26 Jan Fresh Meat: Julia Kabat
The way we view and use objects is formed through institutionalised habit and pragmatism. When seeing a dart board or desk lamp we usually, through years of tradition, limit their use to the purpose for which they were invented. This is a necessary and practical application but makes for a less imaginative and more facile world. In her final work and exhibition Imagination: visible-invisibility, Michaelis graduate Julia Kabat re-translated and appropriated everyday objects challenging the audience to contemplate the playful and resourceful functionality of ordinary things.
Her interest in genetics forms the conceptual framework of her pseudo contraptions and installations, while her usage of found and handmade objects gives her work a distinct Duchampian character. Most of her works create a dialogue between printmaking and sculpture and are the consequence of a considered process of accumulating objects based on similarity of materiality. Meticulous and defying the expectations found in within the etching medium, Julia’s thought-provoking art dares us to unravel the complexities of the world with the ‘simple’ proposition that when thought of differently, familiar objects provide infinite imaginative possibilities.
How and why did you become interested in fine art?
I have always been a creative person, whilst thinking that creativity is redundant it’s purposeless, it needs to contribute towards the greater humanity in some sense. Fine art was the appropriate platform in giving creativity a purpose. It creates an accessible platform in which people can create dialogue and form critique.
Please tell us about the themes and ideas you’ve been exploring in your student work.
I began my student work in exploring the ‘personal’ as it gives one’s work an individual flare, which is essential in establishing your individuality in art school. Themes that arose from the personal were often prompted by object based collections along with my identity and how life experiences shaped this. A significant theme which surfaced was my interest in genetics. Genetics is something which has always sparked my curiosity because my older brother, Matthew, was born with William Syndrome. As a child, I would visually and imaginatively negotiate and attempt to rationalise these ‘differences’ and what caused them. The macro effects of micro indifference in genetic formation formed my third year body of work.
How did this feed into your final project? What was the concept and how did you execute it?
After exploring every facet of the ‘personal’, I felt that it became slightly self-indulgent and negated the reason why I took an interest in fine art, which was using creativity to encourage critique and dialogue. It occurred to me that the way in which I negotiated the materiality of objects and their potential in suitably expressing my thematic concerns was always done in an imaginative manner. Essentially, this approach was not entirely self-indulgent as it critiqued the convention of ordinary objects and the conventionality of materials and their usage.
This lead to the exploration of ordinary objects and their imaginative potential in becoming extraordinary by making ‘visible’ that which was previously ‘invisible’. This concept lead to the final body of work and exhibition, Imagination: visible-invisibility. Imagination: visible- invisibility explored the imaginative potential of functionally ordinary objects, through their playful and humorous appropriation and re-translation. This concept was executed in an interdisciplinary manner, where found objects would be re-appropriated and assembled to form pseudo contraptions. The instructions for these contraptions would then be translated through etchings.
The majority of the works formed a dialogue between sculpture and printmaking in order to achieve the overall imaginative effect. In this sense the aesthetic of the blueprint and the diagrammatical were vital for the realisation and physical manifestation of imaginative translations.
Tell us about your creative process.
I began my final body of work making collages of ‘contraption looking things’ on graph paper and imagining how they would work. In making the functional potential of these collages more believable, I decided to make them life sized and try and emulate every visual aspect of them realistically. These sculptures included a combination of both handmade and found objects, in order to achieve the overall visual likeness of the collages. I became obsessed with mundane objects and accumulated a set of rules when on the prowl for these objects, based on similarities in materiality. In this case it was all wooden objects and metal utilitarian items for this particular collage-contraption series. Thereafter, I continued to accumulate objects hoping that I would find an imaginative use for them, without being too forceful about it. This lead to the creation of the artwork, ‘To Catch the Thing’ – a pseudo Rube Goldberg contraption that spans 5m.
Since I am a printmaking major, I was keen to explore imaginative translations in print, which is slightly more challenging than sculptural manifestations. The challenge rests in the fact that with sculptures one is forced to confront them as they occupy the physical space in which one navigates. In prints, the more subtle the visual cue is, the more effective it is, yet one still needs to create visual interest to attract the viewers attention. With this dilemma, I decided to use the sculptures and their materiality as a starting point for making prints, especially etchings. I chose etching as my main medium in print. To a certain extent, one is limited in etching as its aesthetics are very specific because it is purely process-based. I took up this challenge and aimed to defy these boundaries in etchings with imaginative ways of working with its processes. In short, my creative process was ‘just do and figure it out at a later stage’. One must do before you can talk. It puts your inhibitions at ease.
