IN: Inspiration

Q&A with Chris Soal

Emerging visual artist Chris Soal was crowned Overall Winner of the 2018 PPC Imaginarium Awards.

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  • Tell us about yourself. Where are you based and what projects/undertakings are you involved in currently?

I am currently based in Johannesburg. Before graduating, I aimed to be actively involved in the “art world”, exhibiting at shows and inserting myself into various platforms for the last three years. I work part-time as a cinematographer at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Maboneng, Johannesburg, and as a contributor to the Arts and Culture section for the online platform Bubblegum Club.

In addition to these undertakings, I also pursue my own studio practice, which  consists mainly of physical, sculptural and materially focused work. Through my practice, I try to push the materials to the point where they transcend themselves in ways that provoke the viewer to look twice at them. My process has formal concerns at its heart and often begins with a material, which then influences the form the work takes – the concept developing alongside it at the same time. This was essentially the process I used in the development of my PPC Imaginarium  artwork.

PPC Imaginarium

  • At what point did you become interested in sculpture? What sparked the desire to enter a creative field?

There’s something about the physicality of sculpture that’s always attracted me. I’ve always loved making things with my hands. As an artist, I don’t sit behind a desk and think about ideas. My approach is hands-on, and so it is inevitable that the process impacts and determines the final outcome. My artworks are born out of process, and are eventually resolved through that process. Surprisingly, I have seen much contemporary art move in that direction as well. Artworks that resonate the most with me personally seem to be installations or sculptures of a sort. In a world where so much is digital, and so much is superficial, something about the materiality of an artwork holds great significance for me.

 

  • Do you have any formal training and/or qualifications? If so, from where?

With regards to formal education, after matriculating from St John’s College in 2012, I went on to graduate from the Wits School of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Art (Hons) in 2017, and much of what I learnt there has shaped me into the artist I am today. The effect that institutions have on an individual is definitely something with which I am grappling, and in time I hope to set my own standards of artistic excellence. When I first encountered The Centre for the Less Good Idea, it struck me as exciting and dynamic, so I applied to be an intern. That was how my role there came about originally. In 2017, I was selected as a finalist for the SA Taxi Art Award, the Cassirer Welz Art Award and the Wits Young Artist Award. Much of what I do has involved learning as I go along – as with my writing for Bubblegum Club.

 

  • Who and/or what inspires you as a creative?

Among the artists who inspire me personally are those who not only make great work, but speak articulately about their practices and have developed a recognisable artistic vocabulary. They are able to give voice to what they do. About four years ago, my parents gifted me William Kentridge’s book Six Drawing Lessons. It has since been a close companion, allowing me to take both my studio practice and the processes taking place there more seriously. It gave me the freedom to make mistakes and fail, to experiment and learn in the process. William Kentridge is a major inspiration in this regard.

I am also inspired by Mona Hatoum and Doris Salcedo, a Palestinian and Colombian artist respectively. In relation to my work, I ought to mention a pair of Mexican artists too – Gabriel Orozco and Damián Ortega. Cildo Meireles, Theaster Gates, Cornelia Parker, Bharti Kher and Walead Beshty are just a few artists whose work I study.

Other specifically South African artists whose work I admire at the moment are  Bronwyn Lace (who also heads up the Centre for the Less Good Idea), Rowan Smith, Bronwyn Katz and Turiya Magadlela.

 

  • What is your opinion of the arts and design industries in South Africa?

I think it’s very exciting to be in the arts and design industries at this point. International interest in South African arts and culture is currently quite high, meaning local artists, designers and creatives have many great opportunities. Obviously some aspects of this interest are problematic. As critically conscious creatives, however, we will find ways to negotiate that territory, and to engage with an international audience on our own terms.

I have also seen an increase in the presence of young artists in the industry. And I  am seeing more diversity within the arts. In both the arts and design, I see growth – new faces and new emerging artists – as well as career longevity. More artists are building careers steadily in ways that are profitable in the long term. I think that’s encouraging. It means that there’s space for more new faces like myself. It also means that there are opportunities for us to carve out our own spaces in an industry that is very competitive, on the one hand, and has room to grow, on the other hand.

PPC Imaginarium

  • How has being crowned Overall Winner of the 2018 PPC
    Imaginarium impacted your impression of the arts/design in general?

