Jake Singer’s solo show ‘Catasrophes’ takes a jab at systems of logic

Catasrophes is Jake Singer’s current solo exhibition at Hazard Gallery. Comprised of mixed-media sculptures as well as photographic works, the show questions established systems of logic and calls out humanity’s false grandeur. Speaking to the downsides of so-called societal and technological advancements like the internet, high rise buildings, and even space exploration, Jake asks, “Can’t we make meaning with what we have?”. We had a quick chat with Jake about his new body of work, on show until 17 April.

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

We last caught up with you nearly a year ago. What have you been up to since?

It feels like ages since we last caught up, I suppose a lot has changed. I have taken the last year to really expand my art practice; to refine and define a way of working that will carry me into the future. Also, I have started working with Hazard Gallery and have subsequently been involved in a large number of group shows both locally and abroad. Hazard also gave me the opportunity to do a solo exhibition, which is currently on and will be running until 17 April.

How did your new body of work, Catastrophes evolve from your previous projects or art pieces? 

Both of bodies of work (Vestiges of Development, which I presented for my grad show, and Catastrophes, currently on at Hazard) stem from an interest in architecture. They both centre on binaries such as growth and decay, violence and fragility, monumentality and impermanence in the context of urban structure. Vestiges of Development was more concerned with brutalism and the (non)glorification of modernist architecture in South Africa. I think Catastrophes, while rooted in similar concerns as Vestiges, has a more universal scope. The language of Catastrophes is also more concerned with the things that we don’t want to see in the urban environment. I incorporate materials like broken glass, burnt plastics, silicone, masking tape and duct tape as a contrast to monumental steel and concrete. I think this show is less constrained, I make more mistakes, which lends itself to a soft humanness in contrast to the violence of vectors and perfection. This allows for a sense of urgency.

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

The exhibition takes a jab at systems of logic. Do you think a fruitful society can exist without these in place? 

Firstly, let me start off by saying that I have a respect for people working in fields of logic: mathematics, science, engineering, finance. I really appreciate these systems and they play an important role in the way we live. However, I feel that “logic” has been and is the cornerstone of Western patriarchy. It is also modernist thing. If something is logical, it is valid and legitimate. If something is logical it is also quantifiable. While I don’t think I need to extrapolate, I will. Sometimes, systems of logic do not work:

“Let us design a city, we will have monumental skyscrapers so that our bankers can work” – but no one considers that it is important for people to see the sky.

“Let us design a space craft so that we can explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy and find a planet to live on one day” – but we can’t look after our own planet or the people on it. Surely we can make meaning on our own planet?

“Let us design a matrix called the internet, everything can go faster and everyone can see all the information they ever recorded” – but we will use it to spy on people and tell people what to think.

“Let us design medicines to help save lives” – but maybe there are too many people on the planet, no one likes to die in a hospital. Can we not make meaning with the time that we have?

Systems of logic have also led us to caves called shopping malls where they inject your eyeballs with unnatural light, they present you with pictures of people who get abused and abuse themselves to look good so that you can buy mutant chickens from scientifically enhanced animal concentration camps. These systems make sense because of the numbers. This is so that the few people who this system does work for can overeat, spend their time on the internet feeling jealous about people who they barely know, travel around the world and take pictures of “exotic” cultures, and qualify their status to others by driving fast cars that consume too much petrol.

These are just a few examples, and it is quite pessimistic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. The main gist is that I feel that systems of logic have made it more difficult for people to be kind and live fulfilled lives. I feel that the world that has been created makes people more concerned with “what” rather than “why”, how much they have rather than how they feel. Not only are these systems unsustainable, but they are often cruel.

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

You’ve noted that destruction, chaos and confusion can lead to catharsis and freedom. How so?

Destruction leaves space for rebuilding, chaos leaves space for order, and confusion leaves space for clarity. But on the other hand, just because something is constructive, ordered and/or clear sighted doesn’t mean that it is virtuous. I don’t think I need to extrapolate on organisational regimes that have had these three qualities but have been awful.

How did your recent photographic collaboration with Anthony Bila come about? And why did you decide to physically insert yourself into the works?

I like Anthony, his work and what he stands for. We’ve been talking about collaborating for a while and thought it would be cool to do a BTS shoot for my current exhibition. In terms of photography, I think one of Anthony’s strongest points is his ability to create a narrative or tell a story. So I suppose these portraits serve as insight into my studio environment and serves as a context out of which the show, Catastrophes, emerges. Its also the beginning of a larger collaboration between Anthony and I. But I’m keeping my mouth zipped for now…

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

Catastrophes at Hazard Gallery

What materials and mediums did you use? Was the process a catastrophic one?

In terms of the materials used for the sculptures and photographs in the exhibition, I used almost anything I could find. This gave me the opportunity to create awkward juxtapositions between materials that are monumental and materials that are non-valuable/transient. These materials include concrete, silicon, steel, gravel, resin, PVA, fiberglass, broken glass, masking tape, cello-tape, gaffer tape, drop sheets, paper and other kinds of plastics. Many of the sculptures begin with the process of burning plastic, an everyday process for many people in Johannesburg who repurpose and salvage metals as a means of living. So yes, the process is catastrophic. This way of working means that I make sense of something that straddles the boundary between a mess and an art object, and herein I work with the material to create something that is legible, to create sense from chaos.

What has changed in your personal outlook since embarking on this creative process?

I suppose it’s changed my outlook on how the world can be made sense of – that fluid boundary between what one considers as abject and what one considers as dignified.

For the photo series below, Anthony Bila captures Jake in spontaneous conversation with his studio space and art-making materials. See Catasrophes at Hazard Gallery until 17 April.

Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (1)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (2)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (4)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (10)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (11)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (6)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (12)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (7)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (13)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (15)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (9)Jake Singer x Anthony Bila (8)

Between 10 and 5