If you visit Julie Lovelace’s site you will encounter her ceramic wares. They will not alert you to the fact that this Johannesburg artist is one of the most interesting and sophisticated conceptual artists working with ceramics today. The difference between her art and product is explained by the fact that it keeps her funded whereas her public interventions do not. This article shows a few of her public works but CFile is proud to be publishing her 72-page book Unsanctioned as our first online “Portfolio” publication on Nov. 1. It will be presented in a downloadable, searchable, flip-book format. The publication will be free to all CFile members and heralds a very ambitious new program for us.
Above image: Julie Lovelace, I Did It Mao Wei Wei (detail). Photograph by Thuletho Zwane.
Lovelace provides very little detail about herself. Because she does some of her work in public and her activities are not sanctioned she does not like to share photographs of herself. She is extremely modest when speaking about herself but at the same time she is fiercely protective of her work and the context in which it is seen and discussed.
Her motivation for Unsanctioned comes from her position as an immigrant living in Johannesburg, South Africa:
“I feel as if I exist in a ‘betwixt and between’ state, hovering between belonging and being an alien. I identify my situation with a quote from William Glasser who explains ‘we are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.’ I place my unsanctioned interventions on the city’s ‘physical thresholds’ a threshold is a liminal space in itself; and the crossing of this threshold is also a liminal act.”
The works shown here are from Interventions 4, 5 and 6. Street Intervention # 4 I did it Mao WeiWei was carried out in August 2013 and placed at the intersection of End Street and Albertina Sisulu Street. It was inspired by the disappearance of Ai Weiwei. Lovelace explains:
“The title, which was applied using black ceramic decal letters, refers to the song ‘I did it my way’ (Paul Anka 1967) which was sung and popularized by Frank Sinatra. I chose this song because the lyrics of the song tell the story of a man who, having grown old, reflects back on his life as death approaches. He has come to terms with his mortality and takes responsibility for how he has dealt with all the challenges in life while maintaining a respectable degree of integrity. I painted gold luster around the portrait of Mao and on top I placed a thick black ceramic decal picture border. The added decoration is evocative of ornate and heavily decorated eighteenth-century European portraits.”
“I painted a red strip onto the wall of the bridge bent and cemented the ceramic platter on top of this. During the ‘Cultural Revolution’, artists were forced to serve political and propaganda purposes and works of art were expected to foment revolution by being ‘red, bright, and shining’ (Avril 2009: [sp]). The painting of the bright red strip behind the intervention makes reference to this.”
Lovelace exposes her work under freeways and in districts where the art world typically does not hang out. Her dialogues take place with poorer coloreds (a South African term for mixed race people) and blacks. But when her plate got noticed it unexpectedly caused an international incident.
An I did it Moa Wei Wei plate was shown as part of a group exhibition titled, Dinner for 101, held in the Lady Anne Banqueting Hall at the Castle of Good Hope in 2013. The Chinese tourists were shocked and demanded that the work be removed from the display, as it was disrespectful to Mao. They went further and offered to buy the work so they could destroy it. The director of Isiko Museum who was responsible for the exhibition at first withdrew the piece but after a media outcry it was replaced four days later. The issue was picked up by the blogsphere and generated much debate including this thoughtful post from Hong Kong.
Interventions 5 and 6 were Let Freedom Reign. The Sun Shall Never Set On So Glorious A Human Achievement, a ceramic platter with a portrait of Nelson Mandela with three bud vases attached to a second version of I Did It Mao Wei Wei. The title for the Mandela plate comes from the speech at his presidential inauguration in Pretoria on May 10, 1994.
“The ceramic platter has a printed iron oxide ceramic decal image of Mandela’s smiling face. The iron oxide gives a sepia quality to the portrait. Sepia prints traditionally make
the subject appear lighter, softer and in this case more transparent; I chose this effect to represent Mandela as someone beautiful that once existed, but was now fading away. This seemed fitting because at the time I made the plate his existence was hanging in the balance between life and death.”
She surrounded his portrait with gold lustre to reference the gold and gems of early altar frames that evoked the glories of Heaven and finished it with an ornate black ceramic decal transfer picture frame. This referenced the way canvases by 18th century “grand masters” of portrait painting were framed, subtly bringing in the notion of a museum presentation.
“I also applied gold luster to three found ornamental bric-a-brac bud vases which were cemented on top of the platter. The bud vase, which can be filled with a single stem or with several stems of mixed flowers, represented a simple token of friendship and remembrance. These simple objects reference the sentimentality and humble value of bric-a-brac ornaments and seemed, to me, to symbolize Mandela’s simplicity and humility.
“As with the previous intervention a strip of the wall behind the plate on the bridge bent is painted bright red. The colour red was chosen because not only is it highly visible, it also has associations with danger, sacrifice, passion, fire, blood, and anger which symbolise Mandela’s fight for civil rights and liberty. Once again it is used as a way of drawing attention to the space and setting it apart from the surrounding environment.”
In November readers of CFile will be able to take a journey with Lovelace and her interventions when her online book is published. It records a journey marked with precise intellectual underpinnings, yet it is visually rich and easily accessible.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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