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The House of Residue

Featured: Lungiswa Gqunta | Conquer the world through art!

Lungiswa Gqunta


Fine artist Lungiswa Gqunta unconventionally expanded on the visual concept of ‘home’ and the items found inside through large-scale burnt wooden sculpture in her post graduate piece titled The Home of Residue. We spoke to her to gain some insight into the meaning behind her work and her chosen material, and to find out what it takes to physically assemble and display pieces much bigger than herself.


Please tell a bit about your creative background?


I first took on visual art as a subject in high school and it was then I decided to study visual art in tertiary and wanted to become a famous artist, as most of us do. I went on to do my undergrad at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) from 2009 – 2012 where I graduated with a B-Tech Degree in Fine Art Sculpture. Those four years were the best times of my life, I got to discover my strengths and weaknesses in each discipline and that is where I fell in love with sculpture and wood as a medium, not to mention where I first started working with power tools which made me feel so legit!


After graduating I did a year as an arts admin intern with Numb City productions at the Athenaeum building in PE and in that year I acquired a new set of skills which constantly come in handy to this day, so I am grateful for that opportunity. The following year is when my Cape Town adventure started (2014), having never been to Cape Town before, it was both an exciting and terrifying journey which resulted in last year’s body of work titled “The Home of Residue” which was done during my Post Graduate Diploma at Michaelis.


What inspires you to make the art that you do?


My work is inspired by a number of things but mainly my personal life, which I feel is far too eventful for my liking at times. My work serves as either a reflection of where I am in life or it is a response to the current state I find myself in. Art has proven to be the most consistent thing in my life and it serves as my anchor when I feel I’m loosing my grip on things.


Please tell us about your latest work ‘The Home of Residue’, what was your thought process behind the project?


The Home of Residue was focused on the rebirth of memories from home as a way of dealing with displacement. I did this by creating objects based on a fond memory of home and using fire as a way to give the object a new life as a vessel of memory. These memories become a threshold and often I find there is an object associated with a certain memory or event and therefore these objects become carriers of those moments. Thus, I have chosen to (re)create my memory of home by bringing these objects together in one room By creating these objects I was trying to recreate the same sense of foundation and familiarity one would experience at home.


The House of Residue


What was your creative process? What was the experience like physically working with such large-scale works?


My creative process has always been a fluid and intuitive one but also quite frustrating at times. My projects seem to always start with one finished artwork in my head and I just allow that artwork and the meaning behind (if there is one) to guide me and so I pretty much develop the project and artworks as I go. I can never tell you how my work is going to look because I allow for change throughout my creative process, so at the end when a viewer looks at my body of work for the first time, I to get to look at it for the first time which I find brings me some joy.


As for scale, I’ve always been drawn to works that command the room, that have a strong presence and somewhat overwhelm you, and I feel that most of the time that happens when objects are bigger than myself. I also like to surprise myself and challenge people’s perceptions as to what I am capable of. People always comment on how tiny or skinny I am and they never picture me making big works but the works are also there to remind people that my appearance has nothing to do with my capability.


The wooden sculptures are placed close together and are situated on an open platform. How did the placement help convey the story?


Initially I had placed them in a different way than to what was seen at the grad show but I feel the composition at the grad show, curated by Justin Brett and Josephine Higgins, worked far better. Having the works placed closely together on a platform where no one was allowed to walk, helped heighten the sense of abandonment, of loneliness and silence which I felt the work represented. Bringing everything together created a layering of emotions and memories which resulted in me feeling a bit overwhelmed when looking at it all.


What does the burning of the wood symbolise?


The process of burning is an important part of my work because it represents a new start, a rebirth of “home” and a renewal of memories. A forest fire does not only destroy what was there before but initiates growth and paves the way for a fresh new start which is what I had set out to do with The Home of Residue. I sculpted objects from an abstracted memory with discarded and old wood and gave those memories new life by burning/scaring the surface of the wood. Furthermore, I engage with the process of burning as a meditative act that deals with the anxiety, depression and isolation I often feel from being in a foreign environment away from the comforts of home.


The House of Residue


What is your definition of home and how is this is depicted – or not – in The Home of Residue?


Home is where my family is. Each object allows me to relive a moment with a close family member be it my mother or one of my aunts.


Could you please let us know about some of the individual pieces and the memories behind them? Is there one that stands out as most significant?


This is what I wrote about each piece:
The first piece I made in response to my new surroundings was titled Throne and made from assorted wood and metal. This sculpture represents me and how I see myself; its overwhelming scale and presence served as liberation beyond anxiety, depression and all negative emotions associated with displacement. It was me taking command of my emotions and reasserting myself into a position where I was in control of my immediate surroundings.


The House of Residue


The Time Traveller is the door frame constructed from oregon pine with added bits of found wood. It serves as a gateway in and out of my imagined world of memories. This piece acts as a threshold where my imagined space collides with the viewer’s own interpretation and as a metaphorical gateway where the viewer was invited to experience the manifestation of my memories and imagination. Doorways also symbolically represent privacy, control, and protection which are the elements I found lacking in my experiences of the home.


The Voyeur is about a young mischievous and curious girl who would hide underneath the table so she could watch adult rated programs without her parents knowing. I have chosen to represent this moment by making a small table with one side of the legs detached to show an emergence of a young adult from childhood.


The House of Residue


The most significant piece or my favourite would have to be The Birds and the Bees, made from assorted wood, glass and calamine lotion. This was the third object I made. It is an old fashioned cheval mirror which was in the room I slept in while living with my aunt and remains there today. This mirror held a great deal of significance as it was the marker of sexual maturity in the life of 14 year old me and revealed my introduction to puberty and the irreversible end of my childhood. This piece is the most intimate out of the entire project hence I do not reveal too much about it.


What about working with wood drew you to expressing your story through this medium?


I have always enjoyed working with wood because each piece of wood is different and each demands to be treated in a certain way. From colour to texture, the outcome is never the same but always beautiful to look at. Wood is awesome.


Are you exploring other mediums for future projects?


Wood will continue to be my foundation but I do intend to start incorporating other mediums with it. But only if necessary.


What’s next for you?


Conquer the world through art! But first I am currently in my first year of Master’s at Michaelis and my current project takes a close look into the city where I grew up, Port Elizabeth, and how the landscape has changed through the years within the context of the history of displacement and forced removals in South Africa. Other than that, I have no idea what is in store for me but I look forward to whatever it is.


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