Jennifer Dasal: Where do your inspirations come from? Where are you sourcing your imagery?
Wim Botha, Prism 13 [Dead Pieta], 2015, bronze and wooden pallets, H. 95 1/4 x W. 88 1/5 x D. 49 1/2 in., Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa; Image: (c) 2015 Wim Botha; Photograph: Mario Todeschini
I wish I could say it wasn’t art history, because it’s lame just to rehash it, but I do. I have a particular fondness for it. I see things in daily life, in press photography—this barrage of imagery we’re subjected to—and where those images intersect with specific tropes from art history is when it crystallizes into something I feel might be worth making. I strongly believe that, even though we’re discovering a magnitude of things in this time, the real truths have been around for millennia.
This comes through in mythology and art history, these fundamental explanations for our lives in the universe, which are not incompatible with the discoveries we’re making now. What’s interesting to me is where our lives—and the things happening around us—intersect with those ideas that have been depicted successfully hundreds of years ago. I love that sensation of linking what’s going on in this very moment with things that have been discussed for millennia.
But we don’t fundamentally make new things. We’re not fundamentally very different from people that lived a hundred or five hundred years ago—we just know more. But we still respond emotionally to very similar things in culture and custom. For example, the Laocoön is as relevant today, perhaps even more so, than it ever was. The idea of the sins of the father, the idea of doing the right thing, but being on the wrong side—this plays out week by week in the news, not with gods and sea serpents, but with man. And certainly, the pietà plays out week by week. Between those two and the Leda [and the swan], which is almost eternal and captivating, I could probably spend the rest of my career just working on those subjects.
JD: It seems there are many dichotomies in your work—between something that draws you in, that’s very seductive, and at the same time keeps you at a distance. Something that’s understandable yet strange, beautiful yet disturbing. And then you have this sense of wanting to create art but also feel it to be irrelevant. Forces at odds are all living simultaneously in the same body of work.
It reels you in and it pushes you away. It’s sometimes exalting but at the same time disturbing. These conflicting feelings create a very emotional state of hyperawareness and a melancholy, sad beauty.
Wim Botha, Untitled [Bywoner 3], 2014, encyclopedias, wood, and stainless steel, H. 34 3/8 x W. 19 5/8 x D. 22 1/2 in., 21c Museum Collection; Image: (c) 2014 Wim Botha; Photograph: Mario Todeschini
I think that’s astute. You get a lot of what happens in my thought process. The difficulty is in explaining why it’s necessary to make this work at all, and I honestly can’t say. What I can say is that, after having relinquished a very deterministic approach to making objects … I experience [making] the work in a way that others might experience it, seeing it for the first time. What happens is a very strange emotional turmoil that describes exactly what you are saying. It reels you in and it pushes you away. It’s sometimes exalting but at the same time disturbing. These conflicting feelings create a very emotional state of hyperawareness and a melancholy, sad beauty. I would believe it can be very emotional for people to look at.