ZANDER BLOM PRESS COVERAGE
THE TRAVELS OF BAD
Sunday 15 March
Fresh show eschews innovation
Blom gives tired narratives a pop treatment
review: Mary Corrigall
Zander Blom is scornful of the dated imperative to create art that is new, original. It’s a theme that underpinned his last solo exhibition, The Drain Of Progress, which mapped a journey to rediscover or relive pivotal moments in the modernist movement when new visual idioms were created.
With this exhibition, he is caught up in a similar trajectory, however, this time it is the physical and psychological journey towards unearthing a new visual syntax that forms the focus.
It’s the voyage of the European Primitivist who believes that the key to unlocking the inner creative voice requires reconnecting with a primitive society that is unfettered or untainted by the evils of the civilised world.
This brings to mind the likes of Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries, but the actual physical journey that Blom recreates more closely mirrors the life story of Paul Gauguin, the French artist who turned his back on a profitable career as a stockbroker and on “civilisation”, resettling in exotic locales such as Tahiti and Polynesia, where he created his iconic oeuvre.
It’s probably the last and final scene of the narrative, where the central protagonist is said to have died from syphilis – among a host of other diseases – which recalls the figure of Gauguin and his own bitter demise in so-called paradise. But ultimately Blom is alluding to a mindset.
What Blom presents is a caricature of the voyage of self-discovery, which is compelled by this belief that in a different environment the authentic creative self manifests.
But this is not a conventional parody; while Blom documents the experience of an individual, there is no individual present in his works. His photographs simply feature a collection of musical instruments that are placed in front of changing backdrops that conjure stylised island settings.
In this way Blom not only alludes to a Primitivist compulsion but to a narrative that is deeply embedded in contemporary society: the story of the wannabe rock band and their search for fame and fortune.
It’s as if the frameworks of two narratives from different epochs have been thoughtfully overlaid to form a postmodern palimpsest.
Naturally the journey that an aspirant rock band would follow would be a journey in the opposite direction to the primitivist, moving from the periphery to the centre, the locus of civilisation where they would bide their time while waiting to be discovered by some head honcho in the music industry.
This makes the parallel between the two feel contrived, but it is the friction between these two motifs that enables Blom to destabilise the crucial elements that delineates them. The quintessential tale of the great artist – genius is inextricably centred on elevating the stature of the individual, casting him (it’s mostly a him) as the avatar of creativity and inventiveness.
However, by removing the individual from the narrative and employing musical instruments alluding to a band, a creative collective, the tale is not subverted but distorted.
Similarly the narrative of the wannabe rock band cannot be realised if it is played out on an isolated island peopled by supposed primitives.
At their core, though, the aspiring musicians and artist-genius are both connected to the cult of celebrity and the desire to startle the world with their curious reinventions. Blom’s art suggests that this is a false ambition. He achieves this by displaying the narrative like an amateurish theatrical stage set with rudimentary visual cues, referring to a constructed reality.
Furthermore, each of these candy- coloured mise-en-scènes are painted on the walls of a room; in other words, the journey is imagined. For many early modernist painters the journey into the culture of the other was just that – an invented intellectual expedition accelerated by contact with art objects of the other.
For those like Gauguin who actually made the physical journey, his bitter denouement serves as a caveat: immersing oneself in the culture of the other comes with the risk of being infected by their supposed primitive sexual excesses.
Employing bright, trendy colours and stylised motifs Blom has created a sort of pop version of the artist-genius narrative and in so doing he not only expresses its triteness but he undercuts the core values of high art.
He also reflects on a contemporary society where everyone has been enabled through the proliferation of digital media and reality TV to envision themselves as the inventive, artistic hero.
The irony is, however, that while Blom tackles clichéd themes, his approach is actually fresh.
He has, after all, recast painting as a temporary art product that only survives in the form of a photograph. It’s a clever twist.
The cynicism that infused Drain of Progress is still present albeit couched in satire.
