Burning Rubber

7th November 2022

First published in Inspirations issue #107 in July 2020, written by Ansie van der Walt

‘I am fascinated by the idea that flowers can be seen as a language of sorts and that they can be used as symbols for emotions or a code. Inspired by code, I learned about the Voynich Manuscript which in turn inspired me to embroider real as well as imaginary flowers.’

Hannalie Taute, an award winning South African artist working predominantly with embroidery on recycled rubber, is known to attend her exhibition openings dressed in fantasy costume that is an extension of the work on show. She doesn’t just make art, she becomes art.

Hannalie’s family moved around a lot when she was a child and she learned from a young age to enjoy her own company. ‘I had a happy childhood filled with play and fantasy. I could play with store bought toys as well as with mops, insects and dishcloths. I liked dressing up from a young age and would parade around the house in my mother’s clothes and high heels.’

It was during her rebellious teenage years while finding solace and an emotional outlet through music, that she also discovered her love of art. ‘I enjoyed heavy metal and hard rock. I used to copy the art on the CD covers, which usually contained a lot of skulls, in my diary.’ Hannalie’s father would not allow her to study fine art at university but compromised on Graphic Design. ‘During my first year, I secretly changed courses.’

Hannalie’s first recognition came in 2004 when she was chosen as one of the Top 100 Artists in a renowned national art competition for a series of toys constructed from plaster and found objects titled Madam choose your personality.

In 2011 she was nominated for a Fiesta Award for her exhibition Skeidingsangs/Separation anxiety at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK). ‘Looking back now I see this show as a retrospective of all the other mediums I used to use in my art practice, before rubber.’ After this she joined the Cape Craft and Design Council and started working with discarded inner tubes to make toy rhinos, giraffes and elephants. Hannalie donated a portion of the sales to an anti rhino-poaching fund.

‘It wasn’t until a friend asked me to add her daughter’s name onto a rubber toy that I had the idea of embroidering on the rubber…’

It was only two years later in 2013 when her ground-breaking exhibition titled Rubber Ever After won the Kanna Award for best visual arts exhibition at the KKNK. This opened a lot of doors for her in the art world. Hannalie works with discarded inner tubes from cars, trucks and tractors which she sources from local tyre shops. ‘My husband is a diesel mechanic for an earth moving company, so whereas other husbands bring their wives flowers, he brings me inner tubes from earth moving vehicles.’

Contradiction and dichotomies are evident throughout Hannalie’s work. It starts with the concept of embroidered flowers on rubber then moves on to physical opposites like masculine/feminine, dark/light, industrial/natural, before it continues to include abstract concepts like self/other, life/death, human/divine, sacred/profane, pure/sullied. The list goes on… ‘I have a lot of conflicted feelings about the world we live in and sometimes those feelings extend to my work.’

Flowers, fairy tales, and play are themes that often recur in Hannalie’s work. ‘I find joy in the process of stitching a variety of blooms on smaller pieces of rubber and then later arranging them in bouquet-like pieces. Almost like building a puzzle. And, of course, there is the contradiction of stitching flowers onto rubber, which I like.’ It is also an ode to Hannalie’s late mother, to the carefree times in her childhood when her mother owned a florist shop.

Hannalie loves fairy tales and fables and finds a lot of inspiration in them. ‘I once read somewhere that fairy tales and horror prepare you to deal with death. I guess working with fairy tale themes and subverting them makes me able to cope with reality. I also stitch a lot of hybrid figures and monsters. I am fascinated by monsters!’

Like most artists, Hannalie has a personal relationship with her tools. ‘I have one needle that I prefer working with, but I don’t know the make or where I bought it and if I lose it, I will be distraught. I do have other needles as back up, but none of them are the exact length with the big eye that I prefer.’ Hannalie uses DMC floss only for small pieces. The bigger pieces are stitched with a variety of threads and yarns.

‘I only use one type of stitch since rubber really doesn’t allow for dainty, fancy stitches. My stitches are sometimes intentionally imperfect and messy.’

Hannalie has mastered the language of flowers and is using it to tell her own fairy tales, to create her own hybrid creatures and imaginary monsters. Her rubber canvas, black by default, highlights the drama and contrasts she depicts in her work, but at heart, Hannalie Taute is just playing. This time not with a mop or a dishcloth, but with discarded rubber, colourful threads and her beloved needle.

> Website: https://hannalietaute.com/

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