Sculptures by William Sweetlove
The twenty-first century presents an increasing number of environmental problems, from pollution and global warming to the destruction of tropical forests and wetlands, extinction of biological diversity and depletion of natural resources and water shortage. With a deep understanding of human behavior (sometimes at odds with human nature), Belgian artist William Sweetlove encourages us to become environmental thinkers and behavioral ecologists. The exuberance of his sculptures transforms ordinary animals and objects into iconic figures. Part alchemist, scientist, artist and visionary, punster, adventurer, intellectual nomad, Sweetlove creates sculptures which at first encounter look like supersized toys, iconic pets or dramatic playthings. The artist puts boots on alligators, water bottles on tortoises, and backpacks on frogs to support them against current climate change.
Build the bridge to communicate the message
Sweetlove’s seemingly simple sculptures help us bridge the artificial division between the harsh realities of biological science and the artificial constructs of human behavior. Sweetlove’s animals draw on popular culture to build that bridge. We are conditioned since childhood to react and sympathize with animals. From popular children's books to television shows, we have grown up with anthropomorphized animal characters to teach life’s lessons. Sweetlove’s animals are the perfect spokespersons for our environmental problems, biodiversity and sustainability.
We derive emotional as well as psychological benefits from contact with animals and natural habitats. That’s why we have pets, zoos, parks and gardens. Sweetlove’s sculptures draw on this fascination with “all things animal.” We have great emotional responses to animals, and even speak about them anthropomorphically. Appealing to our collective imagination, Sweetlove’s animals fulfil our desire for comfort, affection, empathy and goodness, while at the same time they deliver a cautionary warning.
The Giant Penguin sculpture is a silent sentinel in a landscape of man-made, recycled detritus. Yet, Sweetlove’s penguin communicates the message: “don’t throw away plastic, don’t throw away the environment, don’t throw away the future!”
The subject matter of Sweetlove’s artwork is temporality and eternity, life and change, the endangered environment and sustainability. “Climate change is the basis of my research. I have always been inspired by the concept of art not busy with aesthetics but where social, political and ecological issues are involved. I am not a ‘green’ individual and politics leave me cold, but I want to leave a message behind me about the world without polluting her.”
William Sweetlove in South Africa.
In addition to his solo work in sculpture, Sweetlove has worked collaboratively with other artists for more than 20 years as a member of the Cracking Art Group, an art collective founded in 1983 in Biella, northern Italy. Together they share a strong social and environmental vision, working collectively to create artwork and sculptural installations that call attention to environmental issues. They have exhibited widely throughout Europe, South and North America as well as Asia over the last 25 years, including at the 2001 and 2005 Venice Biennales. Together, the Cracking Art Group has created over 600 exhibitions worldwide.
The Giant sculpture will be exhibited at the Pier Head in the V&A Waterfront between September 2019 and March 2020 and will be unveiled on the evening of Thursday 5th of September at 6 pm.
Professor Mike Bruton, South Africa’s authority in Marine Biology and author of ‘When I was a fish’, amongst many other books, will speak about the importance of Art in relation to creating awareness for environmental issues.
The installation is curated by Dirk Durnez, international edutainment specialist and co –owner of Art@Africa, a gallery at the V&A Waterfront.
The unveiling will be followed by “Water Wars”, an environmentally inspired art exhibition in Art@Africa in the V&A Waterfront Clocktower, showcasing works from contemporary South African artists and curated by Nadine Froneman.
The Giant Penguin goes hand in hand with and becomes the ambassador of the V&A‘s campaign to ban single use plastic bags.
Redefining the Concept of a Work of Art
Sweetlove believes in the social impact of art and playful provocation. Like the avant-garde art movements of Cubism, Dada, Pop art, Nouveau realism, Fluxus, and conceptual art, the sculptures of Sweetlove redefine the concept of a work of art. Dadaism, Pop and Fluxus all challenged the dividing line between art and life, object and production process, aesthetics and politics. In the spirit of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, or Jeff Koon’s garish multiples, their works completely reject standard ideas of art. They abandon the notions of rarity, “high art,” preciosity, aesthetics and manual skill as measures of art. Instead, their works emphasize multiples, “clones,” popular or common objects, industrial materials, and factory production.
The seemingly whimsical works “play,” in fact, with a new way of understanding a world in which art is no longer a search for beauty or aesthetics, but has become a social and ethical expression, a sort of intellectual nomadism in space and time.
The artist hopes to create a better, more interesting, and more colourful world by addressing controversial issues.
