The Educator's New Clothes
South African artist Mark Rautenbach is a very interesting man. He constructs his own materials for knitting out of torn strips of educational documents that he sews together to create a bundle of 'yarn'. As you will see in an image below, the material has a certain fragility and delicate detail that yields into a beautiful material. Mark travels to chosen sites with his carrying case, sits down with his knitting needles sometimes in crowded bustling areas as you see above and sometimes in more remote locations, and knits and knits. Sometimes to the bewilderment of the public whose curiosity sparks the dialogue that his Mark's intent. The dysfunction of the educational system in South Africa and the larger global crisis in educational systems. His interventions spark a passionate chord with the public viewers. Knotwe asked Mark a series of questions about his project "The Educator's New Clothes" and utilizing craft as activism.
Q: Can you describe how knitting became such an integral part of your work?
A: I have been knitting since I was 8 years old.
Years of experience have revealed that knitting [the practice, more than articles produced] makes me calmer and more focused.
Knitting has thus become a ‘technology’ I use to integrate whatever I’m psychologically going through, it assists me in integrating and metabolizing ‘the matter’ [as in “what’s the matter ?”]. It therefore has become a technique I use to process stuff, rather than produce stuff.
It is more a verb than a noun for me.
Q: Do you associate yourself as a craftivist and part of the larger craftivism movement?
A: Apparently what I am doing fits within this movement.
Q: It is so rare in contemporary art to really have a determined movement named and being placed on artists as they work. Does the term craftivism being labeled on your work help encapsulate your projects, hinder or propel them? How has it impacted your work?
A: I am still coming to terms with the term!
I can see how a label can be useful; it can give a theoretical framework to understand common behavior. And as with all labels, it could inhibit and misrepresent.
I think what is important that I state my ‘manifesto’, as it were:
The subtitle of ‘The Educators New Clothes’ is ‘Menditations on The Education System’.
Menditations are the processes and procedures used to process/metabolize matter. These are specifically craft techniques and become ‘technologies of transformation’ when re-contextualized.
The emphasis is on the transformation of matter, as an alchemical process, rather than production of artefacts.
Menditations are a melding of reflection, meditation, mending, making amends, knitting[as in bones/wounds/integrating], binding[as in coagulating]
Craft techniques with their enormous labour intensity are excellent methods to ‘sit’ with the matter, without intention or outcome as a focus [these simply become symptoms].
Craft is produced by the body, through our hands. Anybody and everybody can relate. It can therefore assist in body awareness, and an opportunity to inhabiting a body, and witness a context from this vantage point. Offering relief from the pressure to inhabit virtual [non physical] bodies.
Craft slows me down, it focuses and intensifies attention, expands awareness and develops mindfulness….sounds like an ad for meditation
I have just come from a Design master class and the term Design activism was being bandied about.
I have a deep reaction to it, the same kind of reaction I have toward Design Thinking. Creativity is NOT formulaic neither is activism. Both are profoundly spontaneous, springing from being vitally present in a contexts [which are continually changing]
Q: Can you describe how you chose locations? Do you feel that South Africa particularly inspires you to set up in a particular location?
A: I am South African, and this piece emerges directly from my experience as a South African in this geopolitical context.
The locations relate to my personal day to day meanderings and are also strategically selected in order to experience a wide taste of the variety of South African people and contexts [economically, socially culturally[an attempt to be egalitarian]
Some locations have specific political agendas. spaces which hold cultural and historical significance; e.g. Performing in Soweto, Johannesburg, at the exact spot where Hector Pieterson was shot. [The incident during the 1976 Soweto Riots, school children were protesting about the enforcement of Afrikaans as the official medium of education. During these protests Hector Pieterson ,a school child, was shot dead by police]. http://theeducatorsnewclothes.blogspot.com/2014/03/i-cant-we-can-tour-soweto-pretoria.html
Q: When you engage with members of the public who ask what you are doing or why, how have these conversations impacted you?
