Artist Cameron Platter.
Artist Cameron Platter.
Image: Supplied

Artist Cameron Platter’s much anticipated solo show Solid Waste opens at Whatiftheworld this week. Over a can of Monster Energy drink, Gary Cotterell chats to the wry “natural pessimist” about a huge penis-shaped beanbag, ritual, consumerism and “the primitive erotic dance of existence and oblivion”.

Your work is often the sugar-coated bitter pill, a colourful, humorous layer on the doom and gloom, or the so-called underbelly of society — the alternative universe to posh, privileged SA. If we gave out your cell number on one of those “Call Now for Happiness…” wheat-paste adverts, could you see yourself as one of the “doctors” with cures to bring us happiness, success and, most importantly, a penis enlargement?

I used to sign my works with my cellphone number and started getting those calls. Usually late at night. I’m no doctor, however, I do know the cure to bring happiness, success and penis enlargement.

The press release for Solid Waste from your gallery Whatiftheworld is an entertaining art-world mouthful. In more layman’s terms, what are your intentions with your new body of work in a world that creates a ridiculous amount of consumer waste in the pursuit of happiness?

I got to think about sea urchins and polystyrene. How a sea urchin can live to 200 years and how a piece of polystyrene can exist for up to a million years. How they (and we) are part of the same primitive erotic dance of existence and oblivion. I suppose the celebration of waste — consumer, plastic, social media — in all areas, literal and metaphorical, is a marker of how much and how little we are and matter. And how we are all part sea urchin and all have a bit of polystyrene in us.

It’s also about ritual, how things, objects, situations become ritualised. Drum circles, chemo suites, Ayahuasca vision quests, recycling, mass hysteria etc …

I am also fascinated by the flashy, in-your-face-quick-fixes-quick-muscles-quick-money culture we’re part of, but instead of throwing the Score Energy drink can out of the window, I’m really, really, trying to look at it.

Apart from the functional art pieces such as your new armchairs, lounger and yoga mat and that huge penis-shaped beanbag, there are two drawings whose titles stand out: The End and War Zone Tours. Like most of us, are you feeling that the world is overloaded with s**t and falling apart, that it’s the end, or at least of things as we know them? Tell me more about these individual works and how they fit in the narrative of the new collection.

The world is definitely overloaded with s**t, but it’s our collective fascination/obsession/addiction to the s**t (the sugar, the plastic, the phone, the throwaway) that is making it fall apart at hyper speed.

There are cracks between the above-mentioned s**t where there’s real beauty (wrong word), real marvels, real things like plants and humans doing great stuff.

So, no, in my world it’s not falling apart (but then again it totally is).

I find my works work best when they start to fall into place after the fact. When they’re too calculated (x + y will equal z) they can be flat. A lot of these new works started in some place and then ended up somewhere completely different.

Pencil on paper 187cm x 132cm.
War Zone Tours Pencil on paper 187cm x 132cm.
Image: Cameron Platter
Pencil on paper 187cm x 132cm.
The End Pencil on paper 187cm x 132cm.
Image: Cameron Platter

For example, my new series of four large-scale pencil drawings — War Zone Tours, The End, Its What You Do That Puts You At Risk, Love really talk to an imploding world (reality?) that has been chemo-plastic-nuked, where everything’s f****d, but there’s still Love. I finished this series a couple of days before getting the diagnosis that my cancer had metastasised, needing surgery and rough chemotherapy. It — the drawings and reality – kind of make complete sense then.

The tapestry yoga mats started with me wanting to make a quasi-functional survivalist work that one could use after the Apocalypse. You’d be able to practice yoga, have a nomadic artwork that you could just roll up and take with you, and get high at the same time. (The tapestries were meant to be sprinkled with liquid LSD.) But I think this series instead became a far better, larger, more meaningful singular work.

Regarding the armchairs, I’ve been fascinated for some time now with making sculptures that are sort of functional (dysfunctional?), hybridised, that sit on that line between “should I sit on it or not?”. These “blockchairs”, they’re f**** up, kid-like assemblages, meant to be both high and low art, referencing RDP houses, [architect] Charlotte Perriand and Monster Energy. (The prototype had Monster cans for legs).

Is there a common thread/message in all your work (past and present)?

Loud & Proud!

At face value, the slogan bumper stickers you reference from cars, or the names of KZN mini-taxis, appear to be throwaway gestures but are often kernels of wisdom. These appear in the yoga mats, which make up the big rug in the exhibition. Is this as obvious as commentary on our somewhat misguided quest for relaxation, spirituality and peace?

Yes, I think the reading of the tapestry as a commentary on “our somewhat misguided quest for relaxation, spirituality and peace” is an excellent analogy and could be a subtitle for the whole show at large.

Cameron Platter sculpture.
Cameron Platter sculpture.
Image: Supplied

The slogans, or poems, as I prefer to call them, are kind of mini-mantras. I could imagine a Zen monk chanting these on a mountain somewhere: “When Days Are Dark, Friends Are Few; When Days Are Dark, Friends Are Few; When Days Are Dark, Friends Are Few…”

They’re direct and to the point.

Explain your work process?

Ahhhh. I go into a cave for three months (with a 24-pack of Monster Energy (Lo Carb Red Flavor) and a bucket of USN Mass Builder and when I emerge everything’s done.

It’s complex, and as I mentioned, I often don’t really know where works are going, until they’re done. (That’s another question.) I also rely on a close network of assistants/advisors/producers who I’ve spent years working with.

Best way to describe it is a constant rummaging. I’m digging through the dustbin of mind every day, and sometimes something sticks, then it gets made, then it gets changed and changed again, and then maybe it ends up in a gallery, online, in Cape Town, Paris, LA …

Your sculptures often look like 3D, abstract doodles – I’m referring to pieces made for GNYP Gallery like Room Service, 1-2-3-LOVE Swimsuits Dripping, Princess X Like Chicken – while the ones I’ve seen more regularly on exhibition here in SA are more “hardcore”, and deliberately contrary, with you playing with the perceptions of material value and mass-produced plastic items or building materials. What lead you to your chosen narratives, monumentalising “trash”, highlighting the ironies of our pursuits and inequalities in the world?

Regarding narratives — being a natural pessimist, I’m drawn to looking at what is underrepresented and misrepresented. What lies beneath the surface. And being part of the first generation that came of age in post-apartheid SA (and simultaneously discovered the internet), I’m aware of the inequalities and injustice that runs rampant around us. That said, I’m certainly not into moralising and making a statement of “you must look at this in this way”… I’m into highlighting and dancing to the good and the bad.

Just recontextaulising it.

Who or what was/still is you greatest influence?

That’s a hard one. It changes day to day. I suppose it’s about who (dead or alive) you’re having a “conversation” with that day, IRL or in your mind. But two greats instantly come to mind: Cecil Skotnes and John Muafangejo. I can always go back to them.

Solid Wast” opens on Thursday, February 6 2020 at 6pm (to 8pm) at Whatiftheworld, First Floor, 16 Buiten Street, Cape Town, 021-422-1066.

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