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Unmasking the Hidden Stories: An Exposé on Artist Francois Knoetze | You Made This (#YMT)

As an artist born and raised in Makhanda, South Africa, I was exposed to a variety of art forms during the National Arts Festival held annually in our small town. Growing up, my grandfather's love for fixing things taught me the value of understanding systems, which eventually led me to become interested in reclamation and reimagining the function of objects.

YMT fights eWaste via public engagement and art. YMT promotes proper disposal of eWaste, the fastest-growing waste source. Through art collaborations, YMT encourages a circular economy of refurbished electronics. YMT's mission is to shift consumer habits, prevent landfill eWaste, and advocate for a greener future.

In my sculptural work, I see myself as a forager or scavenger of discarded things and different types of media. My art centers around using electronic waste to create masks and large-scale installations, serving as a metaphor for the complex and often invisible systems underpinning our digital age. My process begins with the material, experimenting with techniques like welding, cutting, and sculpting to transform e-waste into something new and meaningful. I use masks to explore identity and how it's shaped by technology and consumer culture.


Together with my partner Amy Louise Wilson, we formed the collective, The Lo-Def Film Factory. We work to use new technologies such as virtual reality and digital storytelling to amplify the voices of activists and thinkers, creating immersive experiences that challenge viewers to see the world in new ways and engage with complex social and political issues.


I don't measure my career achievements by individual accolades or awards, but rather by the opportunities I've had to connect with people, travel, and experiment with new ideas and techniques. I have been able to engage with complex social and environmental issues while working with diverse communities and organizations.


As an artist, one of the biggest challenges I've faced is finding independence from commercial and academic spaces. It can be difficult to find the financial support and resources needed to create and exhibit work. I've focused on writing grant proposals, finding alternative funding sources, and being flexible in how I present my work. Thematically, I'm always navigating complex social and environmental issues, trying to strike a balance between advocacy and artistic expression.


My advice for aspiring artists is to learn as much about your options as possible, find mentorship, and stay true to the reasons you started making art. Being an artist is about developing a professional practice that supports your creative endeavours, which includes building a solid network, marketing yourself, and developing financial and organizational skills.


In September, I'll be exhibiting my work at the Seoul Museum of Modern Art as part of the Seoul MediaCity Biennale, This Too is a Map. Our collective, Lo-Def Film Factory, will also be working with Angolan artist and queer activist Pamina Sebastiao on a video piece, and I'm creating a new series of electronic waste sculptural masks.


Influential artists and thinkers in my practice include John Akomfrah, Oulimata Gueye, the Karrabing Collective, and James Bridle. My work explores themes of resource extraction, production and consumption cycles, and the impact of technology on society and the natural world. I hope my artwork encourages viewers to think critically about their actions, and the hidden costs of resource extraction and production, and imagine alternative possibilities.


Through my artwork, I delve into the mythologies associating resource extraction with development, nationalism, and progress. These myths often obscure the intricate networks of power and interdependence that underlie our global economic system, perpetuating social and environmental injustices.

By employing a variety of media such as sculpture, video, and installation, I challenge these myths and shine a light on the hidden costs of resource extraction and production. Using discarded materials like electronic waste or industrial debris, I aim to emphasize the often-invisible processes that drive our consumer culture.


Ultimately, I hope that my work inspires viewers to think more critically about the impact of their actions and choices, fostering connections between ideas and spaces that might otherwise seem unrelated. Unless we take into account the whole landscape of interdependencies, we risk falling into a narrow techno-utopian understanding of technology, one that overlooks the complex social and ecological realities of our world.


By contesting these myths and exploring alternative narratives, I aspire to prompt viewers of my work to envision their alternatives and possibilities. As an artist, I believe in the power of art to not only raise awareness but also to foster change. Through my creations, I strive to engage in important conversations about the world we live in, highlighting the urgent need for a more sustainable future.


As I continue my artistic journey, I remain committed to addressing the complexities and challenges of our time. My goal is to create spaces that can support and nurture the creative journeys of other young artists, fostering a collaborative environment where diverse perspectives and ideas come together to make a lasting impact.


In conclusion, my artistic practice revolves around unearthing hidden stories and bringing to light the often-overlooked aspects of our world. By repurposing discarded materials and exploring themes of resource extraction, technology, and identity, I hope to inspire viewers to reflect on their role in shaping our collective future.

 

You Made This" (#YMT) is a pivotal initiative combatting the escalating issue of electronic waste (eWaste), a prominent global waste contributor. Through interactive art installations and experiences, #YMT intensifies awareness about eWaste's environmental damage and the imperative of its correct disposal. "You Made This" collaborates with artists and endorses a circular economy of refurbished electronics, urging corporations and individuals towards responsible eWaste management. A central goal of #YMT is to transform consumer behaviour to evade landfill eWaste build-up, advocating for a sustainable and greener future.

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