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Recycled monsters poke the conscience

Published Jul 7, 2015


Francois Knoetze found inspiration for his sixth trash creature, as with most of the costumes in the Cape Mongo series, by chance.

“I walked into this room and there were VHS tapes all over the floor,” said Knoetze.

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Rooting around a Woodstock recycling centre, he got to thinking about how, often, you would record a significant moment in your life and then ended up taping over it, creating a weird overlay between family life and random commercial content.

“It wipes over these moments that you can’t get back,” said Knoetze.

The 26-year-old performance artist, film-maker and sculptor created a series of wearable sculpture costumes and documented his monsters’ travels around Cape Town

While the costumes – made from glass, cellphones, VHS tape innards, cardboard, plastic and tins – are intricate and detailed, they will also degrade over time, but it is the videos which have the longer shelf life. Eventually, Knoetze will put them online, but for now they are screened as part of an installation exhibition.

The idea for the installation evolved from the schism he noticed between what his reporter brother told him about investigating farmworker protests in De Doorns and glossy magazine pictures of wine farms: “This elegant and refined image is so starkly in contrast to the life of the person who makes the wine. If you had to drink the wine next to a pile of broken glass, or next to some-one working on the vineyard, you wouldn’t want to be part of the image,” he mused.

Knoetze relocated back to Cape Town at the end of 2012 to complete his Masters of Fine Arts degree at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Arts after finishing a BA at Rhodes University. Driving down from Grahamstown through the farmlands he saw old farming equipment and wondered what stories the tractors and digger loaders could relate: “Telling history through objects is not just the history of the object, but also that of the industry or the space, the social relationships of the thing as the thing that makes links between people.”

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So, when he started working on the videos, it was to tell the life cycle of specific things in reverse – with the creature (him in the costume) rising up from the dump where it has been deposited (“and where I found them”) and then tracking its movements back to where it was consumed and manufactured.

As the creature travels, Knoetze also includes history and context to make sense of Cape Town’s spatial development. Originally born in Cape Town, it felt like revisiting a childhood home he only vaguely remembers.

The first costume he created was the glass one, which took about two months to create, and they started working on the first video in April 2013. (They being Anton Scholtz as cameraman on the metal, plastic and paper videos, Catherine Trollope on camera for glass, Kaelo Moefe performing in the VHS costume and BOON and Daniel Gray doing sound design.)

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At first glance the videos are about recycling, which is part of the message, but the idea Knoetze is trying to highlight is to make people really look at just what they identify as waste: “It depends on where you are coming from and where the object is placed. A tin can be waste for one person, but a form of money for the next.”

Using cellphones for one costume stemmed from an observation he made as he started walking into any place where there were people, who’d whip out their mobile devices to film the monster: “Because if they didn’t do that, it didn’t happen,” Knoetze rolled his eyes.

Getting onto the main programme for the National Arts Festival is a big step towards validating his work on the commercial circuit, but Knoetze is more interested in getting the work seen by the broadest number of people, like maybe taking the videos to schools: “It’s easy to pitch up with a flashstick and say:‘I can show it to them and start a conversation.’ Which is the point. Cape Town needs to look at itself. We do a lot of patting ourselves on the back, and we say Cape Town is so beautiful and look at how well the DA is doing and all the bad things have nothing to do with the nice bits. But, the wealthy areas could not exist if there weren’t people living in squalor. We throw our trash in the bin and it disappears... but these things are not going away.

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“Yes, we should be finding ways of living more sustainably, but there is a massive historic inequality that also needs to be dealt. We cannot expect the monsters of the past to just wither. They are not going away until we acknowledge them.”


Cape Mongo screens on the hour at the Commemoration Church Hall on Bathurst Street, daily, during NAF until Sunday.

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