The visionary German artist and social activist SaySay.Love once again poses the question, “What is beautiful?” in his exhibition entitled Skin Deep, running from 12 February to 9 March at Gallery One11, 111 Loop Street, Cape Town. Using an AI-assisted painterly approach in combination with digital photography, the artist shines light on the archetypal twins of the psyche, dancing on the edge of the raging chaos while moving gently to the tune of the tamed and civilized mind.
Tell us about how the concept for the Skin Deep exhibition originated. Do you choose the theme first or is it a particular artwork that leads to the fleshing out of a project?
I have been interested in society’s perception around beauty for a while now. My previous exhibition entitled Intimate Loneliness: Sex with things dealt with the idea of “fake perfection” brought about by the digital age and the way that people live seemingly perfect lives on their social media platforms, always taking the perfect selfie, showing off their perfect lives. Skin Deep delves into the other side of that psyche, the imperfect one, the darker side of our being. That which we are afraid to show to others in fear that we will be rejected. I am currently fascinated with the idea of beauty being only “skin deep” and there is so much beyond what is seen with the eye. So really, the theme of the exhibition was a natural progression of my work so far. For me it’s a natural process.
How many artworks will be featured at the exhibition and can you give us a summary of the feel of it?
There will be a collection of works that I have created over a period of time. I have been using artificial intelligence to augment what I see and to give it a painterly feel.
How would you define beauty? And how would you define darkness?
In this project I will be collaborating with Aniek Nieuwenhuis, who is the survivor of a serious accident with fire that left her permanently scarred from a young age. Aniek for me epitomises beauty as she has really overcome what her physical appearance may look like to people and uses it in her work. This is really beautiful! She is like an alchemist, transforming something “ugly” into something really special and beautiful. This also speaks for me of the “darker side” to our psyches. I believe that within all of us there is a “darker side” that can never come out to play so to speak as society does not allow it. We all have hidden fantasies that can never be expressed. Perhaps some of the healing can happen once we embrace this darkness.
In terms of the viewing of art: do you think that culture plays a role in how we perceive art? Or is there more of a collective consciousness at play or both? For instance, does the reaction between your German and South African art lovers differ?
I think that culture and society does play a role in the way that art is perceived. I feel that the art scene in Europe is perhaps more politicised and dealing with social issues relating to that society whereas here in SA its rawer and more organic. But also, if we speak in general terms about art appreciation, there is always certainly a subjective viewpoint. I doubt whether any two people will look at a picture in the same way. We are all looking from our own perspective, even though it is influenced by the collective. This is something that really excites me about art. We are all artists really.
Because of a condition that you were born with, you are not able to see in 3D. Does this allow you to tune into images on another level? Can you tell us what you see, how you perceive things?
I see things from my heart first. Having this disability has enabled me to really see things differently and appreciate the moment. How often do we actually stop and see the beauty around us? We are always rushing and rarely stop to really look, like when you see something beautiful it is such a fleeting moment and then it passes. For me, it is different. I relish every moment.
What role does art play in society?
Art can change things, change people’s perceptions. Last year I showed my work entitled The Gift Of Water, which was aimed at showing people how beautiful the element of water really is. We take it for granted, that it is a mere commodity, but really if we look at the fact that the Western Cape almost ran out of water, then things start to change. Then we look at water in a whole new way. This is what my work is about. Making people see things differently and perhaps more from a space of love than fear.
The proceeds of your sales for this upcoming exhibition will go to the MAD Leadership Foundation. Why is this particular organisation important to you?
I spend my time between Germany and South Africa, and it is important to me that I can make a difference with what I am doing. This country has such incredible potential to be great. The people here inspire me with the sense of hope that is always there even in dire situations. The Make A Difference Leadership Foundation is special to me as they invest a lot in the future leaders of South Africa. What makes them so special to me is that they don’t just give scholarships to the candidates but mentor them for their futures. I think people forget sometimes that the history of the country hasn’t allowed everyone the same kind of confidence in themselves. Like if you are from a disadvantaged position in life, maybe you cannot even imaging that you could be something great. I love the fact that the MAD foundation takes this into consideration.