Namibian artist wins Australian art prize
Namibian visual and media artist Kirsten Wechslberger won an international award valued at AU$2,500 (N$ 22,000) for her installation art titled $Edge, exhibited at the 2014 Arid Festival at the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens in Port Augusta, South Australia. This sculptural art festival, with this year’s theme ‘Life on the Edge’, celebrated its tenth year since its inception in 2004 by the Port Augusta Cultural Centre.
$Edge at the Arid Land Sculptural Festival, Port Augusta, South Australia. Photography by the Port Augusta Cultural Centre.
Arts Officer Ellenor Day from the Port Augusta Cultural Centre said: “Visiting Namibian artist Kirsten Wechslberger took the top prize judged by Adelaide based visual artist and former Visual Arts Manager for Country Arts SA, Rob Johnston. Kirsten undertook a two week artist residency in South Australia and created 80 oversized ants out of bioplastic as part of her installation. The artwork was closely linked to the exhibition theme ‘Life on the Edge’ and is designed to decompose through wind and weather as all the materials used are biodegradable. The Arid Sculptural Exhibition included the works of 27 local and visiting artists and was held as part of the biennial Arid Festival which this year featured more than 30 exhibitions, events and workshops over 5 weeks.’
According to the judge Rob Johnston all exhibitors contributed to an intriguing exhibition and he was impressed with the constructive quality of the sculptural works entered and the artists’ focus on addressing the theme ‘Life on the Edge’. Says Johnston: “The engineering skills displayed in many of the metal sculptures were commendable: structurally sound and providing a robust artwork. However the two winning choices I arrived at both emphasise the fragility of ‘living on the edge’. $Edge reflects in many ways this sentiment; humanity and its difficulties, fragility of the arid environment and the concept of what comes from the earth returns to the earth.”
Wechslberger’s visit to Australia was facilitated by the Namibian trust Art South-South as part of the Namibia Australia Artists (NAAUA) program. During the festival’s opening event in September Ms Wechslberger delivered an artist talk at the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens. She also participated in two artist residencies at the Port Augusta Cultural Centre and Tanderra Craft Village in Whylla, South Australia. Due to the ongoing collaboration between the Art South-South Trust, Nexus Multicultural Centre in Adelaide and Port Augusta Cultural Centre Ms Wechslberger will participate in artist residencies in Adelaide and Port Augusta in 2015. Wechslberger will collaborate with South Australian artist Meghann Wilson to create installation art and offer several regional art workshops in South Australia.
Decomposing ants. View images of $Edge in the Art South-South Gallery. Photography and review by Melanie Sarantou.
The sky is the limit…
Students from the Whyalla Stuart Primary School had the opportunity to experience that only the sky is the limit when they worked with award winning Namibian artist Kirsten Wechslberger to produce a land art installation at their school. Seventy seven birds were made from organic materials and they were suspended in a V-formation up in the sky in the school’s playground during the week September, 15 to 19, 2014.
Messages of peace, hope and love were extended to the wider Whyalla community via the 77 birds that were made by Whyalla Stuart Primary students.
The aim of the art project was to create awareness for the land and find ways to create beauty from found organic objects in the students’ school environment, such as gum nuts, sticks and leaves. Whyalla Stuart students from Reception to Year Seven hunted and gathered around the school grounds and worked eagerly to complete the project which they thoroughly enjoyed. The messages of peace and hope that the students wrote on their birds were meant to be communicated to the wider Whyalla community once the installation decomposes and the organic objects return to their original place, the natural environment.
The 77 birds were installed in a V-shape to mimic birds’ flying formation.
This project was possible due to the support and work invested by the Whyalla Stuart Primary School staff and students, the Namibian artist Kirsten Wechslberger and Art South-South trustees Melanie and Vic Sarantou. Photography by Kirsten Wechslberger.
Organic birds flying high at Whyalla Stuart Primary School.
On the Edge of the Outback
The light-filled and spacious native nursery room at the Tanderra Craft Village in Whyalla was bustling with activity from August 31 until September 5, 2014, with a bioplastic sculpture making process. Namibian visual and performance artist Kirsten Wechslberger worked assiduously, filling the space with some 80 ants that were sculptured from a mouldable material made from biodegradable ingredients such as maize starch, vinegar, water, wood and sand. The Tanderra management board and some of its members recognised the potential of the nursery space as an art studio and as a result the first Namibian artist residency at Tanderra was hosted in 2014.
Kirsten’s plaster and latex moulds for casting the various body parts of the ants.
