Sculpture a remnant of the past

Artist Michele Mathison with his sculpture, Angular Mass, which was unveiled last Thursday.

The V&A Waterfront’s trendy Silo District became home to a new sculpture, named Angular Mass, last Thursday.

The sculpture, made by Michele Mathison, comprises of five flywheels that were once part of machinery in the original grain silo building which now houses the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Arts Africa (MOCAA).

When the building was repurposed, the flywheels were given to Mr Mathison to recycle into a sculpture.

The sculpture forms part of the V&A Waterfront’s Art in Public Places programme, an ongoing initiative that takes art into public spaces on the precinct, making it accessible to all.

Angular Mass is the latest in a number of other sculptures installed across the V&A Waterfront by African artists such as Noria Mabasa, Mohau Modisakeng, Kyle Morland, Cameron Platter, Carl Frederik Reutersward, Claudette Schreuders and Gavin Younge.

Mr Mathison, who is from Johannesburg, said he first met Mark Coetzee, the director of the Zeitz MOCAA, and founding partner of the museum, Jochen Zeitz, at the Venice Biennale, one of the biggest art exhibitions in the world.

“Jochen Zeitz bought a lot of my work at the Venice Biennale. Soon after, they built their relationship with the V&A Waterfront, and when the Waterfront Arts Programme was initiated, they approached me and asked if I wanted to make a sculpture using the machinery of the old granary.”

In his work, Mr Mathison uses a lot of found objects. “I like to use objects that have a history and symbolism to them. I like deconstructing them, making them non-functional, but then understanding the way they worked in my art. I use lots of tools in my work, so it’s sort of behind the scenes.

“It’s like a monument to the workers.”

He said they had lots of old machinery from the granary left after the construction of the Zeitz MOCAA.

“I saw the wheels in the basement and I was immediately attracted to them.”

He then proceeded to turn the five flywheels, made in the 1920s, into a sculpture.

“When I made the sculpture, I wanted to keep it simple because the wheels were already beautiful. They were made in the 1920s in England and were used in the grain silos. There were belts on the wheels and they lifted all kinds of things.

“So I thought I would change the axis, but also keep the heritage feel.”

Mr Coetzee, who also serves as chairman of the Waterfront’s Art in Public Places programme, said when the Zeitz MOCAA was constructed, there was a commitment to access for all. “We wanted everyone to feel like they belong here, and didn’t want to turn anyone away.

“Even at the Zeitz MOCAA – 50 percent of the people visiting enter for free, and the 50 percent who pay compensate for that.”

He said while the precinct had public art in the past, the plan was to manage it better and space it nicely once the Zeitz MOCAA was built.

“We commissioned artists to make the public art available 24/7.

“As we do this we are aware that Cape Town is still divided, but we still share public space. By bringing public art out into a mixed space and for it to cost nothing for people to look at it and engage with it, adds to the commitment we made to (making it) free for all.”

He said when they saw the bits of machinery and material left from the old granary, the obvious thing to do was to get artists to use them and scatter these pieces around the precinct.

He said they asked Mr Mathison as he already had an exhibition at the Zeitz MOCAA, and he agreed immediately.

“With his use of metal and the detriment to labour, he turns things that are practical into something spectacular. Can you imagine the weight of these things? When I look at these flywheels, I will never look at the coin flip the same way again.”

The Waterfront’s spokesperson, Donald Kau, said since 2014, a number of sizeable outdoor artworks and sculptures have been installed in public plazas and open spaces around the property.

“These artworks all formed part of the Waterfront’s Art in Public Places Programme.”

He said during the construction of the Zeitz MOCAA, the Waterfront made a commitment to showcase South African art to the public, both inside and outside the museum.

“The concept behind Art in Public Places is that works of those exhibiting inside the museum should not be totally confined within the museum’s walls.

“Instead, the museum’s artistry should spill out to the rest of the property, with the outdoor areas becoming something of an open-air art gallery the public could appreciate at any time.”

He said the statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Laureates in Nobel Square are indicative of the popularity of outdoor art, and the public frequently posed for photographs alongside them.

“The Art in Public Places committee aims to install one major work each year.

“Exciting plans are in place for 2018 and these will be announced when each work is ready to be unveiled.”

The Waterfront CEO, David Green, said the idea behind the Art in Public Places initiative is to showcase Africa’s creativity, and to stimulate cultural awareness and public dialogue by making it accessible.

“We believe it is important to put these inspiring and imaginative sculptures into the public domain for all to visit and see.”

Mr Mathison said the Silo District was a space he was proud to be involved in.

“The Waterfront has the ability to bring people together and the Silo District is a fantastic exhibition of that.

“To have this sculpture placed at the entrance of the Silo District as a value to physical labour… it’s an interesting site because even though the Waterfront is a tourist destination, it remains a working destination with the shipyards and retail, etc.

“I am so honoured to have my sculpture here in this melting pot of work and play.”