Paul Emmanuel | Transitions Multiples

Paul Emmanuel | Transitions Multiples

'Transitions Multiples' opened for the first time in South Africa as the Featured Artist Special Project at the FNB Joburg Art Fair in 2011 presented by Gallery AOP. The international debut exhibition opened in the same year at the Goya Contemporary Gallery, Baltimore, USA.

'Transitions Multiples' forms part of Emmanuel’s critically acclaimed 'Transitions' project and consists of a series of five hand printed lithographs and an award winning artist’s film, '3SAI: A Rite of Passage'. Emmanuel started working on the five large-scale hand coloured lithographs in 2009, drawing on concepts embedded in and debates emanating from the richly layered Transitions drawings (Spier Contemporary Collection), expanding and intensifying his focus on the liminal aspects of selected transitory stages of manhood. He explores shifting male identities in a post-colonial society by examining the rituals and rites of passage that mark the passing of one life phase into another, or more specifically, the spaces between these transitions.

The lithographs were printed in Emmanuel’s Johannesburg studio on a press imported from Takach Press Corporation, New Mexico, USA. Working on a large flat limestone coated with a layer of black ink, he used the subtractive manière noire (“black method”) printmaking technique to create the images, scratching into the black ink ground with a blade, methodically working from dark to light, and hand colouring them afterwards. Each of the five lithographs is made up of a sequence of three images, printed separately and then glued together with archival glue to form a triptych.

The fourteen minute film, '3SAI: A Rite of Passage', is written and directed by the artist with an original soundtrack by Wilbert Schubel. This non-narrative short film features documentary footage of the head shaving of new recruits at the Third South African Infantry Battalion (3SAI) in Kimberley, South Africa. These images are interspersed with time-lapse sequences of the Gariep Dam and a land art installation entitled 'Lightweights' (2007, Topfontein Farm, Free State).

'3SAI: A Rite of Passage' has won a number of international film awards, namely Best Short Film in the 4th Africa-In-Motion International Short Film Competition Edinburgh, UK (2009) and Best Experimental Film on the Sardinia International Film Festival, Sassari, Italy (2009). In 2011 it was nominated for Best Experimental Film at the 9th In the Palace Short Film Festival in Bulgaria. The film was also officially selected for nine international film festivals. Art Source South Africa are managers of Emmanuel’s 'Transitions' project.

Artist’s statement:

"... copying my own photographic recordings of transient moments in a vain attempt to uncover what really happened ...

In late 2004 I was exploring how the military influenced and perpetuated notions of masculinity in South Africa. One morning, while thinking about moments of change, I decided to photograph an actual military recruit head shaving while it was happening – to witness to an unfolding drama. I discovered that there were only two remaining military bases in South Africa which still perform this obligatory ‘rite of passage’ – one in Oudtshoorn and the other at the Third South African Infantry Battalion (3SAI) in Kimberley.

With permission from the Officer-in-Command I photographed head shavings of new recruits of the January 2005 intake at the base. I remember feeling apprehensive of what I would find. I did not do military service. I only had references to military experiences told to me by my older brother and friends, who described their head shaving experiences of the apartheid military regime of the 1980s – their stories of feeling dehumanised, lots of shouting, indifference, bigotry and fear.

Instead, I found a very different setting ... quiet lawns with well-tended flower beds full of roses; lines of recruits waiting patiently. No shouting. No authoritarianism. No evidence of the violent breaking down of the human spirit. Compared with the horror stories related to South Africa’s past, the equanimity of the scene was arresting. I was spellbound.

These liminal moments of transition, when a young man either voluntarily – or is forced to – let go of one identity and take on a new identity as State Property with an assigned Force Number, prompted me to ask many questions: What was I actually witnessing? What is a “Rite of Passage” and how have similar “rituals” helped to form and perpetuate identities and belief systems throughout history? Why was I so powerfully drawn to and transfixed by these dramatic spectacles of subtle change and moments of suspended possibility and impossibility?"

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