Cape Town multi-media artist Andrea du Plessis snatches the Sasol New Signatures fine art award

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

There is one thing you cannot ignore about Pretoria right now, during this season, and it is that the jacaranda trees are blooming with the branches having a predominantly purple colour as this is the time for the flowers to show up and shine.

There is also something else that Joburgers cannot take away from Pretoria at any given time, at least till this day, which is that as compared to this beautiful and full of life city of Johannesburg, which we have come to love so dearly, Pretoria looks cleaner, with its streets less filthy than comparatively similar streets in its inner belly. Let us not argue about that, at least for now.

Anyway, that is the picture of Pretoria that I saw as I alongside  other art lovers were invited to witness  the triumphant artists in the Sasol New Signatures fine art competition on Wednesday, 10, November 2021 in Pretoria. We had an opportunity to drive through the city and marveled at the beauty of the blooming jacaranda trees as we headed to the venue.

The winners were announced at the spacious Pretoria Art Museum, which had enough room for the mandatory social distancing in times of Covid-19 and its threat to life.

The organisers, through the programmes director of the event on the day, Peter W. Van Heerden, reminded the guests who gathered to witness the event, that we were not yet out of the woods when it comes to the current dangerous situation of the Coronavirus in the country, and therefore, we needed to social-distance, cover our faces with masks and generally follow Covid-19 protocols as we enjoyed food, drink and witnessed the fine art ceremony.

That warning by the organisers was a stark reminder to the fact that when we gathered at the same place the last time in 2019, for yet another great installment of the competition that saw then Tshwane University of Technology student Patrick Rulore walk away with the overall price worth R100 000 in cash for his stunning paintings of a family dealing with the issue of Load shedding, the world was much better than now. Now it is more dangerous and uncertain due to the situation of Covid-19.

In fact the same situation that developed immediately after Rulore won the award in 2019, the arrival of Covid-19 as an existential threat, prevented him from showing his works in 2020 at what would have been a successive New Signatures competition exhibition. The competition was canceled that year, and instead, he only had an opportunity for a solo exhibition this year, alongside the new competitors. His show, a continuation of the load shedding series that won him the award in 2019, almost threatened to overshadow the new competitors.

Rulore’s work is simply too good to ignore, especially at the moment because load shedding seems to have come back with a vengeance in the past few months. In fact as we drove into Pretoria, the presence of load shedding was everywhere with robots not working, for example.

Thank goodness, there was power at the venue, otherwise we would not have been able to enjoy the stunning presentation of the 2019 winner Rulore’s solo exhibition alongside this year’s triumphant artists  Overall Winner: Andrea du Plessis (Cape Town), Runner-Up: Dalli Weyers (Johannesburg) and  Merit award winners :Nico Athene (Cape Town), Michèle Deeks (Pretoria),Sibaninzi Dlatu (Umtata), Eugene Mthobisi Hlophe (Durban) and Monica Klopper (Pretoria).

Du Plessis, a multi-disciplinary artist won the coveted title for her mixed media work titled Paloceae Lupantozoa.  The work is inspired by Martin Johnson Heade’s “Orchids and Hummingbirds” series. The artwork consists of a painting created through the traditional oil on canvas technique that can also be experienced as a multi-sensory animated video.

The video component of the artwork, which includes sound, is accessed via an Augmented Reality (AR) animation of the oil painting. By downloading an App on their digital device and pointing their camera towards the painting, viewers activate the Artificial Intelligence sound and video animation sequence which literally brings the painting to life on their digital device. “The oil painting and AR video create a link between past and contemporary representations and experiences of nature.

By juxtaposing the 19th century Romantic tradition of painting with emerging technologies, the artwork creates a tension-filled interface, momentarily transporting the viewer into a familiar yet alien world. But most crucially, experienced in its multiple modalities, the artwork offers the viewer an opportunity to reflect on their relationship with nature and our changing landscape,” said du Plessis.

 As the winner of Sasol New Signatures, du Plessis walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2022. 

The runner up Weyers walked away with a R25 000 cash prize for his conceptual art work titled Manifesto. The five merit award winners went home with R10 000, and all the finalists’ body of work is on display at Pretoria Art Museum until January 2022.

After the ceremony, when speeches were made and congratulations were showered to the deserving fine artists, and the sun was about to set in the west as it always does, my team and I drove back to Johannesburg, watching the beautiful blooming jacaranda trees reseed back into the background. This time our dedicated driver avoided driving back through inner city Pretoria streets, as earlier on we were disrupted by robots that were not working due to the recurrent load shedding as Eskom struggles to put lights on constantly throughout the day. This time the driver wisely chose the N1 high way back to Joburg.

At that time, I could not help but remembered Rulore’s , exhibition we had just left behind at the Pretoria Art Museum, as this exhibition deals knowingly with the current difficulties of energy disruptions in the country and its impact on families at home..

Congratulations to the 2021 winners of the Sasol New Signatures fine art competition, especially the overall winner Du Plessis as he career trajectory is set to change for the better.

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