Meet the judges 2019: Cate Terblanche | Sasol New Signatures

Meet the judges 2019: Cate Terblanche

Cate Terblanche is Sasol's art curator and will sit on this year's Sasol New Signatures final judging panel.

This is your second year as a judge , what was your biggest takeout from last year’s competition?

As a whole, the exhibition was really exciting and illustrated many of the issues that artists, and society as a whole, are currently dealing with. These range from land issues to gender discrimination and much more. However, I found many of the regional entries had the potential to be winning works, but inevitably the works were rejected either due to the concept not being fully unpacked, or that the craftsmanship was lacking. 

Something else I noticed is the quality of recurring entries received.  Many artists submit the same kind of work year after year. I would really encourage artists not to do this. Firstly, it is rather disrespectful towards the judges to expect them to consider similar works for a competition while tasked with identifying ‘newness’. Secondly, it is the nature of art, as well as the aim of the competition, to constantly challenge boundaries.  If your work has not changed from the previous year, it is not challenging boundaries.

Our world is in constant flux.  Sasol New Signatures has been part of our national landscape for the past 50 years with Sasol being a sponsor for 30 years. How important is this continuity?

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time researching the various aspects of Sasol New Signatures, and what is very obvious is that the influence of the competition goes beyond just the winners and helping them establish their careers. Paging through the catalogues, one comes across so many examples of artists who have established themselves in the art world in very powerful ways.  One can argue whether their success is due to exposure from the competition or due to their own motivation.  My feeling is that it is a bit of both.  The competition provides a platform for emerging artists to have their work seen, but without the hard work and dedication even the most talented artist will not succeed. The Sasol New Signatures Art Competition is a very unique platform for emerging artists and has over the years become one of the ‘must have’ items on an artist’s CV.

As Curator of the Sasol Art Collection you are tasked with acquiring new works. What did you purchase from Sasol New Signatures 2018 and why?

It is important to keep in mind that the works acquired by Sasol need to function in a corporate environment, and this is often the final overriding criteria when it comes to purchasing any artworks.  This means that the works have to be suitable to the working environment, for instance, it is difficult for us to permanently display video works. Sometimes we just don’t have a practical display space for a specific sculpture or a work that needs specialist installation. We also need to take cognisance of the cultural diversity of Sasol’s workforce.  Therefore, works that might be offensive in the workplace would probably not be considered for acquisition, even though they may be award-winning.

One of the works purchased was the Merit Award-winning work by Debbie Fan, Cheque or Savings?  It now hangs at the entrance to the Eatery Restaurant at Sasol Place, and has elicited many conversations from visitors and residents alike, and was chosen not only for its craftsmanship but also the concept.

Have you set an agenda in terms of types of work you are hoping to acquire from the 2019 competition?

Obviously, we have to wait and see what is submitted. I would, however, like to advise artists to set a reasonable asking price for their works. Many visitors to the exhibition go with the intent of buying good quality works by emerging artists, but several works remain unsold due to the exorbitant prices asked. Ensure that your asking price is realistic.

Predicting trends is often a futile process  but are you hoping any themes from last year will be extended?

The themes were so diverse that one cannot really focus on one, but I would like to see artists challenging the use of traditional media (painting, drawing and sculpture) in unconventional ways.

What positives can you identify in the local art scene?

There is quite a move towards emerging artists being mentored by more established artists, both informally and formally as part of residencies, collaborations and mentorships.  It is wonderful to see so many established artists giving back to the community.

VR opens up possibilities in the creative arts. What’s your opinion on technology and the potential impact on the visual arts?

I am personally in two minds about the influence of technology on art.  There has always been a symbiotic relationship between the two.  Some of the most interesting artworks today harness the potential of technology in fascinating ways. Take the recent Sasol New Signatures winner Nelmarie du Preez’s work as an example. Her work uses cutting edge technology while still engaging with a variety of art historical debates.  However, I think technology also allows artists to create works without truly engaging with the concept.  Artists can easily be seduced by visual effects, producing images that are visually interesting, but with no concept informing the works. It is important for artists to harness the potential of technology, and not just to respond to it in a passive manner.

Or do you think the more relevant question is: will creativity transform technology?

I hope so!

Which international art events will you be attending in 2019 and what are you most excited about?

I will once again be attending the Venice Biennale in Italy after the competition.  I’m quite excited to see the South African Pavilion. It’s always wonderful to see the work of South African artists alongside their international compatriots, knowing that their art is worthy of being showcased in the most prestigious of international art platforms.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said  “Every artist was first an amateur” What advice can you share with entrants ...on making the leap from amateur to professional. And what steps are essential for building a career in the visual arts?

Unfortunately, a career in art is not like any other and the ‘normal advice’ for plotting a career is often not helpful. The artist needs to balance several mundane tasks from bookkeeping, to marketing and building a social media presence and networking, all the while trying to stay abreast of trends and trying to produce work, never mind trying to make a living from the sale of art. Often either the everyday duties or the creative process suffers. My advice is to delegate tasks to willing participants wherever possible and focus on creating. Hone your craft firstly.  And remember, there is no such thing as failure, only lessons to be learnt!