If abstraction is the new figuration, the new Circa in Cape Town wants to assert this primacy. Closing last week was ‘Cubicle,’ a show which ran the gamut of Zombie Formalism, from shimmering surfaces to drippy black paint. Circa Cape Town is a curiously domestic space, with fireplaces, wood floors and creaky staircases. But the room-like arrangement certainly suits the stated aim of the exhibition, to provide space for multiple small bodies of work with a quick turnaround. And the turnaround is quick: already the show has been replaced by ‘Hardline’, another show of abstraction albeit with a stronger focus on clean geometry.
Amongst all these optic spreads and painterly marks, Lynette Bester’s deconstructed pianos felt pleasingly material. I chatted to her about the process and ideas behind these works.
Chad Rossouw: What made you want to work with a piano?
Lynette Bester: I was attracted by the challenge of working with such a big object that has so many parts. There is so much material to work with. A colleague of mine said she had a piano which was dropped and badly damaged. She gave it to me in 2010. Then last year I received a random email from Ian Burgess-Simpson Piano’s in Muizenberg. They had a lot of pianos they wanted to donate to an art school to make art from. The students each got their own piano and I also got my own. So it was pretty incidental.
Pianos have loaded associations with culture, accomplishment. I also often take whole objects made from many parts, take them apart and make another whole. The piano in Fissure I and II dates from 1893 and the one in the installation Cathedral from 1913. It also felt quite forensic to take objects apart and find lost items and hand writing inside. I collected a lot of dust. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with that yet.
With the two Fissure pieces I was really exploring ‘painting’ without painting.
CR: The works are abstract and focus on formal elements. How does the element of time and age fit into that?
LB: It adds value. Another level. One recognizes the piano pieces, and then one recognizes the age. It adds to the memory of the objects and perhaps the tension between the value of what was; and destroying it and building something else.
CR: What’s your interest in these formalist, abstract notions, and how do you relate it to the more nostalgic, dusty stuff? What’s your thinking about the relationship of abstraction to content?
LB: Formalism and abstraction are probably quite dusty too! It’s about corresponding shapes to feelings. A square could be a square of people, a rectangle could be a leg, so it’s not intentionally abstract. The composition is about evoking feeling. I could do it with paint but did it with wood and tone and texture and dust. And memory
CR: Did you ever play piano?
LB: Yes. Still do. We have a piano that’s been played on by more than 5 generations.
Playing is very intense, sacred, meditative and private.
CR: The installation is called Cathedral. Is there a strong religious/spiritual impulse behind the work?
I wanted to make something heavy feel light. It was important that the work felt effortless. I was also inspired by the sheer amount of scaffolding I once saw inside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Cathedrals make one look up and feel really small physically and possibly even spiritually, even if one tries to avoid it. But just for a moment things can be arrested in time and you can breath because it is what it is