Monday, 16 September 2019

This beautiful Bellyful Being piece was displayed at the Absa Gallery, Absa Towers North

Every year, between 10 and 16 million tonnes of rubber waste is generated globally. About 270 000 tonnes of that is in Africa. That alone is about 570 fully loaded Boeing 747s – or 1 350 of the world’s largest animal, blue whales.


Despite these statistics, rubber waste isn’t generally given the same attention as plastic waste, which is well-publicised for its role in killing our environment and oceans. It is playing an equally substantial role in environmental pollution, though.


Now, three South African artists are turning some of that waste into art to bring attention to the problem. Elrie Joubert, Pauline Gutter and Liberty Battson – all Absa L’Atelier Art Competition winners – have taken two weeks’ worth of rubber and polyurethane waste from a manufacturing plant in Johannesburg and moulded it into an immersive and sensory experience. 


The Stretch of the Imagination 

TRIPE, the exhibition that will run at the Absa Gallery from 28 July to 13 September 2019, invites you to enter a whole new world. Named both because of the connotations surrounding the word tripe and as a gastronomic delicacy, the exhibition brings to life the very meaning of the word – a world where you can smell the acrid tang of the rubber waste and see and interact with it in all its different forms. 

“The mountainous excess normally hidden from view is now exposed, and shows us a delicatessen of gluttonous devastation, on a platter for all to see in its unfathomable beauty. The artists open discourse, not only showing us this repugnant truth, but offering possibility,” says Karen Brusch, founder of the Free State Art Collective, which all three artists are part of.

A major characteristic of TRIPE is that it was a collaborative effort: Joubert, Gutter and Battson collaborated with Absa, and a group of young students to bring their vision to life. 

As part of the Extended Curriculum Programme at CUT in Bloemfontein, 50 students were taught to combine their artistic ability with technical skill and creative innovation to take a design from artistic conception to completion. The created by-product was shared with the Kopano Centre as part of a community engagement outreach and to show these young people how they can use art to become more entrepreneurial.  


Rubber was chosen as the key medium to develop and hone these skills. More than 100 people were galvanised to put the project in motion, some of whom were differently abled – illustrating that even just one project can have a massive impact on many different groups of people.


Essentially then, the rubber and polyurethane have been transformed into works of art and beauty through creative labour, taking contradiction and tension right into its core. “One is drawn to the work as a creative construction and a display of incredible ingenuity,” adds Brusch. “But at the same time, the omnipresence of the rubber is repellent. And herein lies the monstrous tragedy – this uber world of excess is actually just waste. TRIPE.”  


Turning this waste into works of wonder shows the potential of art to open much-needed discourse and drive sustainability. “This is a cause close to our hearts at Absa Gallery – to not only help provide the platforms and support that African artists need to bring their possibilities to life, but also to champion sustainability through our continued support of the arts,” says Thabo Seshoka, Specialist: Art Curator at Absa Gallery. 


A closer look at the Stretch of the Imagination