One can’t help feeling that this exhibition isn’t as visually or intellectually sophisticated as his first solo, but given that Blom’s goals with this exhibition differ, it is not unexpected. One only wishes that his photographs were larger, relaying the overall impact of his paintings more faithfully.
Nevertheless this exhibition confirms that Blom is one of the most promising talents on the South African art scene.
Monday 23 March
Baldadige ‘Bad’ van ‘Bad’ Blom
review: Johan Meyburg
Ná The drain of progress in 2007/08 is Zander Blom terug in die Rooke-galery in Newtown, Johannesburg, met sy The travels of Bad. Dis ’n uitstalling wat uiteenval in minstens vier dele: ’n reeks fotografiese werke; ’n boek (met pikante teks) en ’n (“symphonic drone thrash metal rock”) CD; handelsware (onder meer T-hemde, plakkate, plektrums) en les bes memorabilia. ’n Vernuftige bemarkingsbenadering.
Hoewel dié onderdele uiteraard met mekaar in gesprek tree (die memorabilia vorm as’t ware die rekwisiete), is dit in die konteks van dié bespreking die fotografiese reeks wat grootliks ter sprake kom.
Hoewel die 17 werke (590 x 836 cm) elk op sy eie kan staan, is dit binne die verhaallyn wat tot stand kom dat Blom se rock-opera gestalte kry – binne The travels of Bad.
Met die kunstenaar Paul Gau?guin (1848-1903) se reise na die eksotiese eilande van sy tyd as aanknopingspunt begin Bad se reis by sy afskeid aan Europa en eindig met sy dood in ’n/die paradys. Tussenin verken onse Bad – ’n wafferse rocker met ’n voorliefde vir Fenders en Samick Greg Bennett Torino TR2-kitare – wyd en syd. Hy steek sy boeg die see in, “the seas of death, peril and black metal” (Scene 2); kry ’n “glimpse of paradise” (Scene 4); onderneem ’n tog “up the river (and) enter the hated domain” (Scene 10) waar hy onder meer “mosquitoes of deathness: terribly noble, manipulative, blood addict, monsters on a rampage” (Scene 14) teëkom en eindelik sterf aan “syphilis x mosquito bites x tuberculosis x broken, mutilated infected leg x savage booze x stupidity” (Scene 16).
As rock-opera is die verhaallyn met begin, middel en einde vir Blom dalk die oogmerk, hoewel dié begrensing die werk tog inperk. In plaas van meervoudige reise (soos die titel suggereer) word die fotografiese reeks die neerslag van ’n enkele passaat.
Die Gauguin-gegewe vorm hoogstens die agtergrond in die reeks, hoewel die siening van dié Primitivistiese kunstenaar dat tradisionele Europese kuns te nabootsend begin word het en begin mank gaan het aan simboliek, ’n leidmotief word. Vandaar Gauguin se fassinering met die “eksotiese” en sy verblyf op Tahiti.
Blom lewer egter kommentaar op tradisionele sienings van “die eksotiese” of “die Ander” in sy werk.
Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) se Tiger in a tropical storm maak in twee Blom-werke sy verskyning: in Scene 4 First glimpse of paradise: Magical alternate universe, tasty jungle beast world en Scene 9 Deeper into paradise: Tropical storm and a swamp of vinyl eyes (sonder die tier). Maar Rousseau se weergawe van die oerwoud is in Blom se werke ontdaan van enige verwysing na “die vreemde”. Hy werk immers in sy bekende voorhuis (daardie vertrek met die kaggel in sy Brixton-huis waar The drain of progress ook tot stand gekom het).
“A lot of people ask me stupid spying questions about what I say in pictures, if I say I wanna feed green lizards, am I actually gonna do it?” Met hierdie aanhaling uit die teks by Scene 9 gee Blom weliswaar aanduiding van die siening dat “die Ander” oënskynlik interessanter moet wees. En derhalwe nagejaag moet word.
