About Selwyn Steyn, Winner of the 2020 Emerging Artist’s Development Programme

Selwyn Steyn (born 1997) completed his undergraduate degree in architecture in 2019, ending as the top design student and winner of the Pretoria Institute of Architecture design award in his year. His passion and focus, however, has always been conceptual art. Hence he has spent most of his life nurturing his artistic practice in the hopes of pursuing a career in visual art from the departure point of a knowledge base grounded in spatiality and place-making.

Selwyn finds parallels between spatial theory and visual culture whilst navigating multiple mediums in his pursuit of grappling with interpretations of our individual and collective understandings of psyche, identity, perception and ideology, within the context of South Africa. Selwyn has exhibited at the ABSA gallery with BKHZ, Turbine Art Fair with RMB Talent Unlocked, No End Contemporary, UJ Art Museum, and the National Arts Festival. He has been a finalist in multiple competitions including Thami Mnyele Fine Art Awards, PPC Imaginarium, UJ Continuing Conversations and most recently the 30th installment of Sasol New Signatures.

The Memetic Sculpture: a speculation on cultural contagion

Memetics as coined by Richard Dawkins is the theory or study of the transmission of notions or ideas in the smallest possible unit (the meme) through the substrate that is the minds of the population. Memetics likens the success of ideas (in terms of its efficacy of contagion) to the success of dominant genes. Ideas replicate in the mind of the beholder before being transmitted to the next agent of propagation if the idea is high in utility and easy to pass verbally from individual to individual. If art exists as a simulacra of complex reality, then art too should be replicable.

The Memetic Sculpture: a speculation on cultural contagion proposes an artwork which if scanned redirects the viewer to all information necessary for the viewer to replicate the work in question. The artist fully relinquishes intellectual ownership of the work, hence the work is an edition of infinite size. The project speculates that the work could in theory traverse the globe, where each additional sculpture generates new potential for the work to be replicated elsewhere. The work represents an amoral meditation on how the virulent spread of myth, narrative and ideology determines the fabric of our collective existence.

This, in essence, posits metaphysics as the primary agent acting upon the concrete world. The process of creation of the work was informed by the congruence found in the development of ideas and language: additive, iterative, seemingly constructed, but often generated organically. This is done whilst acknowledging the symbiosis between the two: language as medium for exchange of ideas or, as often speculated by the school of linguistics, language as precursor and determinant to culture.

*Please note that although one can find the necessary schematic to construct the work by following an image of the QR code as depicted by the sculpture, current QR technology does not recognise three dimensional objects. The work aims to be a speculation of where art might go in the unfolding technological possibilities of the 21st century.

Letter from Selwyn Steyn

Dear Neil, Mia and Annali,

First and foremost I would like to commend and congratulate you on the successful launch of the moving cube and the stellar online event hosted last night. What an awesome event, even under challenging circumstances.

I would sincerely like to thank you for the hard work you have done in organizing this programme. This year we have had to witness much of the art world being forced into the periphery as competitions, exhibitions, fairs and other art related events have all been rendered non-essential. This has made it challenging for many young artists to continue positively in their careers since so much of the supporting infrastructure has not been there. A programme like this, which has the two pronged goal of both giving public access to what I believe is one of the most seminal contemporary South African works, as well as developing the careers of young artists is a vital lifeline in a somewhat austere year.

UJ Arts and Culture has shown remarkable resilience, adaptability, insight and grit to have continued as strongly as it has. Mia and Annali, thank you for being the passionate driving force keeping the arts alive during this time.

I would also like to thank you for selecting me as the winner of this years programme. I cannot begin to explain how much this means to me to both on a personal level as well as how much I believe I will be able to benefit from this going forward. I am deeply humbled, thank you for your generosity in investing in my career.

Neil, I would like to extend my thanks to MTN for being a deeply supportive institutional patron of the arts. Thank you also for the work you do with the MTN collection which is a essential institution in the South African art ecosystem.

Warm regards,

Selwyn Steyn