A painter has won the Turner Prize for the gradual process of layering one colour over another. She says, “The forms don't stand for anything else, they don't symbolise anything or describe anything outside the painting. They represent themselves.” Now they represent £25,000.
She's living in London painting abstracts always the same size. No source material. Just from scratch she says. I work from scratch too. I once spent four straight months underground, living in the bowels of abandoned mines, scratching out nuggets of gold. That was worth R80 000.
They say her work marks a departure from the more outlandish works to have scooped the prize in recent years. The last painter to win filled his canvas with elephant dung. And for the two years before this, a man dismantling a shed, building a boat from it, and turning it back into a shed, and the creed of a lightbulb going on, then off, then on, then off, then on, then off. Installation art they call it.
How's this for outlandish installation: You have to sleep on rocks, it's really hot and the humidity is very high. The air we work with is full of dangerous gases and the places we work in are very dangerous for rockfalls. Always. It's like being in jail, with no natural light.
I work with no water, little food, braving searing heat and poisonous fumes to get our gold. She creates with oils and acrylics. She begins with no pre-conceived notion of the end result. We call ourselves "Zama Zama" and we try our luck. She pitches the rational against the intuitive. We set booby traps and homemade bombs to keep the police away.
If I took a gas can and put a homemade bomb into it, and then took the homemade bomb out again leaving just the gas can, would they give me an art prize? Yoko Ono came to present her with the prize.
Her studio is in London. Her paintings are at the Tate. My studio is the G-Hostel. The police raided it recently to take my work away—over five tonnes of gold dust in the last two raids.
She uses 48 x 38cm canvasses to create a form that plays on the painting’s physical surface and yet remains embedded within the structure of the painting itself, just like the gold we spy in the rocks. We use pestles to crush these rocks, then use a "penduka" to spin the remains with iron balls and mercury. This grinds it down into gold dust.
When she's done, she names each picture from a dictionary of first names and then hangs them in gallery. They say you can see the relationships between that have been migrating while she has been working simultaneously on them. The paintings, she says, become congruent with themselves.
Once we have our dust, we wash it with water and mercury to form a silver amalgam. Then we burn it with a cutting torch to form the gold nuggets. The mercury poisons us. It seeps through our skin to attack our brains and kidneys. But who cares. The buyers give us about R100 a gram.
She gets nominated for solo exhibitions at all over Europe, her paintings intimate and compelling notes to enrich the language of abstract painting. We are likely to die down in the mine. And if we do, we leave the corpse in a shaft lift with a note containing his family's contacts.
A Guardian news story on the announcement of the winner of the Turner Prize, which seems to have disappeared from the Guardian website. It was dated 5th December 2006.
Tate Britain intro to Tomma Abts.
"SA gold pirates risk all in pillaging mines"
in South Africa's Mail and Guardian weekly on 10 December 2006.
As a mashup, this piece has its own narrative voice. There was something so passé about the artist's quote in the opening paragraph, it irked me. The gold pirates article seemed to put it into perspective. So I decided to mash them.