Artist Statement

Elfriede Dreyer, Forgotten 2, 2022. Mixed media on canvas, 841x594mm.jpg

I am interested in worlds, places and spaces. Underpinning this is an investigation of how a world or a place becomes constituted through perception, ideology, sentiment or emotion. My theoretical and practical research is mostly engaged with the family construct of utopia, dystopia and heterotopia, to include nuances such as good place; bad place; non-place; cocooning; displacement; and virtual space. Most people nurture personal ideas about a ‘good’ place or a personal paradise. Places filled with bad memories or experiences become dystopian, and perceptions of place are often liquid and dynamic, changing continually. 

Jean Baudrillard (The Perfect crime 1996:109) writes the following: "With the Virtual, we enter not only upon the era of the liquidation of the Real and the Referential, but that of the extermination of the Other… . The otherness of death - staved off by unrelenting medical intervention. Of the face and the body - run to earth by plastic surgery. Of the world - dispelled by Virtual Reality. Of everyone - which will one day be abolished by the cloning of individual cells. And, quite simply, of the other, currently undergoing dilution in perpetual communication. If information is the site of the perfect crime against reality, communication is the site of the perfect crime against otherness". Donna Haraway expresses the view that by “the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possibility of historical transformation.”[1] Grounded in the physical real, the concepts of observation, reproduction, invention and representation underlie the drive to create other and artificial reals, including simulations of the real. Utopia, in essence, is also a fictional matrix, an imagined design in space, time and place.[2]  In utopian construction there is a constant pull of the dichotomy between the real and the positing of an alternative reality, a fictional, imagined 'other' world or state, mostly ideal in nature.

As entities all forms of alternative reality, including illusion, any matrix has validity only in its relationship to the sensory or physical real. Matrix construction has to do with the idea of an ‘other’ space: Simulated, embodied and different to the experienced, physical real. Inherent to matrix construction is the fact that it is created adjacent to another more presiding space. Pinder[3] argues that utopian views of place are fueled by the imagination and that visions of an ‘other’ place are spaces of hope. Utopian matrixes are connected to the socialisation of place and as the meta-arguments thereof dystopian and heterotopian constructions of space emerge. My concept of matrixial space is also vaguely related to Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, describing non-hegemonic (equal) places that exist simultaneously.[4] Although Foucault defines heterotopia as an approximation of an imaginary utopia – and this is certainly built into my conception of the matrix – it remains fundamentally a parallel space that functions in co-option and anticipation of the other more ‘presiding’ space (the real, mostly). The idea of matrix is connected to simulation and illusion, and it is presented in my work as a construction, space or a place (mostly fictional). On one hand, matrixial space could be virtual space that we inhabit as human cyborgs; on the other hand it could be any other kind of ‘world’, dream or condition; or it could even be utopian space. Sometimes a constructed matrix can become so real that it becomes intertwined with the physical real. It is constituted by relationships, wishes, emotions and connections; it is volatile and can change from moment to moment. New things are constantly birthed there, but it also intersects and interacts with other matrixes and the physical real. And we continue to create matrixes within the matrix of time.

In matrix creation, the boundary between the projective illusion or virtual matrix and the physical real mostly disappears. A matrix has to do with connected worlds in the sense of the physical real inspiring the creation of virtuality or it being created as an attempt to escape the physical real. Several of my works deal with this notion.

Distinctive emerald green is evident in most of the works, conceptually representing an ideal or utopian green place of betterment but also a neon-green virtual space. A red palette is used hand-in hand with nuances of green in order to reference human flesh and blood , but also fire  as allegory of transformation, process and transition. In the matrix of a virtual world the anchor remains the physical human body and mind: making up visions of other worlds and engaging with virtual worlds.

In many of my works the imagery of boat or vessel recurs. To me a boat represents human life as a kind of ‘moving container’ between birth and death, and it is tied to place and space. A boat occupies a liminal position between places, being neither here nor there, and represents human life between birth and death. In Foucault's Of other spaces (1986) he points to the boat as a "heterotopia par excellence", since " … the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea.". A journey on a boat implies a destination or movement between place and it is here that the nuances on the theme of utopia enters. As a transportation mechanism the boat is interwoven with the teleology (‘good ending’), human carriage and autoethnography, writing one’s own life history. In several works the concepts of liquidity, change, time passing and changing perceptions about place. are engaged with.

 

Another related theme is that of transshipment. When cargo or a container is moved from one vessel to another while in transit to its final destination it is called transshipment. It speaks to the readjustment and rerouting taking place throughout one's life while pursuing our individual teleological 'good endings' that one is hoping for. Witnessing and experiencing crisis and collapse in many domains of life, covid-19 has made many people restructure their finances, work and home environments. The concept of transshipment communicates the idea that nothing is fixed, also not place or perceptions about place. Human life is transient and fundamentally ‘reroutable’.

