Northern Ireland

Brent Meistre

meistre.org
Brent Meistre
© Brent Meistre

Biography

Brent Meistre (b. 1975) is a South African/Italian photographer, curator and fine art filmmaker. His creative work centres on land and its materials as sites of trauma, erasure, retribution and deliverance, focusing on the historical traces, absences and contemporary events that shape the lived experiences of the everyday. Brent spent 14 years in academia heading a fine art photographic section in a university art school, specialising in traditional colour and B&W wet processes. He has contributed to innovations in creative arts education, including a novel arts-based data generation method, in collaboration with a psychologist and higher education researcher.

Brent has created and contributed to numerous one-person and group exhibitions and happenings across a number of countries and to the work of various collectives. These include creating and exhibiting works in Namibia, Botswana, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mali, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Canada, the UK and Ireland.

He has received a number of prestigious awards and prizes. These include being nominated for the Daimler Chrysler Award for Contemporary Photography in South Africa and being the first recipient of The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum’s Biennale Award. His work has been featured on the Bamako Photo Biennale in Mali, the International Black Film Festival in Canada and the Kunstvlaai: Festival of Independents amongst others.

Brent is the founder and curator of the artist-led collective Analogue Eye: Video Art Africa, a mobile drive-in & pop-up cinema that showcases the works made by over 48 African video artists in unexpected spaces that are tailored to be inclusive of non-gallery audiences. Particularly impactful events were those on the Infecting the City (The Africa Centre) in Cape Town, where the videos were disrupted the historic contexts of the Cape Town Castle and the Company Gardens; the Wiener Festwochen in Vienna; and the Internationale Schillertage in Mannheim, Germany. More recent collaborations of Analogue Eye included Harboured: A collection of SA and Italian Video Artist for the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2018, and the current Counter // Narratives Project with academic Dr Dina Zoe Belluigi (Queens University, Belfast) and the participation of first-generation academics, to explore authority in transition in higher education.

He has taken part in a number of place-responsive international residencies. These including The Nirox Foundation in the Cradle of Civilisation (South Africa), in Castelfranco-Veneto, (Italy) with Nord Est OmneLab, and as part of the 10 artist team of the Sound Development City Project with a reverse-migration journey between Madrid, Ceuta and Casablanca in 2016. In 2017 and 2018 he was fortunate to undertake residencies at Cultureland (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and Interface (Connemara, Ireland).

Brent’s artworks are included in permanent collections around the globe. These include The Eyefilm Museum (Amsterdam), Joyce Yahoude Gallery (Montreal), The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum (Port Elizabeth), Oliewenhuis (Bloemfontein), and The South African National Gallery (Cape Town), in addition to a number of private collections.

One of the artist’s current characters is the alter/ultra-ego/id Will Power (@powertothewill). Will is a non-performance virtual character-artist-migrant-labourer operating on the periphery of the European cityscape and landscape.

Brent is currently based in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a full-time independent curator and artist. He continues to support creative arts education in the global South by guest teaching, mentoring and acting as an external examiner for various academic institutions.

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Portfolio

The Blank Resignation Archive

The Blank Resignation (dissioni in bianco) Archive (work in progress)

Devento mata in fabrica or I have been born in a factory is a protest song by Canzoniere Popolare Veneto in 1972

The North East region of Italy is known for its endless sprawl of medium-sized industries. It is also the birthplace of a unique Italian feminists’ movement, The Committee for the Salary of Domestic Work. The revolutionary group used a song as a means of protest, its legacy originating in medieval songs known as the "La malmaritata" (unhappy marriage). These songs evolved out of the marshlands and lagoons during the mid- 1930’s where Mussolini took women from Veneto to clear the marshes for agricultural purposes. Relaying tales of hardship, the lyrics of anger are juxtaposed with melodic rhythms. Many of these women’s decedents now work in the hundreds of factories but are subjected to the practice of signing a dimissioni in bianco (a blank resignation letter if you become ill or fall pregnant). The women here, however, are still known for their resilience and determined ethos.

This history and legacy are largely unrecorded and so is the counter-narrative, that of the impact of this ethos on the bodies, mental health, interpersonal and professional lives of woman, especially in the complex traditional familial environment.

This work is an attempt to articulate the unrepresented gaps, fissures and traces of stories of women and visualised in serial and repetitive photographs, film and audio recordings archived in a book format to monumentalise, document and preserve these untold intergeneration narratives. Focus was put on businesses as a starting point that uses the iconography of the Italian working women in its branding as a way to complicate and problematise these in an increasingly depopulated and automated work environment, where the masculinist machine still dominates.

Portfolio

SOJOURN: Landscapes from Southern Africa

SOJOURN is a project undertaken over a seven-year period (2006 – 2013) which spanned three countries in southern Africa, and over 80 000 kilometres of driving. Two strands run parallel to one another in this archive of over 400 hand-printed colour prints - converging and colliding.

The first is a problematising of photographic framing and the structural nature of ‘the landscape’ as a trope of the colonial imagination, through which the viewfinder becomes an imposed cultural projection through and onto a disembodied representation. The second attempts to sift through and understand ‘the land’ as a western political construct through ownership, usage and belonging. The remote, isolated spaces complicate these notions through seasonal shifts, transitional occupancy, construction, and border reshaping. Change occurs slowly and is often brutal.

Earth is not only moved and shaped by machine. In these remote spaces, it is altered mostly by hand. There is a relation to the body and the place where we will be laid down to rest into the lay of the land. To be horizontal, to be primordially connected back to the land, to become strata.

The first entire exhibition of this project was in 2013. This was a hundred years after the 1913 Native Land Act was passed by the apartheid government which prevented and restricted the ownership of land by Black South Africans.

Portfolio

Work Horse

Cavallo di Lavoro (Workhorse) is a stop-animation film counter-narrative. The work is built around meta-stories evocative of features of the economic, social and industrial history of Castelfranco -Veneto (North-East Italy). Through allegorical u-turns, roundabouts and dead-ends, the workhorse canters through the historical legacies of the region, from the medieval city’s silk trade heydays through to the industrial sprawl of today.

The horse, as a representation of mobility, might and strength, has in a way always been the life-force of the economic growth of this area. Most economic activity here today is still driven by ‘horsepower’: be it the car engine, forge, mechanical plant, train or aeroplane. The human body mimics the equestrian body: organic masses that share the same fallibilities and fragilities when putting to work, into the fields and into the factories. Over-worked, laden and burdened, eventually put out-to-pasture.

The tempo of this animation is set to a constant beat that echoes the repetitive cantering of a horse, of a churning barrel, of a spinning carousel and of a rotating wheel. It pulls the viewer across surreal and uncertain terrain made up of pathways, railway tracks and roads, through processing plants, corridors and stairwells. The narrative does not reach a breaking point but rather evokes work patterns, lifecycles and in situ maintenance which enable the machine to turn. Sigmund Freud’s ‘death drive’, the uncontrollable impulse is to do, to repeat, to reproduce compulsively, something that seems to be engrained in bloodlines here.