RE-PRESENTING POWER PLAYS IN ART – CARMEN FORD
GRAPHIC ARTIST AND DESIGNER, CARMEN FORD, MAKES USE OF TRADITIONAL PRINT TECHNIQUES, MIXED-MEDIA WORK COMBINING PRINTMAKING AND FLAT GOUACHE COLOUR-BLOCKS, AS WELL AS DIGITAL PRINTING. FORD’S WORK IS NOT ONLY AESTHETICALLY PLEASING, IT ALSO REFLECTS AND QUESTIONS THE COUNTRY’S MILITARY LEGACY, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME BEING CUNNINGLY PLAYFUL AND EVOCATIVE.
Ford’s interest in drawing and painting began at an early age. She recalls painting with water on bricks and watching the images evaporate. “I also remember an evening sitting outside and watching a fire burn on the mountain. My mom was teaching me how to draw flames on old type-writer paper [the kind with the perforated edges] my dad would sometimes bring home from work. Art was also a favourite subject throughout school,” she adds.
Studying fine art after school was a risky move, but it was difficult for her to imagine herself in a corporate career, so she took the chance, only applied for a degree in fine arts, and was accepted.
In 2013, Ford moved to the history-steeped town of Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape. “It’s a tiny little coastal town. I had a hard time finding work that could support the artist side of me. I worked for the National Arts Festival [in Grahamstown] a couple of times and gained some really good experience. In 2015 I did a
short course in graphic design through GetSmarter at UCT. I can honestly say that it’s been a game-changer in that it has helped me earn a small living as a freelancer and it’s given me extra valuable skills to apply in my art practice.”
Ford’s most recent work draws from her family archive – a collection of her grandfather’s super-8 footage featuring the “power apparatus of the apartheid state”. Ford used the looped images of powerful flying machines and politicians as inspiration for her quirky drawings and prints. The helicopter and other military aircraft are a central motif in her work. She describes these machines as “metaphors for political systems of power”.
“It’s hard to pinpoint how flying machines, specifically helicopters, became a subject in my work. I feel like I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years and that its appearance in my work happened organically.I recently started using it as minor references for social and political progress in present-day South Africa, as well as leadership ambiguities. Aircraft have also become a metaphor for abstract political systems of power that try to regulate happenings around us.
“A few years ago my grandfather’s super-8 films were converted to digital format.About 99 % of the footage is family-related.The converted footage doesn’t appear chronologically or in any order that makes sense. Randomly, in-between, there are these jarring,
out-of-place clips of different aircraft. One of these clips is of a helicopter landing, dropping men dressed in formal military uniform off at what looks like a trooping the colour event, and taking off again.There is no sound accompanying the footage so the mystery and feel of the imagery is both frightening and eerie,” she adds.
However, this power apparatus of the apartheid state is not the main subject in Ford’s artworks. “I would rather say that it was a departure point that triggered my interest in flying machines and their different associations throughout history. It can stand for industrial, economic and technological progress, and at the same time these are machines built for terror and war, but they also carry the potential to bring relief. When one considers all these simultaneously in a socio-political context, it’s quite overwhelming.”
MARRYING DESIGN & ART
Ford explains that her time at university gave her a really good understanding of printmaking and the different processes and techniques involved. “Both practices [printmaking and design] are quite similar in that there’s a lot of trial and error and proofing in the process.There’s also an intrinsic connection or relationship between the two when one considers the history of the printing press, so in my mind they go together really well. Poster art and propaganda material from historical socio-political movements around the world is a really good example of this relationship,” Ford says.
As the subject of her recent work includes aircraft, she explains that she started reading up about the symbolism of aircraft in Soviet-era propaganda posters and it seems they were used to signify progress.“I still need to look into this further, but the idea excites me and it is generating a lot of creative possibilities that I’d like to work through.”
Ford explains that as a creative, her interest lies both in the printmaking medium and graphic design.“My approach to creating an image is as a printmaker and a designer. There’s definitely a struggle between having a finished print to be defined as ‘fine art’ and a print to be labelled as ‘designed’ material, but the tension here is great.The designer in me likes everything balanced in terms of line and colour and contrast, and the process of printmaking
naturally lends itself to these elements of composition.”
Ford’s work has been featured in a number of local art fairs, including The Turbine Art Fair, FNB Joburg Art Fair and the Joburg Fringe. In 2016, she was a finalist in the David Koloane Award Mentorship Programme.
For more information on Carmen Ford, visit her gallery www.gunsandrain.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Guns & Rain focuses on contemporary fine art from Southern Africa and represents and explores work by emerging as well as established artists. The gallery will soon be opening a newly-renovated space in Parkhurst, Johannesburg.
Ford describes her work as deeply influenced by South African protest posters and Soviet propaganda material, and she is ultimately concerned and amused by the “bizarreness of leadership”.