Lees hiermee saam Blom se kritiek op hedendaagse fotografie wat daarop ingestel is om met in situ foto’s die allure van die eksotiese vas te vang, in ’n werk soos Scene 6 Encounter on the road: The sa- vage death master and the performing six legged albino crocodile. Dis asof Blom op’t Nederlands wil sê “doe maar gewoon dat is gek genoeg”.
Die voorhande gekheid voltrek sigself in Zander Blom se satiriese uitstalling met ’n makabere ondertoon – die laaste werk is immers die graf van ons held die Machiavillistiese Bad. En die memorabilia, wat fetisj-status begin aanneem, is grootliks brokstukke. Wat die vraag laat ontstaan: Word die rocker-wêreld nie dan die ánder “eksotiese” nie?
Blom het homself die afgelope paar jaar as kunstenaar met ’n welsprekende en -luidende stem gevestig. Daarvan oortuig The travels of Bad ’n mens weer.
As jy die galery verlaat, is dit asof jy Gauguin in jou agterkop hoor praat: “In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters.”
# Rooke-galery is by Quinnstraat 37, Newtown. Die uitstalling duur tot 1 Mei, maar is ook tydens die Joburg Art Fair in die Sandtonse Konvensiesentrum te sien.
14 March, 2009
A fun-filled look at exoticism
review: TIM TRENGOVE-JONES
IN THE late 1980 s that great lyricist, Bob Dylan, rasped, Broken lines, broken strings,/Broken threads, broken springs,/Broken idols … Everything is broken.
Ironically, for the words to be written, the music composed, produced and distributed, everything is clearly far from broken.
Zander Blom’s latest show, The Travels of Bad, is filled with similar ironies of meaning and form.
Cluttered with broken lines, strings, threads, springs and idols, Blom offers a colourfully energetic account of a cultural and aesthetic history.
In his artist’s statement he writes that the work is “essentially a satire that looks critically at the influence that exotic cultures and their artefacts have had on the avant-garde system of European visual art from the end of the 19th century onwards”.
His latest work comes as a multimedia package. There are 17 photographic scenes in an edition of 100, with 50 reserved for buyers who want an entire set, and 50 available individually.
There is also a “mini-novella”, where the scenes are reproduced with a written narrative , and a CD with 17 tracks .
Image. Music. Text. The multimedia formatting tells one that no single representation is adequate.
The narrative’s protagonist is Bad. This “character” emerges as a rock star super/antihero. Congruent with this genre is the merchandising — you can buy a T-shirt, a button or a plectrum. A downloadable ringtone is also planned.
Blom has spent much time thinking about “how the stuff gets out as a thing”.
He addresses the “exclusivity” of (high) art. But it is also a marketing strategy borrowed from popular culture or a pop sub-culture, applied to objects in a traditional gallery space.
In Travels the epic quest, the Byronic antihero, the Metal “Bad Boy” is partly a figure for crossing into new modes of making and marketing. The notion of “art lover” is challenged.
“You can have fun and be intelligent about it,” he says.
“I wanted to develop my personal language a bit more while retaining my integrity.”
In his Travels, Blom traverses a specific art history, that of pre-modernism, and a specific popular culture, the cult of the rock star.
Despite their differences, Blom, metal bands and Gauguin are all caught in a familiar bind: the problem of negotiating difference.
Their hostility to the “old” might be construed as decadence, but it expresses a highly traditional faith in newness. The “kid” having fun is Blom’s mutation of Gauguin’s imperilled primitivism.
“As a gallery thing, the photo is the main work. For visual art you want the image,” he says.
These images incorporate the tradition of the found object and the in-studio produced photographic record. The modernist method of assembling fragments is echoed in his artfully arranged piles of debris.
All this is staged in the corner of a room, each picture using a different set of props or rearranging earlier ones. The debris assumes the status of broken icons.
Blom’s commitment to narrative in Travels represents a renewed historicism.
The work is hugely topical, transmitting a contemporary social and cultural history as much as it reflects on art history.
