An artist-in-residence programme offers artists a pause from their day-to-day practice and the luxury to work uninterrupted. This is particularly true for the industrious multi-media artist/curator Morné Visagie, who welcomed the time in isolation as the first guest of the Krone x Whatiftheworld Artist Residency Programme at Twee Jonge Gezellen estate in Tulbagh.
Visagie introduces himself as a printmaker, but this remarkable young colourist is also the curator of concept gallery Open 24 Hrs for “unfiltered ideas”. And, together with patron Martin Epstein, also recently established Art Gazette, an art consultancy to architects and interior designers. All this, while completing his master’s in fine arts and conceptualising work for a show next year in the Netherlands.
“The generosity of the Krone x Whatiftheworld programme allowed me time out to focus on research, making, and having a bit of time to play without distraction,” says Visagie, who used his sojourn on the magnificent wine farm in December last year to make and install the final works for his master’s show.
The Last Colour to Fade, the title of his thesis and accompanying body of work exhibited in the Whatiftheworld gallery at Krone, draws on personal recollections and collective history of his childhood spent on Robben Island. “The work also offers a meditation on the sea as both a physical and psychological landscape,” Visagie explains.
In 2010, This poignant encounter would inform the narrative to his graduation show at Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2011 and continues in his master’s. “Soon after I visited, I read an account of two men, Rijkaart Jacobs and Claas Blank, who were drowned off the coast of Robben Island in the early 18th century. They were sentenced to death on charges of having a homosexual relationship, though the term ‘homosexual’ did not yet exist,” Visage explains.
“Memories of my childhood are interwoven with historical facts, with narratives borrowed from literature and film, and images from art and life. The sea — changeable, inconstant — reveals itself to be evocative of not only promise and peril, but of sensuality, desire and eroticism. It offers as imperfect parallel the image of the swimming pool and its attendant changing room, evoking a history of the queer body in art and writing,” Visagie continues on the themes in his work.
“The story of the drowned men and dead seagulls I’d seen in the communal swimming pool, the familiar rocking of the boat, my return to that place, together became a catalyst to reconnect with the island, with my childhood and identity, the swimming pool, the sea, the land, and loss. The island revealed itself not only as a site of national significance but one charged with personal resonance; a place that persists in my memory as both a physical and psychological landscape.
“Unlike Jacobs and Blank, I live in a constitutionally free society protected from discrimination based on race, colour and sexual orientation — in theory, if not in practice. As a self-recognised gay man, I form part of the first generation of the South African LGBTQI+ community who cannot be discriminated against by law. This reassurance, however, is bittersweet. There is no law to protect those among us who still end up as society’s cast-offs. Freedom is not a given but a slow negotiation.”
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Largely informed by his training and practice as a printmaker, Visagie’s narratives find expression through repetition and multiples. While using materials familiar to a printmaker, many of his works are also made from collected elements such as the foils from used bottles of MCC, which he says were individually washed, flattened, arranged according to colour, and then sewn together.
Reflecting on his work, Visagie says that much exists in the unsaid. “I think of my childhood spent without thought of the prison, and my persistent reticence to know my father’s position in it. I think of the silence that first surrounded my sexual identity, my refusal to name it, to own it. And I think of the dimmed sounds heard underwater as I move back and forth across the pool. None of my works are titled; they are not bound by a name, but rather exist in a self-possessed quiet. I have resisted the impulse to define, to describe, and circumscribe. All I offer are fragments and colour.”