A: In profound ways:
By performing publicly a space is defined so that people[public] are encouraged/invited to express themselves. They seem to grow [in self worth] as a result of the experience.
People realise they have something to give/contribute...are included…
I witness how this creates community.
I realise that this is not about me. Although the work has emerged from my peculiar/particular experience , it is about/for everyone/anyone.
This gives me a profound sense of purpose, function, belonging, usefulness and has added to my personal growth.
Q: The images captured by Jeaniene Dekker of you at work knitting with passerby's exchanging with you or becoming blurred forms really accentuate the moment of permanence that you take by sitting and knitting with such concentration. You discuss briefly in your blog the uncertainty that the introduction of documentation and photography bring to your performances. It may not ever be something that you have a determinate feeling towards but are there new ways that you now want to harness the documentation of your work? Or eliminate it all together?
A: I love ‘....moment of permanence..’
In the blog I have discussed my ambivalence and complex relationship with photography and documentation.
Questions which arise:
When does a performance become staged for a photograph?
Without documentation does the performance exist?
False impressions are created through the documentation. [I met with a friend 6 months into the performance and she was under the impression that I had knitted kilometers of fabric! Not so!].
Documentation is something independent of the work existing within its own domain.
I find social media formats, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, very useful and accessible. I am able to share experience and the work immediately, in an apparently democratic way.
The sharing of the work and spreading out to larger audience is fulfilling. It develops a sense of community. It is also useful and gratifying to look back over the ground that has been covered. It exposes patterns and rhythms [themes].
There was an intention to publish a collection of stories and images from the documentation. I no longer think this will happen as TENC is now completed. I’d rather move onto other projects. The immediacy of performance holds more interest for me. I look forward to collaborating with others, and thus spread the load re documentation etc.
Q: You have used crowd funding to help you travel for your projects. The Internet and technology introduce new strategies for artists. How important is technology to your process both in having a mobile post-studio practice where you need to communicate about the work and find support?
A: It is vital. In the projects I construct for students [currently in Surface Design/CPUT] we use any available social media/web based forms of documentation and marketing. Literacy in these languages are vital for, community, conversation and commerce.
Q: What sparked your focus on education and the dysfunction of it as an institution? Do you find it ever challenging to make projects that critique and/or raise awareness about some sensitive politics in education and be a lecturer educating people and working towards your degree?
A: My experience as an educator in the South African [and have become aware of global] education crisis compelled me to DO something. The situation appears critical to me and I have been moved by a sense of urgency.
The critique of the education system may have contributed the project being continually ignored and rejected by the art establishment. The public however have welcomed it enthusiastically.
The work on a personal level addresses my conflicted feeling of inadequacy as an educator working within a dysfunctional system, and those which arise from poor self worth. This piece thus makes [a]mends individually and socially.
Q: I love the bundles of 'yarn' that are actually torn education documents sewn together. They are powerful as objects before you even work with them. Similar to way documentation is a major consideration for your work, do these yarn bundles with their labels have a particular importance to you as an extension of your performance?
A: They are symptoms of the performance which I have become very fond of!
Their significance is the yarn[the narrative] emerging from specific material [the matter]. The story of the matter, the material they are made from.
I make balls of yarn for other people from their material. The ‘technology’ thus transforms their matter and displays their story
E.G. using a friend’s daughter’s school exercise book https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.610156629051907.1073741906.518072368260334&type=3
These balls of yarn have become an accessible product for sale. Words and phrases are available for commission.
Q: Lastly, reflecting back on the evolution of your work, what do you feel has been the biggest catalyst in your career?
A: Being rejected by the South African art establishment and by the political employment legislature currently in place in south Africa.
Through these rejections I was forced to face deep fears and develop some character.
This made me stop asking for permission and looking outside of myself for validation and approval, and simply getting on with the job. I hit the streets, occupied available spaces and started knitting!
To learn more about Mark and follow his projects, visit theeducatorsnewclothes.blogspot.com