Art in time
by Ella Ziegler

I got to know Jacques Coetzer two months ago but it feels as if I've known him for much longer. Maybe it's because of his warm and spontaneous manner, immediately evident in his interaction with family, friends, as well as strangers, and most notably the family dog, LEGO.

Similarly, Jacques' art derives from an active participation with his environment. He knows how to read a situation on various levels - formal, social and historical - and then add to it his own, often surprising interpretation or view. In his work one is confronted with some-thing or some-where taken directly from everyday life, but the familiar has been changed and rearranged. Jacques doesn‘t necessarily change the object, rather he changes the angle or perspective.

This strategy is evident in a piece entitled Forever Young, which I saw for the first time one night on the terrace of the Coetzer family's self-designed home. Spokes glinting under the porch light, a newly restored Chopper bicycle balances rakishly on its back wheel, with the front wheel up in the air. The object, in this case, a bicycle, has not been changed, but this new perspective affects the spectator's perception of it. For Jacques, as well as me, and possibly a whole generation of 30-somethings, this bicycle has nostalgic value, a trip into youthful teenage territory. In Germany we called them Bonanza Bikes. They used to be decorated with fringes on the handle bars and had a cowboyish, Easy Rider charm about them which made you feel cool and free and daring. Jacques' positioning of this bike, mid-wheelie, rearing up like a bucking bronco, amazingly captures that devil-may-care spirit of freedom and teenage rebellion.

A banal and daily activity, like his eighty-year old father mowing the lawn, seems to be interesting enough for Jacques to warrant making a video piece of it, titled Warrior. Here, in conjunction with the boring activity, Jacques notices the little ironic detai - a suburban lawnmower with a sticker on it showing the head of an Indian chief, wearing a feathered headdress and below the text: ‘Warrior'.

Attention to detail, interaction with his environment, a sense of humor and a large dose of childlike imagination, make this and other works such as Paradise Lost wonderful medicine for sick and tired grown ups. Since having seen Paradise Lost, a sculpted snake's head attached to a coiled garden hose, I tend to identify every hose as a snake. This tricky intervention into the spectator's perception, is fun and funny, like a practical joke, but it also refers to all sorts of more serious archetypal and social meanings.

Explaining Globalisation is another work in which Jacques responds directly to his experience of his surroundings. During Jacques' life-changing travels in Africa as a student , he explains how he was drawn to the floating symbols and images that (he) saw painted on buildings and make-shift advertising boards throughout the region.'

This influence is evident in the typically naive style of this painting, which looks like an original African make-shift advertising board. Jacques writes: 'The study tour also afforded me the opportunity to meet, for the first time, young travelers from all over the world. The backpacker scene became my first encounter with the globalised community.' The reason this painting appeals to me is that I had a similar 'revelation' as a European backpacker traveling in Africa and meeting travelers from all over the world.

I have frequently asked myself and discussed the question of how art can be political. From being not political at all to being an objective spectator, to intervening in real life situations, organizing happenings or demonstrations, to collaborating or supporting non-governmental organizations or giving minorities a voice through representing them in exhibitions and art performances, there are diverse ideas and approaches. I like Jacques' way of making political art - on the one hand I have found that his is a personal and serious approach, on the other, he's very ironic and humorous. He has a genuine concern for his environment, and his anger is often channeled into an art of action. For example his GOD IS NOT AMERICAN banner was made as part of a demonstration (personal and collective) during Georges Bush's visit to Africa in 2003. Now in 2006, this intervention retains its relevance as George Bush once again, in his mid-term election campaign, appropriates God for his political ends.

In another reluctant 'political' work titled Globe, Jacques painted a globe on a round wooden board, situating Africa in the center. The place where he lives, Pretoria, he marked off with a little electric light bulb. This work was shown at Mermaid Theatre Gallery in London. He explains that he simply wanted to show the people in Europe where he comes from and where he lives - the centre of his world.

Fourteen years later, Jacques sculpted two plastic figurines, Hard Cash and Disposable Income: a cash transfer security guard with a machine gun in his hand and his sister clenching shopping bags. Putting the two sculptures next to each other, he explains how for him, this represents the contemporary South African war zone - not soldiers in battle, but everyday people, like you and me, the shopper and the security guard, as the battle rages on the streets, in the malls and private houses.

His latest intervention in public space was to tamper with a huge real estate advert outside Pretoria. With some friends, he changed the ON SHOW to OH NO. The properties which were for sale should have been a profitable investment, because a cluster-housing development was planned on this plot. But after some investors had a geologic survey done, it turned out that the dolomite ground structure would not allow such high-density construction. So it came about that Jacques' original critique of profit-based urban planning suddenly seemed more like a prophetic vision.