Kim Gurney*


Pierre Fouche engages in part with issues of Sexuality but does not want his work labelled for any specific audience, writes KIM GURNEY

I first met Pierre Fouche last year during an open studios night at Greatmore in Woodstock, Cape Town. He was creating a small tapestry, laboriously weaving threads on a self-constructed loom. Another curious visitor declared herself more intrigued by the reverse side of the work, with its cobwebs of interlocked threads, than with the neat and tidy surface image. Her astute observation cut to the core of this artist’s work, which is essentially about undermining the fixity of how we choose to see the world – in particular, the false sense of assurance that domestic portrait photography conveys.

The artist’s exploration moves beyond self-absorption, however. Fouche twists personal subject matter to make a political point. He exposes the underbelly of relations we prefer to delete from memory in favour of a cohesive whitewashed whole. And he manages to achieve this rather surreptitiously: one of his recent portraits of himself and his boyfriend now apparently hangs in a family restaurant in London – much to the artist’s satisfaction.

The work formed part of his latest solo at Bell-Roberts, The distance between us. Fouche digitally manipulated everyday portraits of himself and loved ones into patterns that served as templates, subsequently translated through a labour of love tinged with madness into obsessively created works comprised of thousands of dice, puzzle pieces or interwoven threads. The net effect is a quirky subversion of normativity: an image at once both familiar and disturbing. His handcrafted aesthetic also contradicts a contemporary taste for mass-produced objects, outsourced labour and a general convenience culture – perhaps simultaneously tapping into an increasing counter-trend averse to these very same notions.

Fouche is aware that the rigorous production systems to which he subjects his artworks are like snapshots, another attempt at cropping reality into conveniently managed packages. These strategies inevitably fail at some point or expose an inherent weakness in their artificially imposed formulae. These quirks are accepted as part of the artwork’s reading – as the Greatmore viewer enamoured of the untidy threads discovered. Fouché adds: “It’s almost as if the works carry the scars of their forced creation.”

His latest piece, conducted as part of the fringe event of CAPE 07, extended this engagement with snapshots to the realm of performance. He turned his Observatory studio space into an impromptu stage while mouthing the words to a string of angst-ridden songs about desire, love and loss – themes that recur in his work. According to the artist, pop songs function like snapshots but in a more visceral way. Much of his creative output seems a similar sort of emotional exorcism.
Fouché engages in part with issues of sexuality but des not want his work labelled for any specific audience: “I am really trying to question all kinds of categorisation … There is never an instance where labelling fits perfectly; there is always an individual that doesn’t fit and in a sense we are all those individuals.”

It is therefore apt that Fouché tends to favour mediums often associated with femininity; he is busy swotting up on crochet. “I like working with traditionally gender-bound material,” he says, “and staking my own place in that… just to mess it up a bit.” He adds: “Popular culture of the 90’s had such a nice promise of ambiguity in that men were represented in much more feminised and gender reversed roles… But it seems we are returning to more hyper, more traditional, gender roles where men are expected to be ‘real’ men again, maybe as the result of a crisis in masculinity, instead of just embracing equality. It’s sad and scary to see even within the gay community how suddenly there is such internalised homophobia.”

By March, the artist was already having a busy year that included hanging a tapestry work at ABSA, participating in a Cape Town Festival group show and working on a private commission with sights set on a year-end exhibition 2008. He recently gave up tertiary teaching – at the College of Cape Town – to devote himself full-time to artmaking.

Kim gurney is a Cape Town-based freelance writer and news editor of Art South Africa


*   Reference for this article: Gurney, K. 2007. 'Emotional Exorcism'. Srt South Africa. vol.5, issue4, winter, p56-58