Artifacts is an on going series of loosely associated collectables begun with a presentation of five unrelated pieces for the 2003 ARCO art fair in Madrid, Spain.
Each of the ARCO artifacts was accompanied by a short text (reprinted below) that I hoped would give the chosen found object some contextual significance with perhaps a sub-text—a story that was greater than it’s original intended purpose.
I was struck by how in many ways the artifacts operated as appropriated ‘art objects’, that is designed and crafted by other artists and hobbyists. Implicit was the unseen, unnamed author behind each work. For me these were not just found objects, but found art works.
Significantly, it was in the re-framing of these objects where their new content was revealed. I approached the political nature of the objects in a manner that appeared to be detached. My idea was to simply present this group of objects and allow for the rather oblique narrative thread to evolve.
In some ways these works were a continuation of investigations I had begun with my Stamp Collection and Newspapers installations. With these my central interest had been in the collection and display of politically loaded cultural artifacts with a special focus on propaganda. While both the Stamp Collection and the Newspapers were conceived each as singular comprehensive installations, the new body of work from the Artifacts series was looser and less homogenous. That is each of its parts could easily be displayed separately. In this respect this body of work referenced my earlier display case series at the ICA in Johannesburg in 1993. This exhibition included displays containing artifacts from my South African youth including: my Hardy Boys book collection, a pair of Doc Martens shoes, some playing cards from the board-game Clue, model aeroplanes, the first stamp collection and photos of my parents house being renovated.
For the exhibition at ARCO I presented:
1) a collection of 98 non-sports collectors cards called “Enduring Freedom”,
2) a pair of framed model guns (M-16/AK47),
3) a South African, beaded AIDS pin (AIDS Symbol with US flag),
4) two Time magazines, one dating from August 1945 the other from 2002,
5) a rare South African stamp called “The Word of God” issued in 1988.
ARCO ACCOMPANING TEXT
“The Word of God”
Issued on November 19th, 1987 this South African stamp, titled “The Word of God” was one of four commemorating the Bible Society of South Africa. The stamp shows the name of God in Hebrew and in Greek on a blue background. Originally these stamps were supplied to various post offices in the Republic before the date of issue, but they were subsequently withdrawn in response to objections from the Jewish Community for whom the use of God’s name on a commercial product was considered blasphemous. Despite the Post Offices being instructed to withdraw the stamp, well over 1,500 copies were sold by smaller Post Offices over the counter. The remainder of these stamps are believed to have been officially destroyed in Pretoria. The stamp is extremely rare and despite having a slight crease, is highly collectible.
I purchased these at a small collectibles, antique shop in a suburb of Durban, South Africa. They are hand-made model guns made by an unknown craftsman. They were displayed together and likely constructed as a pair. One represents the Russian-made AK-47 rifle and the other its American counterpart, the M-16.
I bought this pin in Durban, South Africa, at an AIDS clinic where women with AIDS work to produce them. This Zulu beadwork pin is in many respects typical of what has become a common souvenir purchase of visitors to the Durban Beachfront —the site of the World AIDS Conference in 2000. Usually these pins depict the AIDS ribbon and sometimes the South African flag. This one was quite unusual in that it depicted the United States flag. South Africa has the highest AIDS rate in the world with one in four people infected.
While in a thrift store, I found an old set of Time magazines dating from the end of the Second World War (1945). I was particularly drawn to the abstract design of the August 20 issue, which stood apart from the other issues of the magazine from that period, which each featured a portrait of a newsworthy individual. Significantly the magazine details the Japanese surrender and the dawning of the Nuclear Age after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Recently I was at the checkout counter in a food store and came across a Time Magazine with Osama Bin Laden on the cover. Although issued 57 years apart, I was struck by how similar the two were in design.
I was doing some teaching in Baltimore, Maryland last year and a couple of my students showed me some cards that they had purchased from their local CVS pharmacy. The cards were manufactured by Topps Company, Inc, and they, like the sports-hero cards, are usually collected by kids. Some time later I searched various stores trying to find them again, but it seemed as if they had been sold-out or withdrawn. I eventually found this set in a small store that specialized in card-collecting in Richmond, Virginia.
from notes by Siemon Allen, 2003