Though Blom’s narrative relies heavily on what he takes to be a reworking of Gauguin’s Tahitian experiences — the bright colours (particularly greens, reds and yellows) reference Gauguin — the problematic presence of Picasso is everywhere apparent. Look at Picasso’s Guitar (1920) and trace the semi-repressed forms that underpin Blom’s current work.
Blom’s travels into writing are a weakness. In Scene 17 of his mini-novella, however, he writes of “an eternal aesthetic feeding frenzy, on foreign soil”.
Acutely ironic, the words tell what the photographs show: metal music, Gauguin, Picasso are as “exotic” — and useful — to Blom as were African masks and Tahitian women to Picasso or Gauguin.
He always quotes strategically. The earthly Paradise is always littered with broken traces.
In Blom’s show a cartoonesque mask is a ubiquitous, virtually fetishi sed icon. Mostly black, sometimes bright green, this is his “exoticised”, latter-day transmutation of Picasso’s masks.
But the mask also signifies how far Blom has travelled and, like the corner of the room in which he stages his performances, how rootedly he has stayed at home.
The lines, threads, idols and springs of his art historical heritage are far from broken, and provide ample material for fun-filled resourcefulness.
THE DRAIN OF PROGRESS
11 November, 2007
Artist walkabouts are all the rage.
Mary Corrigall joined one at the Rooke Gallery.
Newtown might be the cultural
hub of Jozi but early on a rainy
Saturday morning when we pull
into Quinn Street it is deserted
except for a man wrapped in plastic pulling
a cart full of rubbish. Maybe it's the wet
weather conferring a glossy lustre on the
brick and concrete edifices or the effects of
a 10-year gentrification process, but this
one-time industrial part of Newtown is
really beginning to look like the trendy
post-industrial suburb it has aspired to be.
It is the ideal setting for the Rooke
Gallery, the newest addition to this arty
locale. The Rooke Gallery has quite a different
ambience to the cluster of art establishments
along Jan Smuts Avenue. The industrial
setting recalls cutting-edge galleries
in New York's meat packing district or London's
And, like any new progressive art
gallery, the Rooke Gallery is promoting a
relative newcomer to the South African
contemporary art scene, Zander Blom.
As this artist has been hailed as a
"Bright Young Thing" for 2007 by Art South
Africa magazine, I was keen to see whether
he lived up to the title. I was also eager to
hear Blom discuss his work during his
As an art critic I have hitherto steered
clear of artist walkabouts, preferring to let
the art do the talking. Interacting with
artists has also left me with the impression
that they are more articulate in their chosen
However, the artist walkabout has
become such a popular addition to exhibition
programmes in South Africa that I felt
compelled to try out the experience.
Where once only national galleries
offered close encounters with artists, commercial
galleries are now also providing
opportunities for artists to interact with
viewers of their work. The Goodman Cape
Gallery runs art tours with every exhibition
staged there. During the gallery's
Loaded Lens group exhibition, a different
photographer presented a talk on the work
on display every Saturday.
"When Mikhael Subotszky did a tour, up
to 75 people attended," gushes Emma Bedford,
the director of the gallery.
Seventy-five might not sound like an
impressive attendance if one compares
numbers with sport or theatre events but,
for the visual arts, where crowds tend to
gather only on opening nights, such support
is an exciting development.
It suggests a desire to comprehend the
complex and furtive language of visual art
The visual arts have never been tailormade
for the masses; the nature of art is
such that, unless one is armed with an
arsenal of knowledge, true appreciation
remains an illusive pursuit.
Though these walkabouts cannot furnish
participants with the rudiments of art
theory, it can give them insight into the
artist's modus operandi.
Only 10 of us are gathered for Blom's
tour. No doubt the wet weather has dampened
others' interest. After a brief introduction
from Gavin Rooke, the gallery
owner, who is clearly an ardent fan, Blom
takes centre stage. For a lanky, fresh-faced
20-something, Blom exudes a surprising
amount of confidence and intelligence.
