Featured: Jake Singer | Paradoxical Constructs

Jake Singer‘s work responds to urban landscapes and the often paradoxical experiences of living and negotiating these spaces. His sculptures most often comprise concrete and steel – building construction materials – which are reconfigured to reveal unexpected idiosyncrasies and contradictions; the monumental in a constant balancing act with decay. In addition to his sculptures, Jake also takes photographs of cities and urban spaces. The two fields complement one another conceptually as well as formally, as Jake explains that the photos, which take into consideration three-dimensional form, are sculptures for the space of the Internet. Ahead of his forthcoming show with interior design agency Tonic, we caught up with Jake to find out more about his work. 

BANDAGE- 170x150x50cm- aggregate gravel, resin, tile adhesive, plaster key, mild steel, found materials, sportie hat- 2015, Tzvi

Did you always know that you wanted to follow a creative pursuit? What lead your to specialisation in sculpture?

Besides from wanting to be a policeman when I was 5, I suppose I always liked doing things that are creatively inclined. I almost did engineering, where I imagined I’d be building crazy contraptions or designing aero-dynamic bodies for Formula One. 

I mainly specialised in sculpture because it was a field that I felt had the most to teach me technically and I like the idea of making something in 3D, the idea of putting an object or thing out into the world. It’s also an area that requires an intense physical engagement; it fulfils some kind of physical need of mine.

Urban environments evidently have a significant influence on you and your work. Can you please tell us more about this?

Part of this interest stems from my brother, Jos, who is in the architectural field. Another part is that I feel that the city space is a palimpsest on which political, economic and social issues crudely impress themselves. It really is a melting pot of these kinds of expressions. Especially Johannesburg, where regulation takes a back seat and people just act, things just happen, chances are taken. It’s a peculiar maelstrom that I love engaging with.

Euclidian Movements in Scale Major

Euclidian Movements in Scale Major

Braamfontien with Mosiac, 2013

Braamfontien with Mosiac

On your about page you say that you “like long sunset walks through the Joburg CBD”. What makes downtown Joburg so ‘idyllic’ for you?

That sentiment is ironic, I just used it to play on a cliché of a hyper-pensive artist walking along the beach. I find that Johannesburg is exactly the opposite of idyllic. In many parts of the city I have to be very aware of what is happening around me, because it’s an unapologetic space of almost random collisions. You never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to encounter. 

Where did your pervasive interest in concrete derive from, and what continues to appeal to you about this medium?

There is a concrete slab in St. Georges Mall. It was presented to Nelson Mandela at the start of our democracy. It is a piece of the Berlin wall. The first time I saw this, in 2012, I realised how politicised the material can be. For me, it carries the weight of the madness that was the modernist agenda. It’s a material of paradoxes, because its so monumental, so brutal and enduring, yet whenever I see a small plant sprouting through cracks I am reminded of how fragile it actually is. Most importantly though, I like the sound it makes when you pour water on freshly cast slab. At art school we used to joke that my sculpture was drinking.

concrete dynamo, concrete, mild steel, tensile springs, 2013

Concrete dynamo, concrete, mild steel, tensile springs

BANDAGE- 170x150x50cm- aggregate gravel, resin, tile adhesive, plaster key, mild steel, found materials, sportie hat- 2015


Your sculptures have an architectural, structural quality to them. What is your design aesthetic?

My design aesthetic is anything that looks right, but it can’t look too right. It needs to look haphazard and unplanned, like the object arranged itself.

How does the interplay between material, tension and gravity function thematically in your work?

This is a really great question. I like to make objects/spaces seem impossible or make them seem as if they shouldn’t/couldn’t be there. I try to expand the expectations about the way a person assumes the world functions. I use these interplays (between material, tension, gravity) to create paradoxes, because ideology is paradoxical. One minute everyone believes something; the next minute they believe something else, so I think contradictions are important. 

In contrast to the permanence of concrete, you’ve also made a few works using ice. Is this an exploration of material or is there a concept behind these works?

