Size: 4 metre (width) X 2,8 metre (height)
Medium: Scarred plywood boards, once used for the cutting of slabs of granite
Text: “WHITES ONLY – NET BLANKES”
Assistants: Martin Boshoff, Tim Romans
Granite is cut with a block-saw cutting machine, fitted with a large masonry disk. If one were to cut a slab of granite directly on a concrete floor, the blade would leave slice marks in the floor. To prevent this, a thick board of good quality plywood is first laid on the floor and the blade then scars the plywood surface. Over time these cut-marks increase until the entire board begins to show a criss-cross pattern. When the cutting board is old and used up, it is thrown away and it is at this time that I find it aesthetically irresistible.
Granite cutting boards land on the rubbish dump as soon as they become redundant and they seldom pile up. I was lucky enough to obtain a number of well-scarred boards from one granite factory, ingrained with grey granite dust.
I always ask for a window seat when flying. This enables me to take photographs of interesting cloud formations and patterns in the landscape below. The maze of streets and roofs in built-up areas, when observed from high above, provide great textures. Similarly, dense and intricate configurations are provided by informal settlements and sprawling townships. I lived in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow suburb in the 1970’s and there I began to make a number of works featuring the intricate patterns of streets and buildings in the city. See, for example, TAFELBOEK, CUBE, and CITYBOOK. When I began to assemble the boards for the GREY AREAS artwork I could not help thinking about the aerial views of endless grey little houses. In the 1980’s Hillbrow and the neighbouring Yoeville became known as grey areas when their predominantly white populations were replaced by predominantly black populations.
The ‘whites only, net blankes’ text for GREY AREAS reflects on an unhappy period in South Africa’s social history. There was a time when all the better, more desirable public conveniences were reserved for exclusive use by so-called white people. Park benches, train coaches and queues at banks, bottle stores and shops conceitedly displayed the ‘whites only/net blankes’ sign, always in what was then both of South Africa’s official languages – English and Afrikaans. Now that apartheid has been abolished and these signs have been removed, they have become something of a rarity, mostly obtainable at antique shops and often displayed amongst rugby pictures and hunting trophies in drinking places.
The name Grey Areas is taken from a compilation of essays, edited by Brenda Atkinson and Candice Breitz, published in book form in 1999 by Chalkham Hill Press, Rivonia, Johannesburg. The book appeared five years after South Africa’s first fully democratic elections and looked at representation, identity and politics in contemporary South African art. South African politics that had always been an enforcement of black and white stereotypes, now attempted to be inclusive of all its citizens and all their political, racial, religious, social and sexual preferences. The idea of grey areas appears to allow everyone manoeuverability to operate freely. Boundaries have become blurred or removed and scope for multiple points of view exist. Now, fifteen years later, in 2014, the idea that grey areas as a social catalyst provide advantages, has become questionable because the poor are still with us and their unemployment as well as their numbers are more daunting than ever. Liberties created by grey areas have also increased crime, corruption and poor governance.
It must be said that the new South African way of life is far preferable to the old apartheid system where whites were privileged. The concept of grey areas is not necessarily a good thing because it can lead to insecurity and exploitation. On the other hand, when things are not always simple and clearly defined, such uncertainties can create a healthy mental state where we continuously rediscover who and what we are and where we stand.
Part of me longs to do a job where there's not a gray area.
The choice in politics isn't usually between black and white. It's between two horrible shades of gray.
Everything is not black-and-white. I'm really interested in the gray area - not justifying it, not glorifying it, not condoning it, but at least having people see there's a genesis for every event in our lives. There's some divine order to it, whether it's ugly or beautiful.
It felt to me like America was always wanting to resolve things too quickly, without thinking through what the costs and consequences would be and how that affects an individual living in that world. Then as I grew up and went about my life, I think I just got more and more interested in that gray area where things are not so easily quantified.
When you're the victim of the behavior, it’s black and white; when you’re the perpetrator, there are a million shades of gray.