V&A Waterfront Cape Town – WATER WARS Giant Penguin Installation
William Sweetlove’s WATER WARS is a sculptural installation consisting of a Giant Penguin, rising out of plastic waste and single use plastic bags.
Water Wars has a social and environmental message. Water Wars is intended to call the viewer’s attention to the relationship between nature, energy and our environment.The artist does this by giving us both the fantasy and the facts. Visually, Sweetlove’s penguin focusses on the myth, the cliché, and the hype of toys, adapted, larger than life. Conceptually, the Sweetlove sculptures, and their site-specific installations worldwide, address the realities of threatened natural resources and endangered wildlife. Sweetlove’s sculpture is the animal of our dreams, the animal of the forever world, the world of excess and responsibility. Ultimately, this giant sculpture is the metamorphosis of the consumption and discard of society, and the confrontation between man and nature.
The Sweetlove animals cause reflection
As native habitats shrink worldwide, and clean drinkable water becomes more and more scarce, Sweetlove’s penguin seem to venture further and further away from their natural environment. Whether science-lab frogs or sheep, farm goats or trusted dog, whenever we encounter these animal sculptures on the street, and in galleries and museums, they seem to be frozen, standing silently, witnessing and waiting.
To view these works, we find ourselves locked in a staring contest with Sweetlove’s animals. Surrounded by a float of crocodiles, a colony of frogs, or an army of turtles, we feel good (“They’re so cute!). We feel bad (“They’re so plastic!”). Dressed in bright colors and looking all too charming and cuddly, they not only get our attention, they elicit feelings of compassion, empathy, and attachment. While some (like the crocodiles) may look threatening, others (like the rabbits and snails) look friendly…or frightened…or even lost.
But no matter how much we like them for their appearance, we must remind ourselves that they are cautionary artworks – conceptual interpretations of the consequences of man’s environmental choices.
Sweetlove’s subject matter has tragicomic overtones. The artworks first attract us, and then they disrupt our childhood associations of toys and stuffed animals by the introduction of incongruous additions such as boots, backpacks and water bottles. These suggest survival measures; and rather than amuse, they elicit concern.
Postmodern World of Images and Signs
The artworks of Sweetlove and the Cracking Art Group are essentially simulations of reality, rather than reproductions of nature. Sweetlove’s “cloned,” recycled, postmodern, apocalyptic animals are signs pointing toward an irretrievably altered contemporary world
Public and Invasion art
Much street art and public installations are now widely recognized as covert messages. When an artist creates a mural or sculptural installation where it is encountered by people going about their daily lives, the artwork confronts the viewer even if the viewer did not choose to participate.
The artworks of Sweetlove play with simulation, anti-representation, and cultural commodification. They embrace the dichotomy of temporality and eternity, artificial and natural. They don’t observe, venerate or memorialize the animal world. And they don’t live on Sesame Street or in Teletubby Land. Sweetlove’s animals have dropped the camouflage that helped them survive since prehistoric times. In this postmodern world, they are glamorous: shiny skins, boutique hothouse colors, splashes of bright paint, and hip accessories for survival. They are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
As artworks, Sweetlove’s sculptures function at a higher level than ersatz toys. These artworks are a wake-up call. Their whimsical appeal and childlike innocence attract. Their enigmatic presence confounds. Is this really about nature and beauty, or is this about environmental oblivion?
Ultimately, they function as contemporary icons imbued with a sense of fun as well as social conscience.
The artworks of Sweetlove deliver a message: Humans have changed the natural world irreversibly. The earth’s ecosystems are evolving and developing ways to either tolerate or eradicate their human intruders.
William Sweetlove plays with the power of the image, the myth of the animal, and our heartstrings. Viewed together, these works record the uncomfortable consequences of negotiating with nature.
They capture a sense of apocalyptic adaptation which references our management of the world around us.
Ultimately, the artist wants to make us aware of the interconnectedness of nature and humanity.William Sweetlove’s subjects – whether frogs with backpacks, turtles and penguins with water bottles or crocodiles with boots – do indeed reveal that interconnectedness, and the fragile chain that links together all living things on earth.
Who is William Sweetlove?
William Sweetlove is a sculptor, painter and assemblage artist. Those interested in labelling his work can choose from neo-pop, minimal-surrealism and postmodernism. But eat-art, eco, recycle and fossil art would all fit equally well. It makes no difference to the artist or his art. With remarkable imagery, he puts forth the message of a world in need. Sweetlove combines and contrasts high and low culture. He does the same with reality and imagination, people and animals, and culture and nature. In his work, he mockingly denounces rigidity and narrow-mindedness and addresses our basic humanity: it’s fine to establish our place in the world, but let’s not forget that our world is a borrowed thing and our actions should never be at the expense of animals.
