Audrey Anderson: An artist and her city

A daily taxi-commuting quest, nature squeezed in between Joburg’s sprawling cityscapes, and a fresh take on #selfies in urban spaces – Audrey Anderson is creating interesting art inspired by the city she lives in. Read an interview with the artist here. 

Tell us about how you’ve explored Jo’burg in your art in 2016…

I think I‘ve always been on the same exploration of understanding empathy by using time – and using space-based journeys to showcase it. I think this is just now becoming more focused and intense. I feel the need to highlight ideas around empathy in the works I create. To take the time to really listen to one another and to truly understand what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. This time-consuming notion of empathy can be quite challenging when living in this city. There’s always too many and too much and no time to take anything in, but Johannesburg is not just any city with too much and too many – it’s my home and it’s unique. I’ve chosen to seek out its uniqueness in the individual stories that people are keen to tell me. Taking the time just to listen to one woman or man’s story has expressed to me more about this place than I alone could understand. Johannesburg is much more than what is seen and assumed, it’s made up of thousands of individual thoughts and journeys.

audrey-andersonself-exhibition

How has your recent contribution to #Selfie at Lizamore Gallery investigated the shifts in self-portraiture in the digital realm? Also, given your fascination with Jozi, did your city influence the way you approached your portraits? 

My self-portrait became a portrait of others in conversation with me. The conversations were based on chance encounters with two people I didn’t really know but happened to spend a couple of idle hours with. One conversation happened early in the morning in Ferreirasdorp – close to the Jo’burg CBD, and the other one night in Hyde Park – close to the Sandton CBD (ironically Jo’burg’s two towering skyline pointers).

I used this opportunity to replace the metaphorical mirror of a selfie with a clear window, while also using the context-appropriate idiom “at arm’s length” to guide the outcome. I wanted to go past face value and see what else is there, what is the story behind the face? What is my understanding of “you” in a shared un-digital moment? I wanted start in the distance and end in the foreground. I used my understanding of mark-making as a forum for conveying thoughts and presented a series of live portrait sketches and ink paintings and ended it off with a series of digital selfies. 

'At arm's length' from #Selfie
‘At arm’s length’ from #Selfie
'At face value' from #Selfie
‘At face value’ from #Selfie

Commute Quest won the SA Taxi Foundation award earlier this year, and is now being shared with countless commuters on the taxis it adorns. How did this journey unfold? 

When I got the idea for the work I was a little nervous to do it and I was very uncertain as to how it was going to come out or be perceived. Once, when I almost missed getting on an elevator because of self-hesitation, a stranger said to me, “Good grief woman! Fortune favours the brave!”. That was seven years ago, and that man’s words have echoed in my head ever since.

The idea for Commute Quest came from my everyday movements in my daily routine and wondering about the routines of others who I greet daily but don’t really know. I wondered if the best way to understand was through visuals instead of words, and so the process of the work began.

It took about a month and a half to figure out what I was actually doing. What I really wanted was to be as honest as I possibly could, which meant that I had to be sure and in control of my thoughts when I was drawing. I believe that every mark made in drawing/doodling/sketching/scuff/scraping is a direct thought transferred.

When I was finished with the work I was very insecure about what the judgement and perceptions of it would be, but I felt strength and certainty in what I’d done. I’d followed through with my ideas and I was happy with that.

With some mixed emotions and the familiar reminder – “Fortune favours the brave” – I choose to hand in two works I’d created to the SA Taxi Foundation art competition. I didn’t expect that both of my entries would get through to the top 30 semi-finals, and I was so grateful to be a finalist. But winning! That just bowled me over. The best part was that the judging process was blind judging – art being judged for what it is and says alone. I really like that idea because my work was judged, not me, and that gave me a new kind of confidence in my career and the work I do.

Commute Quest (detail)
Commute Quest (detail)

Have you seen a taxi with your artwork on it yet?

No I haven’t yet, but everywhere I go on the roads I’m looking with wide eyes! I’ve imagined that when I do see it, if I’m on foot I’ll signal it to try and catch it, and take a joy ride to wherever it’s going. Exciting stuff! I can’t wait!

The Order of Chaos is currently showing at In Toto Gallery. Again, this work shows that you look at Jo’burg with an eye for fine detail. Tell us about the body of work?

In-between this urban world, somewhere between the margins, we have beautiful spots of nature living alongside us in the city. I’m basically exploring the notion of Jo’burg shinrin-yoku (forest bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere) in my work displayed with work by Keneilwe Mokoena in The Order of Chaos. I feel that there’s not enough empathy for Johannesburg’s natural spaces. I’m so grateful for these spots of nature in between our city’s urban spaces – what a great gift!

The very basic idea behind this body of work is the need for shinrin-yoku when natural environments are pushed away. I find this irony very curious. I explore the notion of the forest/highveld having personalities and emotional connotations. I also looked at the notion of dustsceawung, an old English word suggesting that dust used to be other things – the walls of a city, the chief of the guards, a book, a great tree…dust is always the ultimate destination. Hazrat Inayat Khanaf reflected on this idea: “Everything in life is speaking in spite of its apparent silence. The sense within that can understand the language spoken without words.”

This body of work still needs to be continued and I would like to carry on exploring these ideas in future works. This is a new direction for me, so I haven’t quite figured out where it’s going yet, but working on these ideas made me realise how much more can be discovered.

As an emerging artist you participate in Nando’s Chicken Run and the Creative Block programme. Have these played a role in developing your work this year?

Yes, I’m always doing Creative Blocks, and these works intuitively pick up and tie in with the projects I’m busy with at the time. Three of my recent Creative Blocks demonstrate my year’s search toward figuring out Jo’burg shinrin-yoku.

See The Order of Chaos at In Toto Gallery in Johannesburg until 10 October 2016.

'Jo'burg shinrin-yoko' from The Order of Chaos
‘Jo’burg shinrin-yoko’ from The Order of Chaos
'Abyss' from The Order of Chaos
‘Abyss’ from The Order of Chaos
'Split'  from The Order of Chaos
‘Split’ from The Order of Chaos
'Jo'burg shinrin-yoko' from The Order of Chaos
‘Jo’burg shinrin-yoko’ from The Order of Chaos

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