He immediately commands attention;
aside from the fact that he is easy on the
eye, the concepts that inform his art are
stimulating. He kicks off by telling us
about his fascination for the way art is represented
"This is how I have experienced art and
modernism through photographs in books.
I started to get interested in the difference
between a photograph of an artwork and
the artwork itself," he says.
Blom then recounts how, as a young
artist living in South Africa, his grasp on
modernism has been mediated, thus compounding
his estrangement from this once
avant-garde movement that turned the
visual arts on its head at the turn of the
His references to modernism are selfevident;
using the walls and ceiling of his
Brixton abode, Blom made bold experiments
with form that mimic the art of the
likes of Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian.
These "experiments" are then photographed
and, while they also appear in a
book which he considers the final product,
it is the photographs of his structural
experiments that make up the exhibition.
Blom explains that the artworks at this
exhibition, entitled The Drain of Progress,
are part of a process of trying to conjure
up the experience of being the author of an
avant-garde movement, thereby bridging
the gap between the past and the here and
If anyone in our group believed art to
facilitate the sensual engagement with
reality, Blom's detached tone and explanations
quickly make it clear that his art is an
intellectual pursuit - the magnetism of the
visuals is almost incidental.
Almost, because as Blom takes us on the
tour, starting with the first artwork he
made in the series, it becomes obvious that
as he has been refining his expression and
the visual impact of his imagery has
become more potent as he has developed
the idea further.
"I wanted to push the documentation
process - I wanted to make my photographs
more than just snaps," he explains.
Standing in front of the first artwork
which marks the beginning of his
"process", he draws our attention to the
text it contains.
"Clement Greenberg, like man he was
god to us," is written on a piece of paper
glued to a wall that Blom has photographed.
"This is a joke," he points out.
Blom has no reverence for this influential
American art critic who set out strict
criteria as to what characterised abstract
expressionism, the American branch of
modernism. Sending-up Greenberg is
important to Blom's process, from the postmodernists'
perspective, Greenberg's dogma
has no relevance.
Blom makes no effort to dumb-down the
concepts that his work expresses.
Perhaps that is because his work defies
simplification; it is the sum of many parts
that are interlinked or run parallel to each
other. Though I usually stare at an artwork
until its essence comes into focus, I bombard
Blom with questions instead, trying
to discover what makes him tick.
The rest of the tour group are unresponsive;
they look at him blankly and I sense
that much of what he has said has yet to
There are moments of greater clarity
when he presents his ideas in a succinct
statement such as: "It is about my loss of
faith in progress."
By the time we are standing in front of
his final artwork, which signals the completion
of his process, we don't need Blom
to tell us that his desire to recapture the
spirit of modernism has not been successful.
Though there are strong visual cues
linking his art to that groundbreaking art
movement, it is layered with references to
another time and place; Blom cannot transcend
the present and the thinking that
"It was doomed from the start," he says.
Blom points at the black holes that dominate
his final pieces. "It's like the existentialist
Blom doesn't employ this term needlessly.
Having eschewed the modernists who
indirectly laid the foundations of his art,
he is fully aware of the precarious position
his work occupies; it reaches towards
something that no longer exists.
When the tour ends, I am dazzled by
Blom's art; it is novel yet it resonates with
For information about artist walkabouts
at Rooke Gallery call 072-658-0762 or visit
Quarterly Art Supplement
Slacker art, with slick execution
By Sean O'Toole
IT's not just the way he wears his pants that makes me think Zander Blom is a slacker - an eminently likeable one, let me qualify. Writing in a catalogue published to coincide with his recent solo exhibition at Rooke Gallery, the 25-year-old Pretoria Tech graduate describes how moving into a digs in Brixton, Joburg, became the catalyst for a period of idle retreat from the art world.