The concept of a Ship of Fools is another strong undercurrent in my work. Persistently occurring throughout history and different culture, the concept entails the practice of removing mad citizens − considered as Others and as unwanted and abject – from society by consigning them to ships and sending them into the ocean without a helmsman or supervision. This practice is still found in some African countries although Plato already described this practice 400BCE.

I often deal with the concept of flânerie in the context of utopia and matrix construction, as in the video production Life in the matrix and the Time series. In these works imagery of everyday flâneurs is found. Their flânerie takes place non-stop against the backdrop of the rhythm of life. The flâneurs stroll the city with handbags, backpacks and parcels, and there are bicycles, cyclists and musicians. Caught up in a matrix of linear biological time, the strollers engage in individual pursuits of daily ritual. Their bodily walking movements indicate physical life, existing in time and place on an existential stage.[6] The movement of the flâneur in an enclosed or demarcated setting is also applicable to personalised matrix creation in a contemporary sense. Movement and activity take place within the bounded space of a matrix, whether a dream, virtual reality or physical delineated space such as a room or house (as during covid-19 lockdowns). Matrix construction as bordered space is related to utopian construction in the sense of the individual's place within the collective, that is, within a larger whole, similar to flânerie with a specific space. Although the idea of matrix is not Romantic per se, there is a Romantic undertone in many of these works in the reference to transcendence and desire for another reality. 

In matrix construction, the concept of time is of utmost importance. It relates to both the idealised and the real worlds since the ideal construct is mostly a response to the historical horizon of the real. Matrixes are inspired by the present real, a situation that brings on a type of time-schizophrenia in which the pull to the future is unrelenting. In the Time works the flâneurs are present again, operating and active in their individual time zones. They are in a matrix of time, but a matrix can also be a twilight zone of memory – good or bad – or a dream or fantasy or a projection of the virtual self in digital space. All of these relate to time.

My work has been taken up in the corporate art collections of the University of Pretoria, Telkom, the Development of Southern Africa, First National Battery, The University of South Africa and several private collections. 

The work from 2017 to 2019 entails a series of event-based works relating to the traumatic experience of the loss of my entire home and personal belongings during the Great Fire of 7 June 2017. Except for works taken up in public and private collections, most of my artworks from before 2017 were destroyed.

Overview of work in Design-Art (2011, 2(2)):190-194.

 

SOURCES QUOTED

[1] In Cultural Politics (1991, Volume 3:28-29)

[2] In the introduction to Ligeia Gallagher's More's Utopia and Its Critics (1964) a useful definition of utopia is provided, namely "any place, state or situation of ideal perfection, any visionary scheme or system for an ideally perfect social order." The concept originated with Sir Thomas More in his 1516 publication De optimo reipublicae statu deque nova insula utopia (Transl. Concerning the highest state of the republic and the new island Utopia, generally shortened as Utopia ). More derived the term from the Greek, meaning 'no place' or 'land of nowhere'. 

[3] 2002, In Defense of Utopian urbanism: Imagining cities after the 'End of Utopia'. Human Geography 84 (3-4): 229-241

[4] The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences (1970, original French 1966.

[5] Transshipment is when cargo or a container is moved from one vessel to another while in transit to its final destination.

[6] The origin of the concept of the flâneur can be traced back to the writings of Charles Baudelaire and more specifically to its further interpretation by Walter Benjamin, who identified Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) as the basis of the flâneur theory. Here the flâneur is interpreted as being in a crowd and taking pleasure from being absorbed in the masses of people. The emergence of the flâneur coincided with a period of great change in modern history, that of industrialisation and modern capitalism. The arcades – especially the arcades of the Paris city streets, described as passageways lined with shops – provided the city stroller with a delineated setting and were thus influential in the coining of the notion of the flâneur. Since the 19th century, however, the notion of the flâneur has been transformed in the face of dramatic changes and experiences in the global urban environment – Excerpted from Elfriede Dreyer & Estelle McDowall (2012), Imagining the flâneur as a woman, Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, 38:1, 30-44. The Belgian artist Francis Alÿs has worked extensively with flânerie. He says: I want “to absorb what already was there, to work with the residues, or with the negative spaces, the holes, the spaces in-between” (From Rhiannon Jaye Vogl, 2007. Walk this Way: The Urban Interventions of Francis Alys and Diane Borsato). Alÿs’ creative focus is more on residual or negative space – the matrixes of history and culture – and he often delineates or routes the circumference of the space he is active in.