Photographs by Thomas Weisshaar

1 December 2018

On Mystical Form is Jacob van Schalkwyk’s one-day-only final exhibition towards the Master of Visual
Arts program at the University of Stellenbosch and the culmination of a two-year long
practice-lead pivot towards sculpture, installation and performance. The exhibition
combines found and inherited objects, stuff grown and filmed in the garden, whacking a
priceless antique billiards table with axes and Japanese woodworking tools in his garage,
and a love of rubber and electric guitars.

Throughout the work on display, Van Schalkwyk uses different components of a full size
colonial-era billiards table inherited from his maternal grandmother. In _Tropical Good
Times,_ cues bundled together become struts on which to balance a lyrical wooden crossbeam
(found on a slope of Signal Hill behind his home in Sea Point after a storm) from
which he hangs bolts salvaged from the table and – with a sense of sardonic humour typical
to the exhibition – a dried out pineapple. Goofball presents a red snooker ball at the
fulcrum of a bundle of cues set in planter bags, within which morning glory plants grow,
adding flowering chalices of colour to a piece that is at once whimsical and unconcerned
with its own success. The sense of play that is central to the billiards table itself continues
in Teabag Stoke, with Van Schalkwyk balancing a Shoprite quality boogie board, a
skim board and a carved segment of the billiards table on top of one of its inverted legs.

Originally crafted from exquisite rosewood, Van Schalkwyk engages with the table
directly through Ambition, repurposing a length of the table as a planing horse in the
Japanese woodworking tradition of the nomadic woodworker, the shokunin. Whether by
carefully planing away the varnished exterior of table segments to reveal their exquisite
quality, or attacking them with an axe to emphasise the brittleness of the antique wood,
Ambition is a site of devoted action with material in mind. Van Schalkwyk enters the
realm of gestural performance in Match-Rematch, a video piece with accompanying
sculptural installation, wherein he suffers two bouts with a suspended segment of the
table. Terrifying and hilarious, Match-Rematch (installed in an ancillary room to the main
gallery) is a no-nonsense allegory of an artistic pursuit of the unknown. Van Schalkwyk’s
inquisitive approach to form is evident throughout the exhibition, whether in
Hot Knives, a ritual-inspired hanging mobile, or in potted flax plants grown from linseeds,
transferred to the gallery from his garden. The process of obtaining linen from flax by
hand using pre-industrial means runs throughout the exhibition, informing the passing of
time and reflection that coincided with working towards On Mystical Form, a small hand
woven piece consisting of the 6400mm of handspun linen Van Schalkwyk managed to derive
from the flax he grew in his garden. The exhibition was open to the public for one day
only, on Saturday 1 December from noon to three, with a closing performance at 2pm.

The exhibition was accompanied by a thesis (available on request) of the same name,
On Mystical Form, within which Van Schalkwyk formalises his practice as an ongoing
enquiry into the nature of form. Through a discussion of his own work and that of
Dan Rakhoathe, John Constable, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Mancoba, Pierre Huyghe and
Christian Marclay as informed by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s call for a redefinition
of artistic practice today and Lynn Gamwell’s encyclopedic understanding of the shared
cultural history between mathematics and art, On Mystical Form zeros in on an agnostic
working definition of mystical form as forms wherein doubt, imagination and ambivalence
are of primary importance to artistic practice. It is a cohesive refutation of a
new academicism in contemporary art that gradually yet continuously positions the spiritual
and transcendent social function of artistic practice as being critically and commercially

With On Mystical Form, Van Schalkwyk affirms his experimental roots,
questions dichotomies and Elightenment-era classifications that are no longer apposite
and formally interprets the role of the soul in artistic perception.