Kirsten participated in the Arid Festival, a sculptural art festival at the Arid Land Gardens of Port Augusta, with the theme ‘Life on the Edge’. Kirsten produced her sculptures on the edge of the South Australian outback during two artist residencies, one at Tanderra in Whyalla, and the other at the Port Augusta Cultural Centre. Kirsten created an installation of 80 bioplastic ants in a cluster that represented a dollar sign and she also delivered an artist talk during the festival’s opening event on September 13 at the Arid Land Gardens. She chose this sign to comment on the negative effects of capitalism on global communities. Kirsten’s views derive from her life in Namibia, one of the countries with the highest discrepancies between rich and poor on the African continent. She explains:
“Capitalism, the production of the really rich and the really poor and everything about that which affects our societies, inspired this work. I’m criticising capitalism. I chose to make ants since they share resources; they share shelter and food systems. Ants live in big colonies, but they are still individual, they still have their freedom. If we can only share these two basic life needs we will have much higher standards of living for all. While some people starve and live on the street people on the other side of the fence throw away food.”
“It is nice to go and work in another country, to create something local, make something here, exhibit next to Australian artists, see different approaches and learn from exchanges with other artists,” says Kirsten. She chose to produce her art in South Australia since the transferral of the sculptures to South Australia would be complex due to their fragility. “The ants will never arrive here in one piece when I have to ship them from Namibia to Australia,” she comments.
Four ant torsos drying before assembly.
The process she follows involves making the bioplastic according to a recipe she carefully invented during hours of experimentation. The bioplastic is casted in latex moulds with polyurethane foam backing, produced by the artist for the casting of the ants. The casted parts, such as the bodies, legs and antennae, are left to dry and then the different parts are assembled to create the ants. During the casting process Kirsten also used pre-assembled wooden structures internally to reinforce the ants.
Images above: Kirsten Wechslberger sifting sand (top image) and preparing the bioplastic medium before casting the moulds at Tanderra Craft Village in Whyalla.
After the two residencies the artists also executed a Land Art project with the Whyalla Stuart Primary School students from September 15-19. The Namibian artist grabbed this opportunity to experience and produce art in South Australia with both hands in spite of limited resources. Due to her industriousness, the goodwill of some Namibian (private) donors and the assistance of the Art South-South Trust Kirsten arrived in South Australia at the end of August to experience, as an artist, “Life on the Edge” on the fringe of the South Australian outback. Kirsten’s artist residencies materialised due to the collaboration between the Port Augusta Cultural Centre, Tanderra Craft Village, Whyalla Stuart Primary School and the Namibian Art South-South Trust.
Review by Melanie Sarantou, Project Manager of Art South-South, 2014.
Tameka Collection at Yarta Purtli’s Freerange Exhibition 2014
“Cultural exchange is important for the development of a creative mind.”
(Attila Giersch, Tameka designer, 2014)
Attila Giersch, Tameka Collection, necklaces with aluminium and ostrich eggshell beads, 450 x 4 mm, 2011.
Several outstanding jewellery makers, designers and goldsmiths are nestled in their workplaces all across Namibia, whether they are situated in craft centres, extravagant shopping areas, or home and back yard studios in urban or rural areas. Many tourists to Namibia, local jewellery and fashion accessory consumers have discovered this country’s wealth of talented jewellery and accessory makers. In remote areas such as the Kalahari desert exquisitely crafted ostrich eggshell jewellery by San communities can be found while around the more populated centres such as Windhoek and Swakopmund (to name only two locations) superbly designed and crafted fine jewellery, suited to any glamorous global catwalk, can be discovered.
This is, however, not an easy way to earn a living in Namibia, but in spite of the limited Namibian market, a result of a small population of just over two million people, limited opportunities to export and trade, many Namibian jewellery makers continue to sustain their livelihoods in spite of these limitations. They find ways to make ends meet by selling services and artefacts to a loyal local clientele or tourists passing through. Most Namibian jewellery makers draw on a wealth of jewellery making techniques, usually combinations of traditional, European and even improvised methods, while many use locally sourced materials such as semi precious stones, ostrich eggshell, indigenous pods, seeds and fibers. Work equipment is not always accessible and high import costs result in many tools being improvised rather than purchased.
This review introduces one of the many talented Namibian jewellery makers, goldsmith Attila Giersch. A winner of several southern African design Awards, including the De Beers Shining Light Award (best design for diamond jewellery, 1997) and the Plat Africa Award (most creative design, 1999), Attila is the owner and designer of the Attila Giersch Collection which is designed and expertly crafted for his loyal clientele. Although this collection consumes most of his time and attention, he identified the need to experiment outside the more traditional and ‘safe’ boundaries of ‘fine’ jewellery making. From this need, to be able to express, play, risk and for the pure enjoyment of making, a new collection, Tameka, was born.
