In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blue – a Shifting Horizon by Virginia MacKenny

Free Fall, 2008, oil on acrylic on canvas, 2 x 1.6m
Blue planet, bluetooth, Big Blue, blue sky thinking, blue screen, blue movies … the list is long so long that when Annie Mollard-Desfour, a linguist with the French national research agency and president of the French Centre of Colour in Paris produced a Dictionnaire des Mots et Expressions de Couleur (Dictionary of Words and Expressions of Colour) the first volume was Le Bleu (Blue) (1998). Reinforcing the importance of the colour a recent edition of New Scientist (Sept 2009) dedicated to the origins of things included blue – not once, but twice. No mention of any other colour occurs in the issue. On Wikipedia’s page on pigment (all pigments) blue is the colour they choose to represent on the page.

The paper explores the continuing fascination with the colour Blue for artists. It aims to briefly contextualise the colour by sketching some of its historical importance and its value both financial and symbolic.  Initially one of the most expensive colours to produce (ultramarine blue was ground from pure lapis lazuli mined in Afghanistan) it only adorned areas of great symbolic importance like the Virgin’s cloak. Yet with the drop in costs of production (a competition was held in the nineteenth century to encourage the invention of a cheaper alternative) it has not lost its allure.

Its importance in the work of more recent artists is attested to by Yves Klein’s invention of Klein Blue and the winner of last years Turner Prize Roger Hiorns choice of the colour when he soused an abandoned apartment with blue copper sulphate solution. Left to develop blue crystals grew in a shimmering surface over every aspect of its interior. Derek Jarman used it as the only colour in his twelfth and final feature film Blue, released just four months before his death.

The blue screen in Jarman’s work is not a backdrop for the projection of other images, but remains ‘blank’ with voice-overs that are a testament to his life. Imageless it remains a place of interior imaginative projection much as does the night sky where people have created pictures by “joining the dots” as it were, possibly making the sky the biggest canvas available to us.
Intriguingly the astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), who came to South Africa to map the stars in the Southern hemisphere invented the cyanotype during his time here using it to record the indigenous flora of the region. Soon usurped by other photographic means the cyanotype persisted becoming a staple of the architect’s office in the form of a blueprint. 

This link with ‘origins’ and sources remains somehow central to the use of blue, whether it is the blue of the ‘void’ or a place of blue screen projection – both empty and endlessly full. Some small reference in this context would be made to my own production and its utilisation of blue in what seems to have become a fundamental element of my palette. 

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