All the materials I choose to work with reference something specific. For example, Construction Stasis: A proposal for Dystopia, which consists of a frozen volume of aggregate gravel and water is suspended over a steel platform. As the stones drop, mesmerizing sound is produced. The concept for this was about showing a process of urban collapse, presenting it as a paradox by firstly undermining the material as aggregate gravel is used in concrete. Secondly, from the de(con)struction of the volume there is something that is constructed either in the form of sound or in the volume of dropped stones.

constuction stasis a proposal for dystopia test 2013

Construction stasis a proposal for dystopia test 

concstruction stasis, detail

Construction stasis, detail

Besides sculpture you also take photographs. What creative overlap is there for you between these two seemingly disparate fields?

I started taking photographs as a form of visual research. I got really absorbed by it and subsequently; I see my photographs as sculptures because they take into consideration three-dimensional form. Moreover, I see them as sculptures for the space of the Internet. Conceptually, I find them to be complimentary mediums, one can say what the other can’t and vice versa. They also tend to inform one another in subject and theme.

How does this extend to fashion photography?

“Phashion” photography is a way of doing really quick visual/aesthetic sketches, and possibly exploring the way narrative can be constructed. I also just like doing it.


Escher se with, Thuthuka Sibisi

Escher se with, Thuthuka Sibisi

Fuck Mondrian with Thuthuka Sibisi

Fuck Mondrian with Thuthuka Sibisi

What are your thoughts on creative collaborations? Can you tell us about any you’ve been a part of?

I really love collaborating and I think it is an integral part of my process. Over the past year I’ve participated in three sets of collaborations:

Firstly, I have been collaborating with Thuthuka Sibisi on an on-going series of performances/photographs/acts taken in the Joburg CBD.

Secondly, over the past year I have been collaborating with a fashion designer, Tzvi Karp, on a collection of wearable steel sculptures which will culminate in a film and an installation later this year.

Thirdly, I have collaborated with Rudi Le Hane, Molly Steven and Pascale Desfontaines as part of MARTHA (our art collective, smart collective). This involved a permanent installation, Think About What You’ve Done during our residency at Nirox Sculpture Park in September 2014. We installed a 4-meter deep hole using rammed earth, with a ladder and stool at the bottom. We also curated a group show in Johannesburg called FETE which included the works of 17 artists from L.A, Washington D.C, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Our latest stunt has been a collaboration with Alma Mater, to create a project space in Woodstock called Alma MARTHA. 

Planes of Diagonal Fall , digital print on photorag, 42x56cm, Jake Singer and Thuthuka Sibisi

Planes of Diagonal Fall , digital print on photorag, with Thuthuka Sibisi

Flat Bisection , digital print on photorag, 42x56cm, Jake Singer and Thuthuka Sibisi

Flat Bisection , digital print on photorag, with Thuthuka Sibisi

What’s something someone might be surprised to learn about you?

That I have a twin brother and that I have never been on a rollercoaster because I just can’t deal.

What’s next? 

I am participating at an art fair in Peru called Arte Lima on the 23rd April and I have an exhibition with Tonic Design on the 30th April which includes sculpture, collage and photography. Other than that, just keeping on the hustle!


Some Hypotenuse, digital print on photorag, 42x56cm, Jake SInger and Thuthuka Sibisi 2014

Some Hypotenuse, digital print on photorag, with Thuthuka Sibisi

The Grass is Sometimes Whiter, with Thuthuka Sibisi, 2014

The Grass is Sometimes Whiter, with Thuthuka Sibisi

concrete sequence nirox sculpture park 2014concrete sequence nirox sculpture park 2014 2

Concrete sequence, Nirox Sculpture Park

Sup plant, mild steel, 70x55x62cm, 2015_

Sup plant

Nowhere Inversion, Mild steel, concrete, glass, 30x24x87cm

Nowhere Inversion

Darling Street with Sky Bridge, 2013

Darling Street with Sky Bridge

Between 10 and 5