Mixed media: Wooden bench, barbed wire, woven leather thongs, cotton fabric and human hair
76 x 133 x 51.5 cm
This two tiered bench/bunk/cot was inspired by childhood memories of racially demarcated park benches marked ‘whites only’ in South Africa. Similarly park benches in Nazi Germany were marked ‘Nurfurarier’ (Aryans only). The two levels have been finished with different surfaces. The upper surface has a lattice of stretched barbed wire and the lower a grid of leather thongs. The leather thongs on a couch or chair refer to the old slave furniture of the Cape before emancipation, now much sought after as collectable and valued Afrikaner relics of the past. The barbed wire surface on the upper bunk has no comforting appeal and refers to the method of physically maintaining incarceration of individuals used extensively in concentration camps, in both South Africa during the second Boer War and in Nazi occupied Europe during the Second World War. Two cushions fashioned from concentration (KZ) camp-like fabric (with yellow backing) are located on the lower level bench/ bunk/cot and are seen through the barbed wire above.
Strong signifiers create a Holocaust effect and specific references to the extermination of the Jews are a confronting reminder. While well designed and solidly constructed, there is a repellent and repulsive quality which is compounded by the invitation to the apparent comfort offered by the two cushions. Purposefully disguising the impact of the fatal reality of incarceration paralleled the use of euphemisms adorning the entrance to KZ camps, such as ‘Arbeit Macht Fre’i (Work Sets you Free) and ‘Jedem Das Seine’ (Each to their Own). The real cushions are equally misleading and deliberately confusing provocations.
In formal terms modernist grids abound, in layers and projected shadows, but the whole is intentionally steeped in invoking a sense of the real.
Hitler’s War, Volumes 1 & 2 by revisionist historian and holocaust denier, David Irving have been inserted in a toaster ready for incineration. The toaster design is reminiscent of the Art Deco period. A three cornered enamelled (trinacria) swastika the symbol of the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging AWB in South Africa adorns the side of the toaster and acts as a brand. This symbol embodies a later South African version of Nazi ideology and is the natural offspring of its parent, the four legged swastika, itself appropriated by the Nazi., The toaster and books are flanked by two ebony bookends. They are the carved heads of an African male and female. These curios date from the colonial period of European domination in Africa probably between the 1930’s to the 1950’s and would have been deemed highly inappropriate sentinels for the content of these books. The toaster and bookends are placed on a chessboard: the playing field for the enactment of the political game. These are supported by an austere (Germanic) oak table plinth, which is original to the thirties.
Heinrich Heine’s famous statement from his 1821 play Almansor, “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”) has an application in this sculpture, especially in the light of the ideas propounded by the revisionist historian David Irving, who is currently banned from entering Australia. I am here suggesting that it is appropriate to (symbolically) burn certain books; to utilise the same methods as the Nazis themselves did but to eradicate their ideas. It is for the viewer to decide on their own position in relation to revisionism.
The title John the Battler is an Australian word play on John the Baptist. It refers to downtrodden Aussie battlers, salt of the earth workers. The admixture of references makes for a humorous reading of an otherwise tragic occurrence in the biblical narrative. John was said to have been decapitated by Herod at the capricious request of Salome, his head being served to her on a platter. Salome’s demand for John’s head is based on her thwarted desire for him, as in “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” (Congreve). I have mounted John’s severed head on a white cube of ice, an ice block that is ironically a lamp capable of exuding light and heat. Beneath his head is a pool of blood made from a shaped piece of red Perspex which gives off a strong sanguine radiance when the lamp is on. John’s head is made of a hatter’s wooden block which has a contemporary hairdo constructed from an old discarded and much abused black haired paint brush surmounted by a smaller white basting brush. His dark complexion could perhaps suggest Southern (USA) Baptist roots and this is enhanced by the groovy pink-templed spectacles. John, like his much esteemed cousin Jesus,would have been a Sephardic or dark skinned Semitic Jew. The elaborate wooden plinth creates an appropriate and respectful platform for the block on which rests the head. On either side of the ice block/lamp are the alternative Red Cross and Red Crescent insignia emphasising a callous disregard for human dignity in the biblical tale and a general lack of compassion for fellow beings. The Red Crescent here refers to the innumerable Jihadi suicide martyrs of contemporary times.
Within the narrative John, like his esteemed cousin had to seek the path of martyrdom to add the final gravitas to their cause. Now perhaps the martyrdom of john relates more to the political policies of economic rationalism. The severed head is kept both cool on a large block of ice and simultaneously hot from the light which illuminates the surroundings and highlights the spreading pool of the martyr’s blood.