. Exposure to varsity, particularly at Wits, has opened up my mind and forced me to become more critical and aware of my social and political surroundings. I have learnt a number of valuable aspects, namely: to research indefinitely, to be confident in your work and to be self critical, self aware. I have also learnt that in the art world you need to be social, you need to network and be aware of what is happening, not only in your local art scene but to also engage in all scenes. The art department at Wits strongly encourages its students to broaden their understandings by engaging with interdisciplinary fields and students. One important aspect I have learnt through varsity is that life is not going to just happen, you have to work hard and learn from your failures, you need to be active, and take the initiative to learn more.
What are some of the ideas or themes that have influenced your student work?
From a theoretical stand point I have been influenced by a number of theorists whose theories are situated in aesthetics, the uncanny, the abject and disgust. I have engaged with psychoanalyst and psychologist Sigmund Freud’s, The Uncanny (1950), focusing on the ideas of the double, omnipotence and repression in terms of the human body. In correlation I have been looking at Athanassoglou-Kallmyeer’s writings on ugliness in Nineteen Ugliness (2003) divulging into a deeper more critical understating of ‘ugliness’, as well as philosopher, Julia Kristeva’s, Powers of Horror (1982) dealing with the abject. I have also been strongly influenced by a number of artists and their bodies of work, namely: Penny Siopis, Matthew Barney, Eva Hesse and Michael McGary.
How does this feed into your work?
In terms of these ideas and theories feeding into my work, I strongly situate my works in conversation. I find that through the physicality of the works I produce, their form allows an experience of uncanny occurrences which are able to evoke sense of the abject and affect the viewer.
Your final grad installation incorporated an interesting mix of materials, texture, shapes and lighting. Please tell us more about this project, what the concept was and how you executed it.
My body of work is situated in a conversation between two manifestations of form, the contained and the fluid. The amorphous form in conversation with the geometric through conflict speaks towards issues around the abject, the uncanny, however, my primary interest is in the boundaries or non-boundaries that are being pushed, destabilised or contained. In my body of work there is an engagement with ideas around materiality and its connection to the physical body as well as an expansion into a broader aesthetic understanding. The forms are porous, uncanny and unfixed; accordingly they cannot be defined. On the contrary, the physical manifestation of geometrical facets implies a rigidity, forming a conversational conflict between the two formations. Although it can be read as conflicting, both the amorphous and geometrical spaces speak visually in a dynamic way. While the amorphous is balanced it is still asymmetrical, which can in turn be said for the geometrical. Although it is sharp, jagged and precise it maintains an awkwardness, for the geometrical merges into the amorphous disrupting the boundaries and forcing a breakdown in the limitations of either form.
The forms are intended to affect the viewer in terms of the uncanny, the abject and now through the facets to challenge spatial boundaries, for the sculptures occupy your personal space while not consuming it.
I use a number of materials in my work, each of which carries significance. I began working in this way as a reaction to my own bodily allergies. Most of the materials I respond to in a physical way, expandable foam, sugar, tar, soap, membrane, bakkie liner and wood. My key materials, foam and sugar I respond to the most. The sugar is an allergy and in its physicality strikes the most fascination for me. I work with it only in burnt melted form; in this state it never sets and thus is always in a state of uncertainty and change. This uncertainty responds strongly to the foam, for although it has a rather rough reaction on skin it is an amazingly peculiar substance that allows me less predictability in my process of production. The lighting is an aspect that was determined through chance, through the reaction of the sculptures to light.
What appeals to you about creating installations? Will you continue in this vein or perhaps explore stand-alone pieces?
Installation has appealed to me in that it allows for an encompassing experience with the sculptures as a whole. The sculptures through installation allow for a number of senses to be activated. To be surrounded but not consumed by the works, the space invades your sense of smell, and the lighting affects your sight and in seclusion sets a somewhat silence, the tactility provokes touch which when all these senses are combined set in a sense of weirdness and allow the viewer to be affected.
I intend to explore the installation further; however an exploration of standalone pieces may indeed be my next avenue of exploration.
Looking forward, what space do you see your work occupying in the local art scene?
As an upcoming artist, it would be great to see my works in a space in which people are able to engage with it, whether that maybe a conventional white cube, an experimental gallery or perhaps even a random space. I would like to see the works respond to the spaces they are in as I most often make the works in response to the space they occupy.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
My creative process functions on reactions of materials to my body and the bodies of those around me. Often through an interesting process of experimentation and exploration I work with any materials that I respond to both physically and psychologically whether from a hardware store, kitchen or bathroom, the location is less important than its physicality.
In developing my sculptures or prints I work intuitively and allow the shapes or forms to develop through the process.
I also enjoy watching science fiction horrors and thrillers that in a very different yet relevant way activate a sense of looking.
Do you have anything lined up for the immediate future, work or job-wise?
Currently I am going in to my Masters in Fine Arts Degree, and am a volunteer at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. I am looking for part-time work.
What does being awarded the top art prize mean for you?
Winning the prize was a very humbling moment. It is an achievement and the acknowledgement is most appreciated. I am extremely grateful to have been considered. It is at the end of the day another motivation to make me work harder, to achieve better.