“The mediums I choose to work with are mostly inherently difficult to control and predict,” Morné Venter answers. Yes, his new solo exhibition is called A Flesh Coloured Mess, and there’s a definite sense of messiness to his work, but a strong aspect is also a sense of tangible ordering or “taming” of the unpredictable mediums Venter works in.
“My favourite medium is ink, and it is probably the most fitting example of that. I have managed to find ways to direct the mediums, but only to an extent. I use these mediums in wild, erratic ways at the start of my process. I often try to make uncontrolled marks and search for unexpected ways of applying the medium to paper at the start. Then afterwards I try to pull a coherent image out of the messes I have created.”
“I guess this process, whether intentional or not, can be viewed as a commentary on the theme of messiness. I think by showing attempts to control the mediums, you inherently showcase when that doesn’t happen. On some metaphorical level that can probably be linked to how human beings try and control their own messes. No matter how hard you try, a bit of it always escapes. But let me also be honest: I don’t create with this communication in mind.”
Messiness seems to be an overall, career-spanning theme for Morné. In 2015, his first solo exhibition was titled Speak in Messes – so I asked him whether messiness is an inseparable aspect of his identity.
“When I titled my exhibition way back in 2015 I don’t think I quite realised how significant the word ‘mess’ and the philosophy of messiness (if I can be so bold) is to my work. I kept the word ‘mess’ in my new title in order to start building a sort of mythology for my work. I can see myself creating variations of that in future. I guess I would like people to see the word mess and associate it with my work – positive or negative.”
“On some level, I sometimes want people to look at my work and frown, wondering why this is on a wall.”
“I find it intriguing to make art that offends people sometimes. I want people to be intrigued and disgusted or disturbed – the feeling you get from seeing an accident and then realising that you too are only a thin skinned vessel that can be penetrated at any time.”
“But truthfully, I just want to make you feel something – whatever it is.”
And based on his works, I get the sense that those feelings (whatever they are) are intended to be a consequence of intimate introspection inspired by the artwork .
“I live my own life in a state of introspection and self analysis,” he confirms, “so I guess it is only natural that this approach will filter into my work. I think (or rather I hope) every person that has ever felt compelled to buy an artwork recognised an aspect of themselves in the piece. I definitely feel that I would like to prompt people to consider their own existence through my work. Even if it is just a recognition of a feeling they once had. That sounds very lofty and pretentious but it seems to be what appeals to people in my art.”
“I think it also helps that my style can vary quite drastically. This improves the odds that different people will find different reasons to connect to my work. I used to try and find this connection by using words, but lately I have been trying to do it through imagery instead. I think this opens the work up much more for the type of connection I am seeking with the audience.”
These sentiments – of sparking some emotion within a viewer – is contrasted by some of the more nihilistic aspects of Venter’s works.
“My work certainly does intend to reflect ideas of the inherent meaninglessness of our experiences and our emotions,” he says, “I think it is exactly that specific perspective that actually sets people free to allow themselves to feel emotions we would characterise as negative or unwanted. If nothing matters or has meaning, you can feel whatever you want. There is oddly a sense of hopefulness in that.”
“If nothing matters it doesn’t matter that you can’t be your best self all the time. I think to an extent this is why a lot of my work focuses on those unwanted emotions.”
“But truthfully, I guess I am also just intrigued by the vague horror that is implied by a nihilistic worldview. The fact that the things we tend to give a lot of weight to or hold in high regard – our experiences and emotions – don’t necessarily mean anything on a universal scale or even make sense. Our suffering and our joys are simply things with no higher purpose. That is interesting and terrible.”
“I do think some aspects of my personal view on the world is reflected in this approach. People make very little sense most of the time.”
“First off, I wanted to explore a bit more of horrific angle in my work for this show. I think that the Lovecraftian idea of cosmic horror is to an extent probably the truest and purest form of horror. Horror is not about providing reasons for why things happen – often the greatest horror comes from not understanding why things are the way they are. It’s the horror of the abstract – the things we don’t understand.”
“My work for this exhibition taps into cosmic horror exactly because it reflects an existential philosophy that I find intriguing. However, I like to think I subverted the idea of cosmic horror to reflect on the human in a more intimate manner. The abstractness comes from inside the human himself – the stories we tell ourselves and the way we interpret our lives.
“On a base level my work is always about human experience and thus the only thing you need to connect to my work is to be a human yourself.”
A Flesh Coloured Mess is Morné Venter’s sophomore solo exhibition, hosted at No End Contemporary Art Space in Linden, Johannesburg. The exhibition will launch on Wednesday 22 February 2017, and will remain open to the public for approximately 2 weeks.