16 May 2015 Archived
Important South African and International Art, Johannesburg, 1 June 2015, Lot 263
Jane Alexander won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1995, the year after this sculpture was made. In the catalogue that was produced to accompany the travelling exhibition, Ivor Powell described this work: ‘…Serviceman of 1994 [is] a creature of utility. Though he stands on a solid base he is powerfully reminiscent, both in dress and demeanour, of the 1992 Integration Programme figure, except that now the hairless, wide-eyed man wears a bag over his head, with holes cut…for the eyes and mouth. Immediately of course the piece refers to photographic images of masked men evicting squatters at Grabouw. It questions the culpability of the foot soldier, seeing him too as a victim of other machinations. But it also transcends its reference, creating a universalising image of the human emptied of humanity that is memorable and chilling…Both Servicemanand the 1992 Integration Programme define a presence that is self-effacing to the point of almost absolute neutrality, man as cipher in a hideously numerate technological world, a human presence emptied of all its contents’.1
Sue Williamson has observed how Alexander ‘seeks to identify the manner in which violence, aggression, cruelty and suffering are conveyed through and contained by the human figure’.2 This figure seems to have a clear relationship with notions of cruelty and suffering, and Williamson notes ‘[t]he alter ego of aggression is vulnerability’.3
Serviceman is a life-sized depiction of what appears to be an adolescent boy dressed in ‘unspecifically proletarian clothing’.4 According to Williamson and Ashraf Jamal ‘the objective and visceral power of [Alexander’s] work functions best when the scale is life-size so that the figures occupy the viewer’s actual space’.5 They continue: ‘Her figures, so eerily familiar, insinuate themselves into our consciousness and break the decorous divide between art and life’.6
When Alexander won the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African sculpture in 2002, Akiko Miki, one of the selection committee members, described her creative output: ‘Her work is backed by deep insights and an inquisitive spirit regarding contemporary society, and by outstanding creative skills that enable her to transform her unique vision of reality into a powerful visual experience. Her works do not focus merely on criticism of social phenomena, nor are they limited to the narrow rubric of art. They expose man’s bestiality and pursue universal questions regarding the relationship between the individual and society, the nature of the Other and of hatred, and the meaning of self-expression …The essence of her creativity, however, does not lie in probing a particular political environment or collective identity such as nationality, race, religion, or gender. Rather, it should be regarded as an insatiable pursuit of more elemental issues regarding human existence and life’.7
Simon Njami concludes: ‘[H]ers is work that rejects classical beauty in the Greek sense while – in the same vein as Heironymus Bosch and, closer to our own time, Francis Bacon – revealing what is supposed to remain hidden and turning a pitiless X-ray eye on our human condition’.8
1 Ivor Powell. (1995) ‘The Angel and the Catastrophe’, in Jane Alexander: Sculpture and Photomontage, Johannesburg: Creda Press.
2 Sue Williamson. (2004) Resistance Art in South Africa, Cape Town: Double Storey Books. Page 42.
4 Ibid. Powell. Page 30.
5 Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamal. (1996) Art in South Africa: the future present, Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Philip Publishers (Pty) Ltd. Page 20.
6 Ibid. Page 21.
7 Akiko Miki. (2002) ‘Making Invisible Relationships Visible: Jane Alexander and the Act of Sculpting’, in DaimlerChrysler AG (ed.) Jane Alexander, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag. Page 21.
8 Simon Njami. (2002) ‘A Turbulent Silence’, in DaimlerChrysler AG (ed.) Jane Alexander, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag. Page 15.
South African 1959–
signed, dated April 1994, inscribed with the title and ‘XIT Exhibition’on the right back pocket; engraved with the title on a plaque adhered to the base mixed media and plaster height: 164,5 cm, including base
R600 000 – R900 000
South African Association of Art, Cape Town
Travelling exhibition, July 1995 to April 1996 at Monument Gallery, Grahamstown; King George IV Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth; Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg; Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; Durban Art Gallery, Durban and South African National Gallery, Cape Town Gas Works Gallery, London, 2000
Powell, Ivor. (1995) ‘The Angel and the Catastrophe’ in Jane Alexander: Sculpture and Photomontage, Johannesburg: Creda Press. Illustrated in colour on page 31. Glover, Izi. (8 to 15 March 2000) Reviews: Jane Alexander, London: Time Out Magazine.