Out Of The Furnace is an international collaboration between South African Willie Bester and Austrian Wolf Werdigier, running at the Melrose Gallery at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg from 14 March to 14 April 2019.
Artists Willie Bester and Wolf Werdigier have a deep friendship that is tangible in the assembled presentation of their works. Each was deeply drawn to the other because of their outlook, personal ideology and professional expression. For several months they have been engaged in a deeply personal and reflective creative journey and shared process toward making art and finding a language and shared expression – an alchemy of mind, artistic craft and spirit toward producing their critical and exciting new body of work for this joint exhibition.
Both have navigated excruciating encounters in their history and lives, standing at the centre of a symbolic furnace for what they believe in. The resulting art works come from a process of creation that is immersive and intimate. Each artist contributes to the shared journey of making, interrogating and discarding loss by invoking memory toward healing.
The art works in the exhibition represent a conversation realised through sculpture, installation and painting and reflect important personal and political themes for both artists. The works explore loss, remembrance and the healing power of memory toward overcoming personal and historical trauma, and the triumph of freedom against all odds. Their collaborative process mirrors the kind of collective exploration of justice and truth we are called on to undertake as a society toward individual and collective healing.
Willie Bester answers some questions about his work.
You are one of the most prominent international artists in South Africa, with various awards and presidential honours to your name. Your work continues to play an important role using the artist voice as intervention socially and politically. Why is this still vital in a post-democratic South Africa?
It is important in any society. We must guard against denialism and forgetting. We must also guard against distortions of these memories. These distortions lead to us becoming confused about who we really are.
What currently informs your work and the focus of your artistic practice? And how has it evolved historically?
Art is a social diary and whatever happens on an ongoing basis politically, socially and historically should find itself in different forms of art like in words, music and so on. My work has always attempted to do this.
How do you select the subjects you choose to address through your work – the social, political and environmental themes you respond to?
The subjects select me. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the day after.
Your sculptural and installation works are very distinctive. Which materials and artistic mediums do you use for the best expression of your creative, intellectual, and activist-orientated ideas, and why?
I use metal and found objects. I choose whether it must go on the floor or on the wall.
Tell us about the theme Out Of The Furnace and its significance symbolically.
The theme is the work is forged from the furnace, but it also plays on the historical injustices of the holocaust and apartheid.
The exhibition deals with important but also painful themes of addressing healing and restoration, purging past traumas and the use of memory to invoke and instigate dialogue and release.
There is nothing more important than dialogue, dialogue is open to both sides. Dialogue enables one to see how much common ground there is and new understanding comes to the fore.
Another important rights-based intervention the exhibition responds to and interrogates is freedom of expression and the artist’s voice and value in upholding this principle in society. Why is this important in South Africa and worldwide?
The misunderstanding of the workings of the constitution is sometimes used to abuse other forms of freedom protected in that same constitution, which guarantees us the freedom to express and this might lead to an undermining of our greater values or a mockery thereof.