For a long time wire art was bound to the street corners and highways of South Africa. As a result it has served as inspiration for some unique innovators. This is a story about them. All photography and video production by Epitome. Styling by Louise Steytler. Model: Terence Masamuna. Words by Ralph Borland.
African Robots and SPACECRAFT are projects to intervene in street ‘wire art’ production in Southern Africa (particularly South Africa and Zimbabwe). Here, informal artists make largely ornamental goods from galvanised steel fencing wire and other cheap materials, which they sell in the street. It is a resourceful and ingenious art form, which takes a cheap and available material, that is almost two-dimensional (a line) and makes complex three-dimensional forms from it.
African Robots brings DIY electronics know-how and cheap components to produce interactive and kinetic forms of work; African automatons such as birds, animals and insects. SPACECRAFT is based around the production of wire frame sci-fi spaceships and science fiction themes.
Both projects play on the relationship between old school computer ‘wireframe’ 3D graphics, and the hand-made three-dimensional objects made in wire by wire artists. They also play on the existing practices of street wire artists in copying successful designs from one another; this potential for catalytic intervention and viral spread of innovation in the street wire art scene may carry these interventions too.
BEHIND DUBSHIP I – BLACK STARLINER
The work refers to the history of Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping company, founded 100 years ago this year. It plays a version of the 1970s dub track Black Star Liner, sequenced by a rotating oil drum pierced with a pattern of holes through which light shines to trigger a series of mechanical strikers, amplified through a dub delay FX unit and custom speaker cabinets. It draws connections between the original Black Star Line, its memorialisation in dub, and space travel as a metaphor for transportation through technology and the desire for transcendence.
A team of wire artists were employed in its construction; the work is a co-production between art projects African Robots and SPACECRAFT, in which I work with street wire artists using new subjects and approaches, in order to draw attention to and advance this resourceful, contemporary vernacular medium. Cutting-edge VR sculpting tools were used to design it, and a team of collaborators with a wide range of skills, from musicians to engineers, helped to produce it. The project was supported by funding from the National Arts Council of South Africa.
Originally designed in the 1930s, the Harrington Jacket has been a recurring design icon across many decades. We’ve reimagined it as a flying jacket for an African astronaut, made in wax print. The fact that wax print is printed on both sides of the fabric lends itself to kaleidoscopic reflections – a property we’ve employed here to create a ‘stealth bomber ’ spaceship motif. Traditionally lined with Scottish Fraser tartan – another fabric pattern that occurs across cultures – this one is lined with Maasai shuka fabric.
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African Robots x Spacecraft photography and video production art by Epitome.
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