Elfriede Dreyer, Ship of fools I, 2012. NFS

Elfriede Dreyer, Ship of fools I, 2012. NFS

Elfriede Dreyer, Ship of fools I, 2012. Mixed media on Perspex, 1000 x 1500 mm.. Provenance: Obtained from the artist.




    Elfriede Dreyer is an Art Professor, curator, writer and artist. She has been affiliated with Unisa since 2015, after lecturing there full-time from 1990 to 2003. She also taught full-time at the University of Pretoria from 2003 to 2014.​ Except for works taken up in public and private collections, the majority of her art production has been destroyed by the Knysna Great Fire of June 2017. She has participated in group exhibitions at major museums, galleries and festivals throughout the country; she was a finalist in most national competitions, including the Brett Kebble Award; and held solo exhibitions in Pretoria, Paris, Oudtshoorn and Johannesburg.

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    Her main conceptual preoccupation is an ongoing interest in worldmaking discourses and the ideologies of place and space. Central concepts are utopia, dystopia and heterotopia as nuances of a family of constructions around place, such as a good place; a bad place; non-place; cocooning; displacement; and migrancy. Perceptions and projections of a good place as utopia are common, but exist mainly as fictions. Although many utopias have been conceived over the ages, few have worked out. Still they persist in appearing in a social and political sense; in addition, most people nurture personal ideas about a ‘good’ place. Except for works in public and private collections, the majority of her art production has been destroyed by the Knysna Great Fire of June 2017. Her work from 2017 to 2020 dealt mainly with the dystopia of this event.



    Ship of Fools I (2012) is included in this exhibition of work as a reference point. In many of my works the notion of a ship of fools on a boat is a recurring idea. A boat occupies a liminal position in-between places, not here nor there, and representis human life between birth and death.The Renaissance notion of a Ship of Fools entailed the practice of removing mad citizens − considered as Others being unwanted, abject and incapable - from society by consigning them to ships and sending them into the ocean without any supervision. The concept of a Ship of Fools originates from Plato’s The Republic (Book VI, 488), written in 360 BCE, in which he compares a state without good management to a Ship of Fools: “Though the ship owner surpasses everyone on board in height and strength, he is rather deaf and likewise somewhat shortsighted, and his knowledge of seamanship is pretty much on the same level. … The sailors are quarreling with one another about the piloting, each supposing he ought to pilot, although he has never learned the art … So with such things happening on ships, don’t you believe that the true pilot will really be called a stargazer, a prater and useless to them by those who sail on ships run like this?”. In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault describes the Renaissance Ship of Fools as a ‘strange ‘drunken boat’’, a ‘pilgrimage’ boat and a ‘liminal’ vessel reserved for the ‘insane’. The concept of a ship of fools is also found in Foucault's Of other spaces (1986). The philosopher points to the boat as a "heterotopia par excellence", since " … the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port" (Foucault 1986:27). As a transportation mechanism the boat is interwoven with the teleology of human carriage and the self-inscripted and self-inflicted autobiography of proposed ‘good ending’.



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