“What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding.” – Willie Bester (source)
Junk art á la Mad Max takes steampunk one step away from Victoriana elegance and optimistic gaslamp cheer and one madcap dive bomb toward the realm of the dystopian. The gritty, industrial sense of steampunk isn’t seen in much art other than the tastefully rusted flash drives or the gentleman hobos with their finger-less gloves and worn-edged bowler hats. But the ideas of using found materials, D.I.Y. and re-structuring trash into art fit easily within the maker and punk tenants that steampunk has acquired.
Willie Bester is a modern-day junk artist, but his work conjures both the intricate horror and beauty that can be expressed by scrap-art sculpture. Born in 1956 during South Africa’s Apartheid era, Bester childhood experiences are marked by personal struggles that his family lived through. When he was ten years old, his family was forced to relocate from their farm under the Group Area’s Act, which divided the country into areas for whites and for non-whites, leaving many non-whites living in rural outskirts and slums.
From these experiences, Bester finds that found materials–metal from junk shops and scrap heaps, found materials in the street, rough-textured items such as sacking and crushed tins–emphasizes the experiences he had growing up and the dark history of his country. The sculptures he makes from these items are towering, intricate, and complex pieces of moving parts, representing the tangled, mechanized system of a corrupted government.
One newspaper reviewer captures the aesthetic of his art form perfectly:
Like a mad scientist’s laboratory, full of preposterous gizmos and gadgets, the fantastic sculptures in Willie Bester’s Apartheid Laboratory at Art Gallery of Windsor reveal the fiendish intentions of evil designers. Rebuking the museum’s sleek surroundings with salvaged chains, padlocks, ropes, hoses, hospital drips, soiled rubber gloves and more, these mute and inoperable machines speak loudly as immoral instruments of apartheid.