Archive: Issue No. 123, November 2007

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Johann van der Schijff's sculpture unveiled
by Tavish McIntosh

The AWP or Arm Wrestle Podium is a public sculpture acting as a communal platform where disputes can be settled, once and for all, in view of the public, by means of the physical act of arm wrestling. Located on the patio of the Association for Visual Arts, it is foreseen that it could play an important role in resolving those nasty art world disputes that seem to be part and parcel of the 'scene'. Van der Schijff won the Fourth Public Sculpture Competition for the city of Cape Town with his maquette which was installed on November 1, 2007.

Its application, as a public sculpture in South Africa, is obviously much wider than the art scene and could be used as a way to find closure on political disputes where negotiation has reached a stalemate. But, it could also be as simple as acting as a platform to settle personal disputes of passers-by.

The advantages of settling a dispute on the AWP are that: it leads to a definite outcome; it is in the public eye for everyone to see; and although there is physical interaction and an undertone of violence, apart from possible stretched biceps, the result will not cause long-term injury to anybody if used according to the rules.

Attached to the sides of the podium will be four plaques, in English, isiXhosa, Afrikaans and Braille, with the rules, of which there are 14, as adapted from the USAA (United States Armwrestling Association).

The site is a very lively area, popular with locals and tourists alike. The final piece is executed in a combination of bronze, stainless steel, painted galvanised steel and rubber. Van der Schijff will also make a bronze of the winning maquette, edition of 5, plus artist's proof, which will be on sale later in the year.

Van der Schijff (born 1969 in Pretoria) is currently a lecturer in New Media at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. He is also the course convener of the MFA in New Media at the Institute for Film and New Media.

He holds an MFA (New Media) from Academy Minerva, Hane University for Professional Education, Groningen in the Netherlands, an MFA (Sculpture) from UCT and a BA Fine Art from the University of Pretoria. His sculptural and new media works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. He has won several art awards, has published articles and catalogues and has made presentations both locally and abroad.

These competitions were initiated by the J.K. Gross Trust with a view to making art more accessible to the Cape Town public by exposing them to contemporary art-making by some of South Africa's most prominent sculptors. The regeneration of the inner city of Cape Town, for the benefit of both locals and visitors, is a vital component of this competition. All three winning sculptures to date have proved great drawcards for the city centre and have elicited interesting debate around issues of public art and its role.