The first public sculpture competition funded by the JK Gross Trust in the early 1990s was won by John Skotnes with his piece, MYTHOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE, which stands in Thibault Square.
The second competition in 1998 was won by Brett Murray and his controversial sculpture, AFRICA, was erected in St George’ Mall where it intersects with Waterkant Street in May 2000.
The third competition which was awarded in 2002 to Fritha Langerman and Katherine Bull who produced COME TO PASS and was unveiled in 2004 at the intersection of St George’s Mall and Shortmarket Street.
The fourth and final public sculpture competition funded by the JK Gross Trust and Spier was won by Johann van der Schijff with his piece entitled ARM WRESTLE PODIUM, which is situated outside the Association of Visual Arts gallery on Church st.
These competitions were initiated by the J.K. Gross Trust with a view to making art more accessible to the Cape Town public by exposing them to contemporary art- making by some of South Africa’s most prominent sculptors. The regeneration of the inner city of Cape Town, for the benefit of both locals and visitors, is a vital component of this competition. All four winning have proved great draw-cards for the city centre and have elicited interesting debate around issues of public art and its role. Cultural tourism has thereby been advanced and the surroundings of the city greatly enhanced. The sculptures becomes the property of the city of Cape Town and its citizens.
John Skotnes MYTHOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE
The Mythological Landscape standing in Thibault Square was the first sculpture erected in the city arising from the Gross bequest.
The piece was erected at the time of South Africa’s transition to democracy and was an attempt to talk directly to, and become a celebration of, the diversity of people.
Made from Core-Ten steel and bronze it’s theme is an attempt to invert the Tower of Babel myth. In the bible story, difference became the catalyst for ‘diaspora’ and isolation. Here on the ‘tower’, mythological creatures start the process of finding one another. The figures are tentative and curious. The ideas invested in the creation of the work were rooted in the issues of the day.
The Core-Ten steel is an ultra modern steel that forms a protective rust coating that stops further rusting. Bronze, as a medium for sculpture, goes back deep into our history. The paradox of the metals enhance the meaning of the sculpture. Surrounded by giant slab like modern skyscrapers the complexities of the composition contrast the environment in which the sculpture stands.
In conclusion the narrative, the materials and the contrasting backdrops to the work re-enforce the transition that South Africa was experiencing in the early 1990s. It is very much a period piece.
John Skotnes was born in 1952, matriculated in Johannesburg. He qualified as a goldsmith in 1975. He came to Cape Town in 1983 where he lectured both full and part time at the then Cape Technikon, now University of Technology. He has combined his teaching with the making of sculpture, jewellery and other related artifacts. He has a daughter aged 14.
Brett Murray AFRICA
In 1998 a public sculpture competition for the city of Cape Town was launched by the Cape Town Urban Arts Foundation and the J K Gross Trust, in collaboration with the Association For Visual Arts (AVA) who administered it.
The winner of this competition was BRETT MURRAY, well-known Cape Town artist, whose winning sculpture “AFRICA” will be unveiled on Friday, 26 May 2000 at 1 pm in St George’s Mall where it intersects with Waterkant Street.
Centre of a year long controversy with the city council, the sculpture is a challenging piece of art, three meters high, cast in bronze and adorned with yellow heads of Bart Simpson. In this arresting work, Africa meets late 20th Century America, raising issues of Afro- versus Euro- centric, and indigenous ethnic versus decadent Western culture – debates very prominent in South Africa today. With “AFRICA”, MURRAY challenges notions of what is art and incites questions as to what cultural production in the last century will be remembered for in the next. Spanning, as it does, two continents, two millennia and two civilizations, “AFRICA” will prove to be a valuable asset to Cape Town and a huge improvement on its public sculpture of the past.
MURRAY (born 1961) holds a Masters degree in Fine Art and has exhibited extensively in South Africa and abroad. His work is reproduced in definitive publications on South African art and represented in numerous public and corporate art collections.
Fritha Langerman and Katherine Bull COME TO PASS
The third Cape Town Public sculpture commission by the J K Gross Trust was awarded in 2002 to Fritha Langerman and Katherine Bull for the work Come to Pass. The project, situated at the intersection of St Georges Mall and Shortmarket Street, is to be unveiled on Friday 30 January 2004 at 13h00.
The sculpture is concerned with the construction of history through different models: the official record – the archive; the oral record – the anecdotal; and history as an invention – a fiction. We have chosen to appropriate the monument/memorial and archive as ironical reference. Come to Pass is self conscious and self-reflexive as a memorial and record of both the past and present. The structure of the city and its popular history largely reflects and valorises the exploits of men, whereas women have been elided from the city’s history and the evolution of its design. In response to this, and as part of the symbolic collection of ‘oral testimony’, we have included in the sculpture both composite portraits and the names and occupations of 24 women interviewed at the site intersection on 26 September 2003. This both memorialises the incidental and non-heroic (people who happen to be in town at a particular site, time and day) and foregrounds the role of the artists in the construction of history.
Come to Pass takes the form of a compass and clock – referring to time and space and is composed of 2 sets of 6 units (glass and bronze discs that echo each other formally) which intersect to form a cross and correspond to a further 24 glass units (cats eyes) encircling the cross. The cast bronze discs identify 6 distinct occupations that have been instrumental in the colonial evolution of the Cape cityscape (explorer, settler, merchant, preacher, soldier, architect) and make up one axis of the cross. Each occupation has a particular spatial relationship to the crossroad of Shortmarket Street and St George’s Mall. The other axis of the cross, composed of 6 stainless steel rings framing the glass composite portraits, is constructed from the information gathered from the women interviewed. Each stainless steel ring is engraved with a fictitious name and date composed from 4 of the 24 woman interviewed. The 24 women’s names and occupations are recorded separately on the 24 cats eyes encircling the cross.
Johann van der Schijff ARM WRESTLE PODIUM.
The AWP or Arm Wrestle Podium is a public sculpture acting as a communal platform where disputes can be settled, once and for all, in view of the public, by means of the physical act of arm wrestling. Located on the patio of the Association for Visual Arts, it is foreseen that it could play an important role in resolving those nasty art world disputes that seem to be part and parcel of the “scene”.
Its application, as a public sculpture in South Africa, is obviously much wider than the art scene and could be used as a way to find closure on political disputes where negotiation has reached a stalemate. But, it could also be as simple as acting as a platform to settle personal disputes of passers-by.
The advantages of settling a dispute on the AWP are that: it leads to a definite outcome; it is in the public eye for everyone to see; and although there is physical interaction and an undertone of violence, apart from possible stretched biceps, the result will not cause long-term injury to anybody if used according to the rules.
Attached to the sides of the podium will be four plaques, in English, Xhosa, Afrikaans and Braille, with the rules as adapted from the USAA (United States Armwrestling Association). There are fourteen rules at present.
Johann van der Schijff (born 1969 in Pretoria) is currently a lecturer in New Media at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. He is also the course convenor of the MFA in New Media at the Institute for Film and New Media. He holds an MFA (New Media) Academie Minerva, Hane University for Professional Education, Groningen in the Netherlands, an MFA (Sculpture) from UCT and a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria.