“I can’t help but work in installation & multiples” – in conversation with Hennie Meyer

When he was a young Rotary exchange student in Australia, the South African artist Hennie Meyer, took a course in ceramics simply because it was the only option available to him as the other courses were fully subscribed. The move proved to be serendipitous, as he fell in love with clay which provided him the requisite language to articulate his reflections on life. As Meyer somewhat deprecatingly says, “Since I cannot write nor sing, ceramics proved to be the means with which I could express myself”. He spent a year on the wheel, training as a studio potter and, thus the notion of roundness and re-production was set at an early stage.

Thirty-something years later, Meyer continues to work within the genre of the studio potter, producing small items for domestic use – but with the addition of another dimension to the studio production narrative. The domestic vessels he creates are used as elements in a variety of installations, both within the walls of the gallery, and outside of it. Meyer successfully sets out to achieve an expansiveness that challenges the comfortable domesticity of his vessels, by grouping his pots in different configurations. He also utilizes them as discrete elements in expanded works, including land-art interventions. This opening up of a new kind of ceramic discourse that transcends the mud walls of studio pottery meets Meyer’s aim, which is to rise above the conceptual limitations of 20th Ccentury studio pottery, while also paying lip service to its aesthetic and ethical principles.

Meyer’s use of the multiple subsumes his interest in the inter-relationship of functional objects on each other. In 2008 he exhibited at the Klein Karoo Art Festival and used a jug as the single element in a floor installation, with individual vessels functioning as pixels in a printed image. “Every jug in this installation fulfills its purpose as a good functional object. It can hold liquid, pour; can be held easily in spite of having no handle. In the presentation of the installation this traditional function is destroyed. It allows the viewer to see the jug as a totally new object stripped of its usual function” (Meyer 2008, translation by the author).

The most notable was Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, where Meyer installed nine thousand cups ... to spell out the numbers 466 64, Mandela’s prison number and the year of his imprisonment.