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Between Heart and Sky, Part II

Part II of the 1 hour Q&A by Sean O'Toole with artists Don Albert and Arno Morland joint exhibition at Habitus Loop Gallery, 61 Loop Street Cape Town on Sat 7th October.


Part I is here


The Arrival - Don Albert - 2023


(Audience member): What made you move from Midjourney to paint on that one? (Told You!)


Don: I enjoy doing something that size in paint, but initially I had not really planned to paint for this show. A photographer friend of mine came over and saw some test prints of the AI work that were printed on glossy paper, regrettably, said they looked awful like that, and convinced me to paint some of them rather.


(Audience member): Does Midjourney produce for you an image that is capable of being printed large?


Don: This one is a screenshot from the iPad (points at Everywhere and Nowhere 2, 1.5m x 1m).


Everywhere and Nowhere II - Don Albert - 2023

(Audience member): So it gives you reasonable quality in terms of pixels?


Don: Yes, but I do enhance and massage them in Photoshop. Midjourney is very clever in the way it handles lighting and its output generally, knowing the limitations of the its output. It knows what to present to you. On this image I effected it with a chromatic noise filter to give the impression of it being a photograph. So I did help it, knowing it was going to be printed this size. Some of them cope better than others getting out of the machine.

(Audience member): But what gives it a photographic quality?

Don: In my initial imagining and prompting I was going for that, and then in the addition of chromatic noise and the adding of white border to give the impression of a ‘real’ photo, or photojournalism, hopefully.


Sean: Playing with ChatGPT reminded me of journalism, that it is only as good as the prompts you give it, the kind of questions you ask… What were some of the early disasters in terms of prompting?


Arno: In my experience, it tends towards the stereotypicalwithout clever prompting and blending that is.


Sean: I was very disappointed because I was asking for a dolphin riding a unicorn but I didn’t get that…


(laughter)

(Audience member): I am interested in this “lack of control” that you have both spoken of. Can you both give us an idea of what you start with and how much preconception is there, and how that process runs out?


Don: With me, literally nothing to start with. Almost nothing. For example the four “Events” on the first wall, I was intrigued with what was going on with the fires in Maui and British Columbia, and of course I had a terrible experience with fire in Australia, so I was keen on starting with wild fires as starting point, but then shifted to how to imbue them with a sense of architectonic or cosmic permanence, so I started blend them with other images that had more man-made, meteorological, tectonic and geological structures in them, that gave them this sort of “permanent fluidity” as it were. Not unlike our design process with architecture.


Event 1 - Don Albert - 2023


Event III - Don Albert - 2023


(Audience member): But did you have an idea of the story? The message?


Don: Not really… things also changed and moved through the process. The point at which I came to the concept of superposition and the quantum theory only came into the picture about three weeks into the process, and it continues to evolve. I am not the kind of artist who perfects a technique and then sells that, its just not me. I am always going to be flirting with disaster - its just my nature - I want to ride somewhere I have never been before, and if its dangerous, that’s where I’m most happy…

Arno: Over the last couple of years I have started to develop a kind of meditative practice. When I wake up early in the morning and lie in this quiet meditative space, it often becomes ecstatic, and that is often when images come to me. And I don’t question them. I accept them. I don’t have a sense of the composition at that point, just the basics of the scene, and then word comes. Then its “choose a colour”, or,


(laughter - Arno only has only used two colours in this exhibition)


Arno: … and then I just start making marks and work with that. It’s like looking at the clouds and seeing what forms are in there. Thats why I feel I don’t have a defined agenda or message. And then afterwards, looking at it, I’m just as surprised as anyone else.


berd look at himself - Arno Morland - 2023


Don: I’m the same. I wake up early in the morning, have an idea, and think, why didn’t I think of that before?

(Audience member): You both make it sound very easy, this lack of control. I don’t believe it!


Arno: One of the hardest things is to relinquish control, in art as in life. Easy once you’re done but difficult to get there.



i ride lions - Arno Morland - 2023


(Audience member): The exhibition is titled “Between Heart and Sky”, for me from the heart speaks to the intuitive and artistic aspect of things, and AI seems a more mental exercise, so what is the meaning of “Between Heart and Sky” for each of you?


