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Self-portrait in Front of the Burning Cathedral

Burnt yellowwood
125 x 75 x 16cm

The image of a bread seller, derived from Jan Steen’s 'Baker Oostwaert and His Wife, Catharina’, 1658, is carved into the surface of four burnt salvaged timber roof beams.

The title of the work refers to the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, 2019. As described by the artist Jannis Kounellis, the cathedral is seen as a symbol of unity. A great achievement of a nation and a locus of common belief. In the face of such a powerful symbol (the destruction of an equally powerful symbol) the attempts of an individual artist to reflect or stimulate cultural change, despite best intentions, are rendered absurdly insignificant. As such, the artists are more like opportunistic merchants looking to fill the bellies of the crowd of dumbfounded spectators.

In reference to the Oak beams that burnt in the fire that – due to lack of availability of large enough trees – are irreplaceable at present, the image is carved into salvaged burnt yellowwood roof beams (South Africa’s similarly over-harvested national wood).