︎ Surface tension, 2024
︎ Finds taken for wonders, 2023
︎ Remains to be seen, 2022
︎ Elegy, 2021
︎ As below so above, 2021
︎ Margins of Error, 2021

︎ 2023
︎ 2022
︎ 2021
︎ 2020

︎ 2019
︎ 2018
︎ 2017



Installation view of With you or without you (2020), Requiem (2021) and Paniki (2021)

WHATIFTHEWORLD and Chris Soal are pleased to present Elegy at The Nirox Foundation’s The Covered Space. In response to the context and conditions of the exhibition space, key works spanning the last four years have been selected from the artist’s own collection. Living and working in Johannesburg — a “city in tension” as Soal calls it — has had a great impact on the artist’s work, as this position is “often about locating oneself in that space, both as a response and a critique.” Through his use of discarded and mundane ephemera, such as toothpicks and bottle caps, in conjunction with concrete, rebar, electric fencing cable and other industrial materials,Soal examines structural impacts on urban living, reflects on the individual in relationto the collective, and foregrounds ecological concerns.
Chris Soal’s approach to sculpture reveals a sensitivity to material, texture and form; expressed through an abstract language. Conceptually, his works refer to the socio-political context of their production, highlighting the histories embedded in the material and utilizing them in a way that challenges societal assumptions of value. Elegy touches on themes of ruins, decay, erosion, the relic and effigy, and stands in conversation with the artist’s first large-scale outdoor installation, Relic (2019-2021).

With or without you, 2020
Discarded Beer Bottle Caps threaded onto Electric Fencing Cable with Burnt and Unburnt Birch Wood Toothpicks held in Polyurethane Sealant on Fibreglass, Board and Ripstop Fabric
250 x 130 x 25 cm
Requiem, 2021
Bamboo and Birch Wood Toothpicks, held in Polyurethane Sealant on Board
155 x 210 x 30 cm
Installation view of Requiem (2021) and Paniki (2021)
Paniki, 2021
Found Beer Bottle Cops threaded onto Electric Fencing Cable, held in Polyurethane Sealant on Board
195 x 84 x 10 cm
Speak the truth even if your voice shakes, 2018
Bamboo Toothpicks, Burnt Wood from the 2017 Knysna Fires, South Africa
160 x 23 x 20 cm
The haunting of our age, 2019
Concrete Relief Cast
72.5 x 161 x 10 cm [Triptych]
Elegy | 2021 | Nirox Foundation, Johannesburg | Installation View


Installation view of Relic (2019 - 2021), included in Margins of Error at The Nirox Sculpture Garden, Johannesburg

Chris Soal’s first outdoor sculptural installation, Relic (2019 - 2021), consists of various sized concrete sections,installed in the landscape in numerous configurations,almost as if presenting these totemic forms in various states of decay. Drawing on his continuous body of work with toothpicks, the artist poured concrete over sculpted toothpick forms, before removing each toothpick, leaving being its haunting impression. The residual forms and textures of the surface are suggestive without being descriptive, drawing comparisons to barren topographies, dead coral, rough tree bark, and eroded marble — their abstraction leaving multiple avenues of interpretation open.

Recognising that many public sculpture needs to contend with the problem of “the monument,” the decision to create columns, large and looming phallic forms, was intentional. It felt like a problem that couldn’t be avoided, and instead an issue that needed to be addressed. The construction of these concrete surfaces through thevoid impressions of toothpicks, a material so insignificant and ubiquitous, felt like a fitting way to undermine the power that structures so erected often attempt tocommunicate. Soal references Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, “Ozymandias” (1818):

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Reminiscent of columns, Relic (2019 - 2021) suggests a link to ancient empires, globally. These totems of “the never ending human struggle to leave an impressionthat lingers longer than our lifespans”, calls the viewer to reflect on their complicity ina disordered hierarchy of values fuelled by consumerism, while prophesying of the potential doom that inevitably awaits a near-decadent society. It is no accident then that Relic is unveiled in what is called the Cradle of Humankind, a site well known forfossil finds.

The decayed, fragmented and ruinous suggestion of the toothpick-less surface of the concrete might remind one of the forms in Max Ernst’s iconic “Europe after the Rain” (1940 - 1942), a direct challenge to the modernist aspirations that architecture’s pride in concrete held. Furthermore, the concrete recalls the proximity of Johannesburg in the Eden-like context of the landscaped park.

One of the paradoxes of ruins is how their collapse opens them up, exposing the interior to the exterior. If a present monument is a future ruin, then Relic poses the question not of what is present, but of what is absent. How then can the evidence of things unseen provoke us as viewers to look beyond ourselves? How could a ruin expose our interior spaces, our hidden motives, so that we may not be left, ruined?
Installation view of Relic (2019 - 2021), included in Margins of Error at The Nirox Sculpture Garden, Johannesburg
The artist acknowledges the support of the The Claire and Edoardo Villa Will Trust, whose grant made much of the production behind this work possible.

Acknowledgement also goes to the Soal Studio team: Jonathan Illunga, Israel Sambuka, Dean van Wyk, to VM Engineering, and many others who have been integral to bringing this project into existence.

︎ ARTICLE on Design Indaba
︎ ARTICLE on Sunday Times by Sanet Oberholzer
︎ ARTICLE on WANTED by Julia Freemantle