Don: For me the “heart” side was the innate sentimentality, that nostalgia, that we have for landscape. Thats why my part of the show starts out with the thermometer, (E-Lollipop installation), which references a very sentimental South African movie from the 1970’s that exploits landscape hugely in its narrative. I have a sentimental attachment to landscape, however its also a place of immense trauma. So between heart and sky is the mind - this kind of traumatic terrain where we ask questions - “what does this all mean?”, “who belongs?”, “who doesn’t belong?”, “why has there been so much bloodshed?”, and, “can’t we all just get along in one space and time together?”… So, we brainstormed a joint title because while the work is very different, we also wanted to explore the idea of ‘superposition’ and show that this work could contain disparate ideas and representational modes in the same space, in terms of the artwork themselves, in terms of each independent exhibition, and finally in terms of a joint-exhibition. So there is a kind of fractal way in which the concept is followed through.


Bald Mountain - Don Albert - 2023


Arno: Its Don’s idea, he came up with the title.

Don: We fought about various options for about a week!


Arno: The reason I thought we could work with that title is because the heart part it is about reflecting on our inner lives and the psychic side of things, the art side as it were, and then on the sky part, is the sense of being part of something bigger, a bigger process. Life happens in that interaction between your individuality and your participation in something bigger. That’s why I thought it works! Well done Don!


Don: Well done to you! I was inspired by you!


E Lollipop - Don Albert - 2023


Sean: There is a temperature gauge in the other room (E-Lollipop), so my final question to close, before I thank you, is one of checking the temperature. You both returned to South Africa at a time of, if you are an economist, stagnation, if you are a political writer, very turbulent politics, and, if you are an artist, a time of great possibility. South African art continues to generate a lot of interest. If one is interested in the big picture of the world, it is a time of unsettlement. I am trying to not use the word anthropocene, but there you go… So a simple question in Hip-Hop grammar. Where are you at?


Arno: I came back and just wanted to shoot roots you know, to finally land somewhere, and I chose the Western Cape and thought to myself I would be happy to spend the rest of my life here. But in the last few years things have taken quite a worrying course on many levels in South Africa and I am very affected by what we see on the streets and it upsets me daily. And I don’t know what to do about it to be honest.

Don: I am actually completely happy here. The friction as you call it, the superposition, this living on top of each other, all walks of life. I live just around the corner, I used to live in this neighbourhood before. It’s a little bit like old slippers so I like that. In many ways Cape Town is better than it was when I used to live here 10 years ago. From a climate change point of view, as strange as it sounds, we are a lot more insulated from climate disasters than many other places in the world, that are more developed. I think South Africa’s ability to adapt and survive, because we have so little already, will stand it in good stead. There are examples of when calamities happen where people who have less, they are actually more resilient and are able to innovate and survive better. Of course the electricity crisis is crushing us and causing a huge drain on the economy but from a spiritual, personal and happiness dimension, I have never been happier than here, now. BUT I’M STILL VERY ANXIOUS - about where we are going as a species.



Time Machine - Don Albert - 2023


Sean: There’s a book by Donna Harraway called “Staying with the Trouble” which came out in 2016. Donna is, in wikipedia-terms, a feminist and a post-post-humanist thinker, thinking about how multiple species can inhabit the planet going forward, so let’s end on birds. A couple of years ago writer Jonathan Franzon was here and many people came out to see him speak in Vredehoek, but he wasn’t here to punt his novels but report for National Geographic, because he’s a compulsive birder. He has published a beautiful non-fiction book about birds, and to pick up on Don’s point, he said: If you look at birds and what is happening globally, its a mass-scale extinction, and yet, he was really heartened to report of a vibrance of bird life in the Western Cape. That sort of awkward position is something we can take home to the bank. Those of you who don’t know Don, you can see he is dressed today in a neatly appointed Bauhaus monochrome outfit, but if you see his book SOUND SPACE DESIGN - you will see him in tropical island shirts…

Don: Not very slimming these days…

Sean: Arno has made a long journey from Wits twenty years ago. Congratulations to both of you for sharing your process so candidly, and thank you all for coming on a Saturday especially. Thank you.


EXHIBITION NOW OPEN Mon-Sat . Closes 31st of October.


For private viewings please email don@soundspacedesign.com

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