Rescue Remedy | Bert Pauw

Tue, April 9, 2019 to Sat, May 4, 2019

SMITH presents Bert Pauw’s first solo show at the gallery, Rescue Remedy, a collection of sculpture, photography and tapestry that tracks his transformation of chosen objects to delve into the meditative and therapeutic value of art making.

Pauw’s solo collection comes after five appearances in group shows at SMITH since 2017 and three successive years as part of SMITH’s booth at the Cape Town Art Fair. A graduate of Michaelis in 2015, Pauw was featured among Art Africa’s Bright Young Things in 2017 and recently contributed work to the group show The Main Complaint at ZEITZ MOCAA.

Pauw focuses his interventions on everyday objects, those that are ubiquitous to the point of being ignored. For Rescue Remedy, Pauw works with Fanta tins, Otees boxes and generic plastic carrier bags, all of which are instantly recognisable and familiar - and intentionally so.

This is one of many ways Pauw creates inclusive works, featuring choices and processes that are common and recognisable to his audience. To this end, all of Pauw’s materials are accessible physically; his own materials being gathered in his apartment. This familiarity extends to the well-known brands he chooses, which in turn adds to the strangeness of seeing the objects transformed.

The show’s title is a reference to the soothing tonic often consumed to ease shock or anxiety. For Pauw, the manufacturing of this collection became a discovery of the remedial power of repetitive, absorbing work. These processes, whether folding a plastic bag into a triangle, reconstructing a cereal box into a mesh sculpture or forging a tin tapestry from unraveled soda tins, both elevate and reinforce the primary material. This elevation is emphasised as the chosen objects - a box, a tin, a bag - become the focal point, replacing their contents as their chief reason for being. The vessels themselves become the objects of reverence.

“My attitude is that the object these corporations gave me are beautiful in themselves. They are giving this to us for free, in a sense, because they think I’m buying the substance when in fact I’m getting more value out of the containers.”

In this sense, Pauw’s work plays with Art Povera, but where protagonists of that movement largely displayed objects as they were found, he chooses to transform objects, suggesting other ways they can exist.

Pauw’s work is an active objection to the grandiose, haughty work of big-name public art sculptors, whose often masculine, often huge and often ostentatious work provides plenty of anti-inspiration.

“My main antagonists are guys like Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, Anthony Caro and most of all Robert Smithson, who basically destroyed a coral reef to build his spiral jetty. These are almost always white men, for whatever reason. Huge public sculptures to me are like tribal tattoos on the world. My urge is to make something that is softer, smaller, less assured. I’m not sure how anybody can be so sure of themselves. For me it’s insensitive. My girlfriend said that my work is like if Jeff Koons drank a lot of Rescue Remedy. My work is anti-opulence.”

Pauw prefers his works to be less technologically advanced, too, and it remains crucial to the artist that his processes are visible to the viewer. “ I want people to know how these things were made, and by seeing that, hopefully to lose themselves in the action like I did in making them.”

There is a rudeness shown to the products’ prior owners in Pauw’s scratching the tins, or his hanging of the tapestry with the Fanta logos facing the wall. This is pointedly done, with a view to drawing focus away from their original purpose, but also in providing Pauw a means for joyous defacement.

“We could see these products I choose as as corporate sculptures in a sense. Fanta is quite Damien Hirst-like in its loudness and brashness. So by defacing these objects I suppose I’m scratching against those mammoth sculptures I dislike, more so than attacking the brands themselves. It is a satisfying thing to damage these objects and I do get some kind of vicarious enjoyment from it.”

There is less violence in Pauw’s new works than previously. Where before a Sta-Soft tube would be shown with a nail through it, or Fanta can stabbed through the middle, Pauw is more concerned now with the therapy inherent in art making processes.

“I’ve calmed down a bit, in a good way. It’s a lot to do with discovering the joy in making. In making this work I was the happiest I’ve been in a very long time. Being an artist has really been very tough at times, so doing something repetitive is incredibly therapeutic. I always say I’ll never make art again, but having found this method perhaps I will.”

Rescue Remedy opens on 10 April, 2019 at 17:30 and will run until 4 May. For further enquiries or to request a Q & A with the artist, please contact Jana Terblanche at jana@smithstudio.co.za

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