Tameka is a unique handmade fashion jewellery brand that is inspired by elements and materials sourced from the Namibian environment. This signature jewellery collection includes elements such as organic shapes, form, line, colour and raw materials that are harmoniously used in combination with aluminium, leather, steel and brass. Tameka is distinctive due to its designer’s surprisingly simple yet resourceful combinations of often contradicting elements. A delicate semi precious red stone bead that nestles in a fold of frosty-looking aluminium, or cold, crisply cut aluminium shapes on organic leather has an eye catching and surprising effect on the viewer.
This resourceful designer engages intimately with the materials he chooses to work with, mostly organic materials that are sourced from the Namibian environment and metals such as aluminium, copper and stainless steel. Attila is keen on taking risks during the development phases of his Tameka collection. He often takes his materials to their limits to achieve the results – the unique combinations of elements and materials that this brand is known for – he wants his clients to enjoy.
Attila Giersch, Tameka Collection, aluminium bangles, 70 mm diameter, 2011.
The first Tameka collection was designed in 2006 when Attila participated in a Namibian-Finnish design collaboration and in 2007 and 2008 his jewellery was exhibited at the Finnish fashion week Muoti, Berlin’s Import Shop in 2009 and 2010, and Frankfurt’s Tendence in 2011. In spite of limited marketing invested in the brand it was able to sustain itself throughout the years due to the determination of a designer who believes that continuous development, experimentation, change and the making of small exclusive collections is the route to success. Attila also believes that the brand is able to retain a ‘Namibian’ identity by being made locally by Namibians. As a result, he is determined to patiently invest his time and effort in training and coaching Namibian artisans to create the Tameka collection. He admits that the process is often slow, but he also believes it is a valuable contribution to the local community and definitely a sustainable way to grow the brand.
A Tameka artisan, Dorkus Hengari, producing pendants, 2014.
In 2013 Tameka was showcased in Australia for the first time during the ‘Namibia’ exhibition at the Nexus Multicultural Art Centre in Adelaide and this year it will be on display during the 2014 ‘Freerange’ exhibition at Yarta Purtli in Port Augusta. The long term aim is to introduce Tameka to a global market through an online shop. Attila is adamant that the opportunities provided to him by Art South-South to enter a new market is worthwhile, because he feels he can ‘learn from the results and reactions of the visitors’ to the exhibitions.’
‘I’m sending my creations to a total new market so I’m not so sure what to expect, but I learn through this experience; that there is a demand for different kinds of designs … not the demand I am used to from Namibians or Europeans’ says Attila. In a more pragmatic tone he adds ‘I never put my expectations high; I like to observe first and then adapt, but it is probably a slow way to do market research.’
Attila believes the Namibia Australia Artists (NAAUA) collaboration is valuable:
“I would say it is a definite must to continue this program … cultural exchange is important for the development of a creative mind … and it does not matter where and when it happens but since there is this opportunity for Namibians to interact with Australia it is important to realise its benefits and grasp this with both hands.”
However, according to Attila the current challenges to the program are “the obvious things like finances, distance and import and export.” There is much to be learned from Australian communities, argues Attila, saying “Namibia is a culturally mixed population and [we] can relate very well to Australian [communities] who are advanced in multicultural collaboration.”
Australians will have the opportunity to view the Tameka collection on display at the Port Augusta Cultural Centre, Yarta Purtli, from 28 August – 28 September 2014.
Review by Melanie Sarantou, Project Manager of Art South-South, 2014.
The Tameka Story
Rings from the Tameka Collection, aluminium with semi precious beads,16 – 20 mm diameter, 2011.
Tameka designed and handmade jewellery and accessories are inspired by ‘truly Namibian’ elements. These exclusively made pieces result from unique ideas and organic materials that are sourced from the Namibian environment and blended with metals such as aluminium, copper and stainless steel, while Tameka’s making processes are all executed by Namibian artisans.
Creatively crafted Tameka pieces exude true Namibian flair. They are not specifically tourist, gift or souvenir oriented, but appeal to a wide range of consumer tastes due to their distinctive appearance. The extensive collection of accessories is made according to the highest quality standards and clever concepts.
A holistic approach to management and acute awareness of customer satisfaction assures that each Tameka piece supports the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the Namibian community. This is the Tameka promise – that our employment policies assure the ongoing training of our artisans and the sustainment of creative, flexible, clean and friendly work environments while our environmental policies assure that the organic materials used in our pieces are carefully selected, sustainably and ethically harvested.