Early in 2005, while mucking about with his ink and paper creations for a small group exhibition, Blom realised most of his youthful ambitions were "lame and redundant". He also recognised his dislike of "ambitious art" - being art that is "monumental or profound".
So he decided to spend more time at home.
"It was about living and working, about appreciating literature, music and art as much as it was about producing my own pointless scribbles," writes Blom in his catalogue, titled The Drain of Progress. "I was quite happy to lock myself up in my house and make random marks and words on paper."
Towards the end of last year the first bits of creative evidence from Blom's exile began to appear in the public realm. Blom's first prominent outing was a solo exhibition of mostly graphics at The Premises gallery in Johannesburg. Not long afterwards he exhibited 10 photographs on a group show at the same venue, on a show sponsored by dealer Gavin Rooke's Society of Photographers.
The photographs were homages to creative idleness, depicting his Brixton living space, an alien environment cluttered with Blom's monochromatic drawings, prints, linear cutouts and graffiti. While references to German artist Kurt Schwitters's fabled '30s studio space are unavoidable, Blom's messy universe is also thoroughly his own. "For a long time I aspired to make the kind of immaculately crafted work in media that would last forever," he says in his catalogue. "When I killed that ambition a big weight was lifted off my shoulders."
Given his interest in process rather than product, photography is a logical vehicle, offering a means to record the strange and often fleeting manifestations of artistic consciousness that occupy his home.
Fast-forward to October 2007. Blom is conducting a walkabout of his Rooke Gallery exhibition. It is a curious show, lavishly priced photographs of his home environment presented alongside a messy installation that recreates what he once exclusively did in the privacy of his home. Almost everything is for sale.
"A lot of this stuff is supposed to be kinda funny," Blom says in his soft-spoken manner. He has just been explaining the meaning of a simple hand-lettered poster reading, "Clement Green/berg/Like, man. He/was god to us." No one laughs.
Perhaps it is the obtuse singularity of his vision that is uninviting of laughter, or the grim spectacle of a smart-Alec tripping himself up in public. Having dedicated himself to mischievous play and nonsense - "Cutting up nature, and revolting against her bourgeois sensibility!" he declared in December 2006 - here we find the artist participating in a polite market economy, gallery walkabout and all.
What's happened? Why suddenly the monumental photographs?
"I want these works to be seen as paintings, or as compositions, rather than as photographs," he responds, sounding eerily like a producer of ambitious art. "What I am doing is constructing these compositions, and then I am just framing them. It is kinda like using my house as the canvas … I am just framing my paintings in a different way."
"Why don't you exhibit your house then?" asks a curious member of the public.
"Well, I guess I could," Blom concedes. "The work is vastly more interesting than if you do see the house." He points to his photographs: "These aren't the house; it is me framing the house in an interesting way. If you go into the house you will definitely not have the same experience."
All this wrangling over the monumental qualities of the photographs tends to overlook a basic insight: he is a polished artist. "I think he masters his own aesthetic," says Justin Rhodes, of What If The World gallery. "It is very identifiable and strong, well thought-out and conceived, not just edgy graphic imagery."
And he has skills beyond graphics and photography. Earlier this year Blom released a CD of glitchy electronic compositions. Then there are his middle-finger salutes to art history as one-third of the prankster art collective, Avant Car Guard.
It all adds up to suggest the arrival of an embryonic talent, sagging jeans and all.
Interview with Zander Blom on the occasion of his exhibition, 'The Drain of Progress'
by Michael Smith
Artist Zander Blom has a show up at the Rooke Gallery in Newtown during October, cryptically entitled 'The Drain of Progress'. The exhibition represents Blom's exploration of Modernism from a South African context, and consists in equal measure of prints, framed paper constructions and one-off photographs of odd constructions created in spaces inside his Brixton home. I interviewed him at the gallery a week into this powerful show.
Michael Smith: What is it about Modernism that you're interested in interrogating or unpacking?
