Woven Into The Stuff of Life
Andrew Lamprecht 2006
Imagine a jaw so strong, or possessing through frustration or anger such strength, that it can crush stone. In breaking stone this way would it not also shatter teeth? And what would the shards so broken do? Would they not lacerate and embed themselves in the palate, the cheeks, even the throat itself? These pills cannot be intended to be chewed. Should the mouth patiently wait for them to dissolve? How long would saliva take to reduce these and have them absorbed? One year? Two? A lifetime? But thinking like this is folly: these pills are far too large for human consumption — they are not pills at all but stone inscribed — tablets bearing signs, such as are borne by oracles and prophets. If we read we find nothing profound, however. These signs are merely the graphics that are commonplaces on pills that used to be taken to induce euphoria and escape the everyday. A paradox then: an ecstasy tablet that cannot be consumed. Its material indissolute, its fabric threatening violence. These pills are not for healing, nor are they for inducing euphoria; neither do these tablets convey secrets or set down precepts. They will not be carried from the mount to the people; rather by their shape and size and weight they would be better suited for the same people’s hands. These stones then are for throwing.
Imagine for a moment that you are guilty; that you have been the cause of a terrible calamity. That the world has changed due to your hand. Not your hand exactly; not you as such but rather due to actions of your parents; their parents even: the spirit that you have lost but which drove them. You are guilty by proxy, if you will. By your inaction then you are guilty. This is a double blind: to be inactive is wrong; to act is wrong. How then do you act? Maybe act free.
Rozalla said this: ‘Everybody be free.’ But what then? Free to be free? That surely is not enough.
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Rase it, rase it,
even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth
thy little ones against the stones.
What are we to make of trauma? Simple, explicable trauma that we experience every day of our lives. Let me help you start: ‘I have a friend….’ Start with that sentence and now complete it with a traumatic ending. It is easy. Say ‘who died of cancer after a long struggle’, or ‘who is a car guard on Long Street’ or ‘who has been unfairly dismissed from her job because she is pregnant’ or ‘who has never really known love’. These are but the simple variations. What does freedom mean here?
The works of Daniel Halter often seem to exude a sense of the irony at such freedom, it would seem to me. It would appear that they celebrate our freedom to be unhappy, to be disappointed, to be cheated, robbed, hurt or displaced. His works shower us with their subtle melancholy, a melancholy so subtle that others see it as mirth. There is undoubtedly humour here, a solicitude expressed in wit, but nonetheless sweating unease and anxiety. Halter is careful with his materials: hard wood and soapstone, both authentic; coins and banknotes, demonetised on the eve of this exhibition; maps and till slips, acquired from the land of his birth, Zimbabwe. And yet somehow the materials do not hold their form: the soapstone chips, the hardwood might be a veneer, the till slip fades and the map distorts under pressure from its interweave. And still, somehow, as if through the pressure of the will of the artist the whole exhibition holds its form exquisitely. Perhaps its form holds as if through a lament, straining from the natural tendency to break, like the voice uttering the dirge.
Renew our days as of old!
Or hast thou utterly rejected us?
Art thou exceedingly angry with us?
Perhaps when speaking of his works, we should ask if it is rather that Halter really seeks a freedom to make free. As free as a white-owned farm liberated; as free as a dollar demonetised. Maybe this is the sort of freedom here celebrated.
His works are deeply labour-intensive, yet not usually overly-laborious. They do not dwell on their hand-crafted nature and even, as in the case of Mother and Child, hide such information. In this we see the hand of the artist as the reverse of that of the stone-thrower. That last-mentioned hand is one that in a casual, thoughtless act puts out an eye, smashes a cranium, takes down a child. The artist takes days and hours and weeks to express a gesture that passes us by; gives a fleeting smile and allows us to file out of the gallery to our next appointment. It is a gesture that allows us to be free to be free.
Lastly, he is bound tenderly to life by the thought of his friends; or shall we not say rather, that by their thought for him, by their unchangeable solicitude and love, he remains woven into the very stuff of life, beyond the power of bodily dissolution to undo? In a thousand ways he will survive and be perpetuated.
(Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, London: Thomas Nelson, , pp. 156-7.)
Andrew Lamprecht is an art theorist and curator who also makes art sometimes. He teaches at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.
See the exhibition mentioned in this article.