Bulbous and sickly-looking forms installed at The Point of Order during the Situation exhibition in 2016 both enticed and disgusted viewers. Having encountered the work of emerging artist, Kyra Papé for a while within the Joburg art scene, I decided it was time to have a chat and try to get a deeper understanding of a studio process which puts her as the artist at a rather serious health risk.
Could you elaborate on your use of sugar as a material/medium that fuels your practice?
My initial engagement with sugar was a rather intuitive response while making. I was busy making a sculpture in the kitchen, using a blowtorch, and I decided to grab the pot of sugar. It has been a part of my process since. Its complexity in meaning in my practice however has developed considerably over the years. Sugar, as a material, embodies a deeply personal and vulnerable corporeal relationship that I have with food. At the root of it all I have an extremely sensitive body with numerous allergies and intolerances. My very first allergy was and remains to this day, lactose, the sugar found in milk. Over the years, my body’s increasingly become more vulnerable to other materials, namely: sugar – (Lactose, fructose and sucrose), dairy, gluten and sulphonamides. Sugar abjects me, my relationship with it is violent and aggressive yet, I am obsessed with it. I am fascinated by it as a material in all its facets and continuously explore its alien existence with my body on a daily basis.
As an artist working with sugar, once the work has been made and is exhibited outside of yourself, what sort of contexts are you placing the works in and what sort of titles are given to them? I’m trying to get an understanding of what sort of inroads you give to a viewer to understand your work within the broader context of culture and society, apart from the particular narrative you have personally with sugar?
The main inroad I use is through installation and the relation of the works physically to the viewer. I allow the viewer to touch my sculptures. I find their disturbance of the clean white spaces quite intriguing. As my sculptures are messy and sticky, often an unwanted aspect in a gallery space, I find them to be absorbing of people’s need to touch in a ‘no touching’ space. The sensorial aspect of the sugar in my odd creations invites the viewer into the space of the work however remains repulsive to them simultaneously. The viewer’s own embodiment prompts a push and pull with the forms through the uncanny relation between themselves and the forms.
To be a ‘child’ again, desperate to touch this ‘thing’ that you are told you are not allowed to but are now actually allowed to, draws me in as a maker into understanding the role of material. While the works are rooted in a complex personal embodiment, sugar is a material understood cross-culturally to carry meaning in varied contexts, although I never overtly state that the works are sugar, it is always in the labelling of the works. Essentially I am through my own personal avenue of exploration, inviting the viewer to experience and explore the complexity of sugar, nevertheless it is their individual experiences of the sculptures and prints that carry the most nuanced meaning for me.
What has your research component in your Master’s focused on and how has that had an impact on your studio practice?
My masters focuses on material in relation to sculpture and printmaking. I am engaging with the validity of the use of an autobiographical and auto-ethnographical approach as a means of research through the production of a creative body of work. I am also exploring the role of the material, the object and the thing, and how their existences challenge boundaries. I have situated my focus on the process of making less. It is vital for me that the sugars impermanence leaves the sculptures in states of flux, never really being complete. The research component of my work has challenged me to be more critical of my own presence in the making and to claim the personal as a necessary avenue in why I do what I do. Vulnerability is not so easily faced and the theoretical process in relation to the work has allowed me as a maker to explore on a deeper level the nuances of my making.
What do you see the relationship between drawing and sculpture to be in your own practice and what sort of role do your drawings have?
The drawings are a fairly new exploration in my practice and I am still engaging with their role in terms of my sculptures. Practically, they are exploring further the behaviour of ink and sugar when the boundaries are disturbed that I have been engaging with. The main pull for me at the moment however is the alien-like quality of the forms. I am intrigued by how their delicacy invites the viewer intimately into the drawing, yet maintains a peculiarity.