Zander Blom: I'm interested in exploring some aspects of the avant garde art movements of the 20th Century that I find compelling. Examples of this include the super optimism, idealism and seriousness of Mondrian and De Stijl, the striving towards revolution and progress that characterises movements like Constructivism, and the glorification of modernisation which Futurism is know for. My exploration has to do with trying to understand Modernism from the perspective of a young person living in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the dawn of the 21st Century - a position which is very much dislocated in time, space, and ideology from what it attempts to investigate. The works which I made in the last four years either directly mimic selected visual qualities of modernist related subjects, or comment in some way on the various ideologies of art movements of the 20th Century.
MS: There seems to be an aesthetic of messiness, stains, bits of tape left on walls, scratches, even motifs seemingly seeping out of your ceilings in some photographs. This is at odds with the clinical nature of some Modernism, particularly work by Mondrian.
ZB: Regardless of whether the work I'm referencing is clean or messy - Pollock's for example are generally very messy, while something from De Stijl is usually very clinical - in my case it's about bringing it back to: 'This is where I live, this is where I eat, sleep, and make work, this is the position from which I'm exploring these things, a very confined space with a limited budget, and limited access to the work that I'm exploring.' I live in an old house in Brixton. If I'm reconstructing a Mondrian composition on the stained pressed ceiling in my bedroom with vinyl tape and black paint or ink, from faded colour plate reproductions, then it's going to have a certain kind of inglorious, un-glamorous look to it.
MS: In a number of the works, photographs and drawings, there seems to be an interest in the accumulation of identical units into a whole: this suggests the Postmodern impulse detectable in much Pop Art. How does that fit into your programme?
ZB: To me shapes like the target, the dolphin and the log of wood are about having a unit with which to construct different compositions. In most cases I'm trying to nullify their original meanings and create a sort of formalist abstraction from them.
That said, because I'm attempting to make very formalist or modernist compositions, but the seriousness, optimism and the ideals of progress which fueled modernism are replaced with pseudo-nihilism, a demise of seriousness, and a sense of irony, these compositions become more like Postmodern voids than anything else.
In the case of the target specifically, I wanted very much to reclaim the shape from the association with Pop Art, and turn it into a formalist composition simulating a wormlike void.
MS: I notice that a number of images, paintings, drawings etc that appear in your photographs are also placed loose and unframed in the gallery space.
ZB: Yes, some of these works have been framed and isolated so one is able to view them as important pieces, but I also wanted to show some of them in a way that was more in touch with the method of their production and the purpose they have as props in the narrative that is communicated by the photographs.
The book and a big part of the exhibition comprise photographs that were taken in my home. Apart from communicating the exploration into modernism, which is effectively the underlying theme of this body of work, with it I wanted the photographs to be considered completed works, rather than snaps of my home, or what I was making. Basically, with the layout of the exhibition I wanted to treat some things as museum pieces, and others as props or debris.
MS: In one of your works one of the base units from which you construct the image is a swastika: what is your thinking behind this choice?
ZB: In the context of my show the swastika is the same as a dolphin or a target: it's a shape that I find quite beautiful, one I have used as the basis to explore different compositions. I use it in spite of its connotations of 'evil' and 'death', which I'm still sensitive to, but I'm trying to rid these shapes of their moral content and use them for their visual qualities in constructing formalist compositions.
I am not interested in making works that deal with violence, or that rely solely on shock value.
MS: The catalogue raisonné that forms part of this show is an interesting document. Could you tell me about it?
ZB: The book is designed to mimic the type of catalogue raisonné which one associates with an accomplished modernist artist from Europe or North America. The kind of publication that it mimics has been my main source of reference to the art history subjects I was exploring, so I wanted the works I produced to be viewed within a similar frame. Another aspect of it is that I wanted to mimic the colour plate reproductions which these kinds of books feature, and elevate the documentation of artworks or artist studios to works of art. Thus instead of having a book that features photographs of my work, I made a book where the photographs of my works are effectively the works. The remnants from installations in my home, or paintings and drawings are things that I also consider artworks, but in a way where they function more as props in a narrative which the book and photographs convey.
