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Steve Durbach: Artist Statement

I grew up in South Africa, which was both politically and religiously conservative. There was very little room for mystery. Under apartheid it was in the government’s interest to not have their citizens think too much beyond what they told you. At the age of thirteen I received as a gift David Attenborough’s book: Life on Earth. In it were artistic reconstructions of what the Earth may have looked like hundreds of millions of years ago. To a child whose truth was provided by a literal telling of the story of genesis, this had a huge impact. I soon realized that you cannot take the world at face value. Things were not as they seemed, including what was in front of your eyes. I decided then to devote my life to understand and find my own pathways into that mystery.

That journey, through studying genetics, taught me that it is the underlying structure that gives rise to the surfaces that we see.

The living architecture is encoded by this underlying layer of information contained within the genes. The genes themselves hide a layer of atomic detail that gives rise to them. This phenomenon or idea is what informs my work. I am interested in those layers beneath the surface that gives rise to the properties that we experience. It is driven by a curiosity to understand why the world we inhabit is as it is, and a reaction to the way in which it is presented to us.

I use these insights given to me from a life in science to serve me as an artist. To help me address the questions that inspire me about our natures and the world around us. My work is often built up out of building blocks in a processive way, or in a way that informs the outcome of the work, suggesting why extant structures and dynamics are as they are. Just as a physical object may be described or emerge from underlying structural building blocks, so too are our behaviours driven by underlying repetitive patterns of motion. To infiltrate this idea, I construct simple mechanical objects, in the hope of revealing how our irregularities may emerge from simple underlying repetitive motion. I am particularly interested in the irregularities. How highly ordered; repeated motifs lead to change. That change left unchecked becomes entropic – leading to disorder. Living systems temporarily attenuate that inexorable march to disorder to a zone that sits somewhere in between. A place where dynamical adaptive patterns dance. My work tries to fall into that zone – sometimes falling too far; sometimes not far enough. I don’t always get to decide.

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