Johann van der Schijff brings State of Emergency to Joburg

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Cape Town-based artist Johann van der Schijff is showing a collection of artworks titled STATE OF EMERGENCY in a solo exhibition at Lizamore and Associates in Johannesburg. The show will open on 29 August and run until 5 October.

Johann van der Schijff - solo exhibit - STATE OF EMERGENCY - Just a Passing Phase
Johann van der Schijff – solo exhibit – STATE OF EMERGENCY – Just a Passing Phase

BUT, before this, he will exhibit works from his STATE OF EMERGENCY collection at a ‘one night only, preview show’ on Thursday 25 July, 17h30 for 18h00, at the Michaelis Gallery on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. This special exhibition will also be open, by appointment only, on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 July. “It is an opportunity for family, friends, colleagues, students and collectors in Cape Town to preview my work as it stands thus far. It is a test exhibition, a work in progress and won’t, therefore, consist of all the works that will be on display in Johannesburg for the Lizamore and Associates exhibition,” the artist explains. “It’s a selective preview of what I have been working on for the past two years.”

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STATE OF EMERGENCY deals with flashback memories of the artist’s youth growing up in Pretoria in the 70s and 80s. “I was constantly reminded of the state of power enshrined by Apartheid,” he says.

Johann van der Schijff - solo exhibit - STATE OF EMERGENCY - Monster in die Donker (Demons in the Night)
Johann van der Schijff – solo exhibit – STATE OF EMERGENCY – Monster in die Donker (Demons in the Night)

His interactive sculptural works are influenced by the mirage aeroplanes, which were stationed at Waterkloof Air Force Base, flying overhead while he was practicing sport at school as a boy. The works speak of a surreal but real, time in South Africa when Ratel combat vehicles passed in convoy on the highway and police Casspir personnel carriers were spotted on television menacingly driving through black townships.

The exhibition also explores the existential crisis of his adult life. “It addresses middle age and melancholy and my role and place in society as a white man in the post-Apartheid era,” says van der Schijff.

Johann van der Schijff - solo exhibit - STATE OF EMERGENCY - Mirages
Johann van der Schijff – solo exhibit – STATE OF EMERGENCY – Mirages

The university demonstrations at UCT, as a result of the RhodesMustFall movement, brought into sharp focus issues of colonialism, white privilege and identity politics. “As a white Afrikaans-speaking man it plunged me into a crisis. The title of Paul Gauguin’s 1898 painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? resonated with me as I wrestled to make sense of who I am, about to turn 50,” he explains.

Ultimately, the exhibition deals with memories as metaphors for the State of Emergency within the artist himself as well as South African society as it is today.

As an artist, Johann’s research interests lie in the areas of computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques as well as the design of interactive systems. Much of his artwork is inspired by the questions that come from the power relations formed in South African society, and is concerned with the effects of apartheid and the pervasiveness of violence that continues in its wake. It forces the viewer into a position of choice which ultimately encourages engagement with his artworks. “I hope the viewers are tempted to interact with my sculptures even as they realise their interactions are suggestive of aggression and even complicity in violence,” Johann says.

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