Who or what inspires your work?
Marcel Duchamp, Bill Brown and Immanuel Kant. Kant’s process of ‘freeplay’ in imagination was crucial in the conceptualisation of my final body of work as it refers to the cognitive powers put into ‘freeplay’, without any restriction to a particular rule. Kant influenced the way in which I addressed various facets of the imagination in the execution of my artworks.
Bill Brown was another theorist whose ‘thing’ theory was instrumental with the way in which I tackled the utilization and appropriation of found objects. Bill Brown observed that “Objects are less clear, the closer one looks, even the most familiar of objects seem unpredictable and inexplicable”. Brown also posited that the most “commonsensical” of things, mere things, perpetually pose a problem because of the specific “unspecificity” that things denote. The infinite translation of things allows for the manifestation of multiple imaginative translations.
It all began with Duchamp. He remains the most influential of the people who inspired my final body of work. The first artwork which I created in my final year was a collage. This collage featured a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. I never intended it to be about Duchamp, but inevitably one cannot steer away from such a reference with an iconic set of visual clues. As I delved deeper into the depth of Duchampian theory, I realised there were too many similarities to ignore. Duchamp declared that beauty was the imagining of gestures and that playing a game was like designing something or constructing a mechanism. He was a genius with imagination, for example, his conceptualisation of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even’ explicated hypothetical rules of physics and myth.
What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons did you learn along the way?
My experience as a student was very real. One is not for the most part confined to lecture theatres, tutorial, and libraries all day, a unique situation to fine art students. The realness of this unique student experience rests in the fact that one has to leave the confines of the university to source materials, gain inspiration and make valuable contacts with other creatives in the field, practicing social interdependency. I reckon that fine art students have to be sociable creatures in order to obtain what is needed, when it is needed and how much is needed, within the confines of strict deadlines and the curse of a student budget. You most certainly get a taste of real life and the hustle!
The most valuable lesson I learnt along the way is that your gut instinct is always right, and that you need to go with it, even if you have to make sacrifices with time and money. Never settle for second best when your circumstances restrict you, as you will always feel inadequate with the work that you produce. There is always a means to an end. I have also learnt that criticism (which your work receives a lot of) is never personal if it is constructive. Constructive criticism makes room for improvement.
Do you have anything lines up for the immediate future, work or job-wise?
Yes, I am very excited and privileged to be studying my honours in Curatorship next year at the Centre for Curating the Archives at UCT.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding project you worked on and why?
There are two projects that come to mind, for different reasons. My final body of work in third year, which was based on the exploration of my brothers syndrome, was rewarding as I was enable to include him in various activities during the creative process, which he thoroughly enjoyed. It brought me great pleasure to see him included and feeling accepted.
My most challenging project was just about every single project I did for my final body of work. Every project had its own feats. I decided to delve into projects which required a level of expertise and skill that was way beyond my means. This included getting axonometric drawings done by architecture student Andre le Roux, to getting help with generating three dimensional designs for the CNC router in the Digital Fabrication Lab at Michaelis, with the help of Peter Jenks. Not to mention, trying to obtain the whitest of backgrounds in a photograph of found objects, with the crispest of details, where my fellow art student Danielle Smith came to the rescue.
Every project always has its logistical problems, ones that you cannot foresee until you are in the middle of the creative process! These projects are the most rewarding because you’ve been forced to leave your skill and knowledge-based comfort, which allows you to produce a final product which you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
What excites you about the South African arts industry?
Its interdisciplinary nature; where different fields share knowledge, expertise and practical skills in the production of creative originality. What also excites me about the arts industry is its rising prevalence in society, in addressing complex issues and creating a more accessible platform to speak about these issues which pervade South African society.
Where do you see yourself in 1, 5 and 10 years time?
I’ve told myself to plan one year at a time. As much as one tries to plan ahead, things always change. It’s the nature of life. In 5 years time I hope to have studied my masters in fine art and gained more contacts in the creative industry in order to exchange and exercise my skills in other fields. This can only enrich your creative process. When thinking about where I would be in 10 years time, it can only be but a dream. In 10 years time I hope to have made a significant impact on the way in which people view the world around them, by looking at the ‘ordinary’ and its potential. I believe that imaginative thinking is key in our technological and consumerist age, where everything is merely given to us, where things achieve efficiency, and we don’t have to dissect its ‘thingness’.
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See the rest of our Fresh Meat series here.