Purgatorium – Art in Weaning


In:In the press

“Imagine my amazement when I walked into the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg last week to see a massive replica of an EasyWean NoseRing. The 1.5 m NoseRing is the main feature of South African artist, Pauline Gutter’s, current Art exhibition called Purgatorium,” says Judy Richardson of EasyWean.

With Pauline Gutter’s farming background the large sculptural piece, Purgatorium, provides the inaugural assertion of the work’s governing purgatorial theme. This work is a blown-up version of a spiked plastic nose ring that is used for the weaning of calves — an alternative to the formerly routine practice of physically separating calf and dam into different camps/paddocks.

In his essay in the catalogue of the exhibition, Professor Dirk van den Berg of the Department of History of Art and Image Studies, at the University of the Free State, explains Purgatorium as the lived endurance of stress; a temporary condition of torment and suffering. The harsh experience of withstanding and coping with anguish and uncertainty serves to foster growth towards maturity and self-reliance, advancing towards a degree of empowerment and independence. The distress of purgatory is understood through the exhibition in a full-bodied and earth-bound weaning context.

Pauline Gutter has used the EasyWean NoseRing to depict the stress that she sees in the farming communities in South Africa, as well as her own trajectory against the odds, from a Free State farming childhood to her L’Atelier residency at the Cité Internationale de Arts in Paris, and the feelings associated with her homecoming on returning to South Africa.

Judy Richardson explains that Purgatory is seen as an in-between state, and encapsulates the stress of change. It should be viewed as something positive, even inevitable. Weaning is a temporary condition of stress. Pauline’s use of EasyWean as a metaphor for managing change reflects the intensely personal and apparently contradictory process of growing through difficult life experiences. Things are often not what they seem.

“At face value, the high-tech, spikey NoseRing is the conduit to taking a calf through an essential process of weaning it off its mother. However, crucially, it allows this to happen without breaking the calf/cow bond. The motivation behind EasyWean is to remove, or at least reduce, the inevitable stress of weaning in livestock.”

“All creatures live in communion with others. To be held in the security of positive relationships – calves with cows; children to their mothers, extended families, communities and their country – is the glue that helps us navigate times of stress and uncertainty. These bonds give us the confidence to cope. As such, from an artist’s perspective, the EasyWean NoseRing is a symbol of how to positively navigate one’s journey to maturity and self-reliance.”