On an upturned bed frame in Conradie’s studio, a repurposed piece of furniture is laden with brass, wooden, ceramic, and porcelain objects. A bricolage of materials – somehow both clashing and harmonious – sits securely, but if disturbed, threatens to produce a cacophony of sounds.
The found and collected objects, all reminiscent of the trinkets that decorate working- and middle-class homes across South Africa – including other postcolonial societies – are used to form and inform the sculptures, prints, and paintings in this body of work. These works reflect on belonging in a society that is undergoing rapid and often unstable change in the context of the home.
By sourcing materials from diverse households, Conradie locates the aesthetic threads that tie the often invisible domestic lives of South Africans together. For instance, the role of porcelain ornaments in interior decorating and how they define the sacredness of death and religious ceremony. All of these are being transformed by the tastes of a new generation of cultural groups that were once forced to live separately. These works, therefore, become simultaneously nostalgic and optimistic reflections of a material history that is being re-negotiated.
While Conradie pastes objects together that cannot typically be fused, she shows how the minute aesthetic elements that characterise our various cultural belongings can become intimately fixed. Domestic lives that were once damaged by an oppressive history – forced removals, the prohibition of racial mixing – become sites where beauty is made and remade.
Yet, this beauty does not neglect the fragility of contemporary South African life. Conradie’s aesthetic is also an ode to morbid realities, of destitution and despair, through flower arrangements of caskets and graves. Memorabilia that symbolise fleeting lives are thus moulded into vibrant permanence. In this sense, Conradie’s body of work negotiates the painful elements of the past that persist alongside a precarious democratic life, while also acknowledging continuous social and cultural change.
© 2019 Stephané E. Conradie