ALGORITHM OF THE SOUL
fig. ZANOXOLO MQEKU, 452B HORIZON (2022)
Zanoxolo Sylvester Mqeku is a ceramic artist spearheading the potentialities of clay, sand, and metal. His work emerges in part from a gestating Master’s dissertation, completed through the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein. This self-reflexive research attempts to recuperate ancient ceramic techniques through recent Industry 4.0 fabrication technologies, allowing his medium and practice to come into resonance and dissonance against each other. Mqeku grew up on the outskirts of the Eastern Cape, at the lip of the hills that lead to the Drakensberg mountains. He has obtained several qualifications from Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha as well as a BTech in Fine Art from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. In 2018, Mqeku participated in an artist residency in Vallauris (France) and was commissioned as part of the Goethe-Institut Project Space (GPS) in Johannesburg. Working with innovative sand-casting techniques, Mqeku experiments with the many states of earth materials: liquid, crumbling, solid, hardening, excavated, buried. His series The Birth of the Alter-Natural was Africa’s first sand-cast ceramics exhibition.
ZANOXOLO S. MQEKU
B.1987 (TLOKOENG, EASTERN CAPE)
ALGORITHM OF THE SOUL
The objects Mqeku makes shapeshift in your hands, changing from sand to clay to metal. This work happens in the membrane between the tool, the imprint, and the trace. In this theatre, the artist reveals clay’s capacity for memory. These works are conceived of as a requiem to technical traditions that are fast being relegated to the past, “eclipsed by the excessive digitisation of the human industrial ecosystem”. These objects, Mqeku says, recall the “algorithm of the soul”, the ineffable workings of “imagination, thought, dream, and intuition”. By digging into the sand, Mqeku reaches into chthonic archives. The sand is a living archive. This capricious body holds memory; each grain of sand is a well-travelled fragment. Sand systems hold fragments of lime-petrified plants, volcanic eruptions, the calcareous shells of sea creatures, the frost-bitten sands cast off by Ice Age winds, and roughly hewn mountain quartz. Harvesting sand from the Caledon river, Mqeku builds sandcastles in relief, using moon-white 3D-printed tools to cast enigmatic markings which he presses into the sand. He then pours clay slip into this well and watches as it rushes into the furrows of sand, pressing tenderly into the edges of the imprint, winding its way into remembered forms.
The artist speaks of sand, metal, clay as a Holy Trinity, the most essential compounds of the earth itself. Mqeku’s acknowledgement of each element is ritualistic, a recognition of the almost superhuman world, a gesture of respect. And yet this work is about more than the substrate. It is work that knows that to dwell in the earth, to lie on its cool crust, to be buried in the mud, is to have eyes affixed to the heavens. His recent work, a chrome oxide and copper green glazed sand- cast form called 452b Horizon (2022), references the planet Kepler-452b, a super-Earth beyond our solar system orbiting the inner rim of the habitable zone of a sun-like star. This corpus, like a meteorite hunk from a distant Earth, dreams of a home far away.
“The artist speaks of sand, metal, clay as a Holy Trinity, the most essential compounds of the earth itself. Mqeku’s acknowledgement of each element is ritualistic, a recognition of the almost superhuman world, a gesture of respect.“
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contemporary clay from south africa
CLAY FORMES is the first of its kind: a survey of contemporary clay from South Africa. This volume, through exquisite photography and literary essays, showcases multiple generations of living South African artists, each innovating the potentialities of clay and ceramics. This publication offers enthusiasts and collectors a glimpse into the studios of thirty important South African artists and opens a window into the complexity of each body of work, revealing the richness of both contemporary clay and ceramic tradition within South African art.
This publication has sought to reflect its subject: to be as fluid as water and as weighty as earth. All this is done in the hopes of leaving behind a fresh approach to this manifold medium, and of presenting to the world the previously unexplored richness of sculptural clay in South Africa.