The PPC Imaginarium has made me more conscious of the fact that we – as artists and creatives – are professionals. We are people who the industry can and should take seriously. The fact that PPC has invested R150 000 in my work is an incredible compliment; at the same time, it shows that they take what I do very seriously. As a young artist, that’s very encouraging. For a long time, I’ve been uncertain about both the value of art in general within society, and more personally the value of my art within society. This award gives me confidence. It says what I do matters: not only do I have a professional four-year degree behind me – I’ve been involved in the industry for several years. I ought to view myself as professional, much like a lawyer who has just completed their articles or a doctor emerging into a professional practice would. When that culture of professionalism enters the arts, I believe the industry will be pushed forward.

 

  • What role can platforms like the PPC Imaginarium Awards play among emerging creatives in your industry?

A platform like this serves to encourage a high level of engagement. I strongly believe that PPC’s influence with regards to the Imaginarium Awards will bear even greater fruit in the long term – because of the Awards’ success, the profile it creates for the artists it showcases, as well as the immense profile that it creates for PPC, a lead player in the industry. By putting their products in the hands of creatives, encouraging them to rethink them, PPC shows that it takes the arts seriously. I believe it has already inspired industry competitors across South Africa to step up and see what impact the arts and creativity can have on business, and especially on industry.

I think one of the symptoms of a post-industrial society is the compartmentalisation and hyper-specialisation of society. We segment the sciences on one side and the arts on the other side. In reality, I believe they work hand-in-hand, with broad thinking and imagination spurring scientists toward discovery; creativity is at the heart of industry growth. If we encourage these kinds of disciplinary overlaps, I believe more growth will be seen in terms of our flourishing as humans and as a society. The arts foster a culture of empathy, moreover, whereas industry is based on a culture of capitalism and profit. When the arts play a significant role in industry, we learn again to put human beings at the forefront of what we do as opposed to reducing them to a number that bears profit.

What PPC is doing is very important. And it will definitely inspire creatives to step up to the level of business and show that they can contribute. It will show businesspeople that, in the pursuit of financial profit and success, there is also a human element, and that the arts can contribute to that.

 

  • As a creative, what part of the PPC Imaginarium Awards did you find the most rewarding/fulfilling?

The structure of the PPC Imaginarium Awards was perhaps the most rewarding part for me. As somebody with several different projects, I often leave things to the last minute – either because I haven’t resolved them in my mind or because I’m working through some things. The structure of the PPC Imaginarium Awards helps as it forces you to submit something, to say: “I have a concept. I don’t know what this concept looks like in reality, but I’m submitting it.” The interesting part was then seeing how the process progressed from the concept stage to the notification that the concept had been accepted. When this happened, I could move into the production phase and be open to the changes that took place in that process.

For me it was really rewarding, after the confirmation of acceptance, to move to a place where the material and the making process dictated the final outcome. The way PPC structured their submission outline proved very productive. For me the process of making is always the most exciting. You can tumble the concept around in your mind forever, but when the object was complete, I knew it had married the form and the concept, that it achieved the unity between the form and the concept. I could not have anticipated that cohesiveness simply by conceptualising the process in my head. The making process is essential, and I really like that a significant allowance of time was given to it.

It was really interesting to see both the changes that took place from concept to finished product and the changes that took place in terms of failures and successes. As a process, it allowed enough time to reflect and to engage, as well as for an organic studio practice to emerge.

 

  • What are your plans for the future?

Practically, I have an exhibition on 24 May at a Johannesburg art gallery called No End Contemporary Art Space. I am currently thinking and working towards that. I’m part of a SAFFCA [South African Foundation for Contemporary Art] residency that pairs up an emerging artist with an established artist – myself being the emerging artist, paired up with Minnette Vari. The two of us are in Knysna for six weeks, where we will be pursuing artistic projects and working on our own studio practices.

Beyond those two projects, as an emerging artist, I’m very interested in laying the foundation for a long career in the arts industry. I think it’s incredible that PPC has graciously awarded me this prize. As well as the confidence it bestows, it motivates me to look into other ventures and be recognised in new ways – be it other awards, more high-profile shows or perhaps museum shows and collections. My aim is to ensure that this award isn’t a one-hit wonder, but serves as a growth and learning experience. It has definitely influenced my work: I look forward to working with cement and concrete and pushing the medium even further in the future. I also intend to establish myself further as an emerging artist, now that I’ve got a bit of traction. It is an incredible way to begin my career. From here it’s just about laying the foundation and continuing to make cohesive, compelling, great artworks.

 

 

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