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Meet Ralph Borland, the Artist Behind ‘African Robots meets SPACECRAFT’

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Meet Ralph Borland, the Artist Behind ‘African Robots meets SPACECRAFT’
Ralph Borland

The project focused on a kinetic, music making mechanical sculpture in the form of an Afro futuristic spaceship. It made use of Southern African vernacular wire art techniques which informal sector wire artists being employed during the production phase. Meet Ralph Borland, the artist behind ‘African Robot meets SPACECRAFT’ who received R300 000 grant assistance for his project. Borland was born in South Africa and grew up in both Cape Town and Harare, in neighbouring Zimbabwe. He has lived and studied abroad for several years, and this global influence, mixed with Southern African trends, shows through in many of his projects.

His project ‘African Robots meets SPACECRAFT’ delivered on its objectives in raising the status of wire art as a medium by bringing it into fine art forums and onto public platforms. Borland’s work goes along way to raising the status of informal sector wire artists, who practice a form of everyday public art in making and selling work on the street. These artists are constantly devising new designs in response to their environments, the media and popular culture. In addition, the project aimed to open up opportunities for wire artists to market and sell their work, as well as raising the cultural profile of Southern African wire art practices. The work produced was one of the most prominent examples of wire art exhibited in a fine art institution. African Robots and SPACECRAFT exhibited at a prominent new fine art museum, the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, as part of an Afro futurist exhibition titled ‘Still Here Tomorrow’. The exhibition offered a visible platform for the project, and the impact of the NACSA’s funding programme for creation of new work. It also furthers the aim of the broader project to celebrate wire art as a local vernacular form that can be applied to fine art projects. It has also opened new territory in elevating the status of wire art that provides artists with new opportunities and platforms for their art form and profession.

An economic impact that the project manifested was to raise the value of wire art and increase the opportunities for income of not just the wire artists who worked on the project and who are credited in the exhibition, but of a wider wire art community. The project has put wire art on an elevated stage and has demonstrated a new kind of art work that combines many artistic approaches in a highly collaborative way. The project combined sculpture, music, mechanics, sound and technology and in that way it combined cultural forms from a range of diverse groups.
The plan was to produce larger scale work that demonstrates the potential of wire art in making technological, interactive and spectacular African art, for a gallery and public space. The pieces which needed to be realised were a flying sculptural drone (Zimbabwe Space Station); a large-scale audio interactive sculpture (Dubship I: Black Starliner) and a triptych of large-scale high resolution photographs that revealed the highly skilled artisanship of some wire artists. The works pulled in a range of communities and collaborators to realise the work; an essential part of the project was the way it draws together communities of practice. The beneficiary required
funding to support the development and exhibition of this new work.

According to Borland, as with all his work, African Robots “pursues an interdisciplinary approach to teasing out issues of power, activism, social engagement via designed objects… and combines interventionist art, design fiction and social engagement”.


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