BURCHELL singing in the new.

Author:Andrews, Beverly
Position:MODERN ART - Jenna Burchell - Interview

African artists were once dismissed by the international art community as novelty Figures but not any more, they are now some of the most dominant figures on the International arts scene, known for standing at the cutting edge of innovation. Beverly Andrews spoke to leading South African artist, Jenna Burchell.

Jenna Burchell's work escapes easy classification since much of it incorporates traditional techniques with the use of modern technology. She is perhaps most famous for her 'singing rocks', which literally emit musical sounds when you stand close to them.

Speaking to New African about her early development, South African Burchell states: "Art was a welcome compulsion from the very beginning. One of my earliest memories is of looking up at my mother who was writing a note while talking on the phone at home; the movement of her hand was so fascinating to me.

"During preschool I would stand in front of the easel and just paint, not listening to anyone telling me to stop or to paint something that was representational like a cat, a dog, or a house.

"It was much later that my language of working with technology developed. I was a young student at university and I was naturally struggling with my family being so far away: they had moved to the UAE. We spent a lot of time communicating using technologies like phone calls and messages. These allowed us to connect despite our real world divide. Generally when people think of technology they think of cold, blue light and hard-edged steel, but I don't see it this way: over time I came to see technology as something warm and loving. It had a glow to it: a safety in it."

Burchell goes on to state: "It was natural for me to emotionally express myself through technologies in my art. For me, things like circuitry, soldering irons, and microcontrollers were the equivalent of canvasses, brushes and paints. I found myself experimenting with different materials, industries and knowledge systems.

"Where I lacked a skill set, I would seek out collaborators to teach me and work with me. I became aware in my honours year that the way I was working did not comfortably sit into any existing discipline of words, frameworks, or methods in the historical or contemporary art world, especially in South Africa at the time. So, I found myself making up my own language of method statements, processes and ways of communicating my practice."

She says in the first 10 years after she graduated from university, she took...

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