The book features a concise introduction to my practice, then 74 photographic works which were produced over a period of four years, and then follows with explanatory text on individual pieces. It is produced in a limited edition of 300, and is to be understood as an editioned artwork, rather than a catalogue of work. All the photographs featured in the book exist as one-off large-scale photographic works.
Art South Africa
Summer 2007 edition
Title: Drain of Progress
Review by: Mary Corrigall
Blom is fixated on photographic representations of art; it is the medium through which most aspiring South African artists have come into contact with art's canon. So while the formalist renditions that feature in his photographs appear to be the primary subject of his photography it is the catalogue that is the focus of his art. He is mimicking the art of representing art. For Blom the act of mediation is the authentic moment of creative invention and the physical artworks featured in the photographs become the props or as Blom dubs them "the debris". Although Blom says that his approach does not undermine or devalue the art object, any form of mediation will unavoidably reposition or redefine the status of the artworks he photographs. Any subject of a photograph is open to manipulation, and therefore intrinsically surrenders its agency or ability to define itself.
Some photographs are more visually stimulating than others as Blom's focus shifts from creating subjects - makeshift recreations of modernist art - to mediating his work via photography. However, no single artwork at Blom's exhibition definitively expresses his ethos. Reminiscent of the 'artworks' which featured at Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter's UrbaNET Hillbrow-Dakar-Hillbrow exhibition held earlier this year at the University of Johannesburg, Blom's artworks/photographs simply document and substantiate a process, rather than functioning as traditional self-contained art objects. In this context Blom's art is the residue of a procedure, a visual reference of a trajectory of thoughts. Of course, this subverts the idealised notion that iconoclastic artistic statements can be realised in one single form of expression.
Blom mimics formalist designs but it is clear from the onset that he holds little reverence for modernism. His process is superficially centred on trying to recapture the spirit of modernism and its core impulse - to reinvent aesthetics - because all the while Blom is aware from the start that he cannot recapture the sense of naivety and heightened appetite for discovery of that bygone era. In this way modernism is no longer an aesthetic philosophy but a set of ideas that are innately tied to a specific time frame.
Nevertheless Blom tries to 'leap' outside of his milieu. He aims to show the futility of seeking out a unique visual syntax and, in a universal context, connecting with ideas/events that have passed.
Blom's journey of exploration is almost scientific as inferred by the titles, which relay the specifics such as 11.36, Tuesday, 12 December 2006, and denoted by the manner in which he mediates his own experience/art. Just as the pressed ceiling of his bedroom serves as a visual marker of the setting that Blom is rooted in, the titles also prove that it is impossible for Blom to escape his environment.
His grasp on key moments in art history are tainted by his knowledge of the present; he cannot obliterate his post-modernist stance. What was once avant garde is now mundane, rendering Jackson Pollock or Piet Mondrian's visual "inventions" everyday imagery. The banal, detached titles articulate Blom's dispassionate connection with the modernist masterpieces he is recreating. His desire to retrace the actions of the modernist masters is not propelled by curiosity but appears more like a mechanical deed; Blom is simply going through the motions without being genuinely invested in the recreations of these masterpieces, further underpinning his cynicism.
Blom is reflecting on the achievements of the modernists from a time in place where the invention of a novel visual idiom appears beyond reach and is no longer of significance; artists are no longer concerned with reconfiguring or reinventing representations of form.
Despite Blom's genuine disconnection from art's canon it is obvious that he is still subject to its influence, he cannot divorce himself from the modernist tradition; it is the bridge between his current preoccupations and the past. And that link cannot be severed; knowledge cannot be erased.
Although 'sensational' is commonly employed by critics to describe a theatrical experience, Blom's 'theatre', replete with props from arts canon is just that. His brand of photography further pushes the boundary between art and photography and will likely, and in the years to come give the likes of Roger Ballen and Pieter Hugo et al a run for their money.