William Sweetlove is a sculptor, painter and assemblage artist. Those interested in labelling his work can choose from neo-pop, minimal-surrealism and postmodernism. But eat-art, eco, recycle and fossil art would all fit equally well. It makes no difference to the artist or his art. With remarkable imagery, he puts forth the message of a world in need. Sweetlove combines and contrasts high and low culture. He does the same with reality and imagination, people and animals, and culture and nature. In his work, he mockingly denounces rigidity and narrow-mindedness and addresses our basic humanity: it’s fine to establish our place in the world, but let’s not forget that our world is a borrowed thing and our actions should never be at the expense of animals. William Sweetlove has exhibited independently and as part of The Cracking Art Group and has made a name for himself in the United States, Italy, France, Germany and his native Belgium.
Statement by William Sweetlove – Plastic Fossils
“The temporal and the eternal are two conflicting concepts in my work. I’ve always been fascinated by fossils as a relic of history. Everyone keeps things that mean a lot to them. The same is true of thoughts. I call this ‘fossilized thinking’. What do I consider an artistic fossil? I create sculptures in plastic, wax, polyurethane and synthetic products made from petroleum, an organic fossil. When we crack petroleum molecules, we produce hydrocarbons: petrol, diesel, oils and benzene. When we burn petroleum products, we create pollution that contributes to global warming. Ethylene and propylene, which are distilled from petroleum, form the basic materials for producing plastic, polyester and nylon – materials we use daily
The problem is that these products exist eternally in the form of fossils; they can’t be destroyed. In the past they were simply burned, which caused dioxin pollution. My message is that we should recycle these products and invest in technologies that make this possible. As an artist, I try to find solutions.
I don’t want to preach, I want to turn the tables visually and make sure my work stands out. I mainly use the primary colours red, yellow and blue. My animals aren’t exactly subtle in a natural environment. My favorite colour, red, highlights the importance of my work. The colour lends the works an intensity that stresses their cautionary value. Climate change forms the basis of my research. Art has always inspired me, particularly art that values political, social and ecological messages above aesthetic ones. I don’t consider myself a particularly ‘green’ individual and politics bore me. I simply want to convey a message about pollution without polluting the world in the process
A world without plastic is no longer possible. But according to Sweetlove, the problem isn’t plastic but the fact that people burn it and throw it into the sea. He views his sculptures as animal clones that cannot survive in the polluted world we are creating. The impending shortage of drinking water is reimagined in the boots, backpacks, and water bottles the animals wear and carry as a symbol of extinction.
Adapt or die
Darwin taught us that living creatures can only survive if they adapt to their changing environment. But with changes happening so quickly now, animals don’t have time to evolve and are going extinct. If the temperature in Africa rises by 5 degrees Celsius, elephants will go extinct. This is why I’m cloning them on a smaller scale. Sea water levels are on the rise, and we’ll soon be facing a shortage of drinking water. This is why my cloned dogs wear boots, my penguins carry water bottles, and my frogs wear backpacks. They need them to survive. The public needs to be kept informed and aware.
Wendy M. Blazier
Wendy M. Blazieris an art historian, writer and independent curator active in South Florida for more than 30 years as a museum curator, lecturer, juror, and strong advocate for today’s contemporary artists working in all media. A Detroit native, Ms. Blazier served as Senior Curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art (2001-2012), and as Executive Director and Curator at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida (1979-1995).
Curators: Marijke Cieraad & Pascalle Mansvelders – Holland
William Sweetlove – Cloned penguins
Sea water levels have risen, wiping out fresh water supplies.
The Giant Penguin has to carry his own water to survive.
Don’t throw away animals, don’t throw away plastic, don’t throw away the environment,
don’t throw away the future!”
Sea water levels are on the rise, and we’ll soon be facing a shortage of drinking water. This is why my cloned dogs wear boots, my penguins carry water bottles, and my frogs wear backpacks. They need them to survive.
The world is at war for drinking water and for the continued survival of its animals.
The problem isn’t plastic but the fact that people burn it and throw it into the sea. Sweetlove views his sculptures as animal clones that cannot survive in the polluted world we are creating. The impending shortage of drinking water is reimagined in the boots, backpacks, and water bottles the animals wear and carry as a symbol of extinction.