A Hole New World


My work is firstly, an excavation of spoken and written language and, secondly, how language is used to infer space (mostly land) and self (identity). My aim is to unsettle the idea of land in the strata of human history and its bridge to contemporary dialogue. I have created works referencing a specific form of representation associated with this dialogue. Illustrations – reminiscent of bank note etchings and satirical cartoons — alongside text — reminiscent of propaganda posters and memes.


The type of language I’m interrogating operates on a network of existing meanings in order to create its own meaning. This can be seen as a metalanguage. A metalanguage is a second-order language which applies itself not to a world that must be made but superimposes itself onto a world already made (Barthes 1972:155).

What’s more, I’m investigating how humanity constructs meaning. Human understanding of the world is mediated through language, there is no immediate access to knowledge, knowledge is always mediated (Degenaar 1987:3-4). Only through speaking, writing and repitition are words given meaning.

Language also contains ideological fallacies. The writer, George Orwell, goes further to describe the trap language can lay:

“When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly… [w]hen you think of something abstract… the existing dialect will rush in and do the job for you at the expense of… changing your meaning.” (Orwell 1968:138).

Many artists have approached language and its meaning-making. I have studied the work of artists like, Kendell Geers1, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Kruger, Alfredo Jaar and Banksy. Some of these artists have influenced my work in the way they approach language and, particularly their combining text with image in order to subvert meaning, often with humour.

I have paid homage to Geers’ various interrogations of the ubiquitous brick (fig 1). Loaded with contradictory symbolism, it is simultaneously a symbol of property (which in turn, implies capital), violent protest, construction (which in turn, implies the politics of labour) and earth — the very clay the brick is created from (Geers 2011).

Fig 1. Simon Tamblyn, The Land of Zilch and Money (2018).

A Hole New World

The title

The title of my body of work is a play on words with the common saying of ‘a whole new world2. A ‘hole’ – a homophone of ‘whole’ – undermines the absence of there being a ‘whole’ at all. But ‘a hole’ could also refer to ‘a**hole’, meaning ‘asshole’ or ‘arsehole’ because — as the flippant joke goes — just like opinions, everyone has one.

New world’ is a sardonic reference to the future as we face the effects of global warming, overpopulation and a growing tumultuous political environment.  Our social and political woes are connected to our struggling environment.‘New world’ is also a historical reference to the discovery and subsequent colonisation of the ‘new world’ — the western hemisphere — by European colonists; their ideology of the ‘new world’ discovery is what drove colonialism for centuries (Perry 1997:265).  

Fig 2. Simon Tamblyn, Our Brittle Piece of Heaven (2018).

2 It’s also the name of a famous Disney theme song from the animated children’s movie Aladdin and some believe, the song is actually about losing one’s virginity (Hershberger 2017).

The laughter

Most of my works are jokes, with an absurdist or dark twist. Jokes can be intriguing and revealing. The common psychological reaction to any joke is typified by a back-and-forth between sense and nonsense, ‘bewilderment and enlightenment’ (Freud 1960:160), as jokes typically function on undermining consensual meaning imbued in language.

Fig 3. Simon Tamblyn, Polonialism (2018).

The blood

The red of the printed text signifies the colour of human blood. This is a physiological aspect that all humanity share. It is also, simultaneously, signifying humanity’s violence and vitality.

Fig 4. Simon Tamblyn, The Map is not the Terrortry (2018).

The edge of the earth

The text in my work is presented with various horizontal fracture lines, distorting and corrupting the shape of the letters, implying fractured glass or digital corruption of some kind. The text represents dialogue, so I have interfered with the text to signify my undermining of dialogue.

The idea for incorporating these horizontal fracture lines comes from the word horizontal itself, of which the root word is, horizon. The horizon, as we all know, is the edge of the earth. In an indirect way, though quite aptly through language, the word for the edge of the earth is disrupting the dialogue.

Fig 5. Simon Tamblyn, Fat of the Land (2018).

The standing

All my works are presented in portrait. Portrait orientation creates an ‘active/standing’ image rather than a ‘passive/reclining’ one. This connects my work to portraiture (framing identity) but, also writing.

This relation to writing isn’t only in the presentation of text. My mark-making is closely related to writing too; there is a calligraphic quality to the parallel ink lines. I have written these images as much as I have drawn them.

The font

Even though typography is a central part of my work, it is not my intention to propagate a dialogue about the taxonomy of typography. Rather, it is about the certain stylisations of text, resembling media like propaganda posters, bank notes, street signs, internet memes3 and newspaper headlines; the published media generating our contemporary dialogue.

The font I’ve used is League Gothic, a condensed form of Franklin Gothic4. It is a sans serif font and is a popular choice in advertising and is noted for its versatility (Tselentis 2012:170).

Sans serif fonts were created for large format display (Raizman 2003:191), maximising legibility on advertising posters and other related media. They were designed at a time of industrialisation that resulted in the standardisation of many industries (Raizman 2003:191). These fonts were a way of removing superfluous decoration in order to speed up the printing process through simpler mechanisation. Their industrial simplification mirrors the shorthand that idioms provide.

3 Internet memes almost exclusively use the font, Impact, a bold sans serif font, designed in 1965 (Edwards 2015).

4 Franklin Gothic was produced by the American Type Founders Company and was cut between 1903 and 1905 by Morris Benton. The typeface has a few instances of Roman letter forms and was – like most sans serif fonts – designed for display. (Raizman 2003:191). Franklin Gothic is also the font used by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the United States of America (Heffner 2010), which is where Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs resides.

All humans are diaspora

One of my intentions is to demonstrate that an ideological dialogue around land has always existed; humanity is and always has been part of the land. Humanity’s actions — whether benevolent or malicious — have scarred the earth.

The word “diasporá” describes humanity’s relation to the land fittingly; it derives from the composite verb “dia-” and “speírein” meaning ‘to scatter, spread, disperse, be separated’ (Baumann 2010:20). In archaeological terms, all humans are diaspora; journeying out from the origin point that is Africa (Lahr 2013:3).

In our contemporary, global society we find that “…within the sphere of identity, there is a constant dialogue at work between movement and fixity…” (Jansen 1998:107). Identity can thus be understood as a moving locus because billions of individuals have put one foot in front of the other; have turned wheels on an axle; have swum across waters and have tamed beasts to ride and continue to do so.

As romantic as this seems, human history is fraught with conflict. “[T]he most dramatic movements made by people on the planet are not made out of free will” (Jansen 1998:106). Our movements across the globe have often been incredibly painful experiences5. This continues unabated, as “the twenty-first century is witness to a new phase of mass population movements taking place in all directions” (Brah 2005:178). We can conclude that the largest threat people encounter while moving across the earth is, unfortunately, other people.

In South Africa, the effects of the Apartheid government’s strategy of forcefully removing hundreds of thousands of skilled and employed people of colour from urban and other selected locations under the Group Areas Act (Platzky and Walker et al 1980:xv-xvi) is still evident to this very day.

Home and not-home

Home, family and land form the macro-context of our memory and the “… act of remembering is always contextual” (Stock 2010:24). The imaginary notions of walls, borders, nationalities, fences, property, culture: all erroneously divide the earth into home and not-home.

One of these ‘homes’ is the nation. I investigate its use of language in in its various expressions of identity. I refer to passages of the national anthem of my country of my birth6, South Africa in Nkosi Siyalala iAfrika (fig 5). I changed the words in the original text Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika (God bless Africa) to Nkosi Siyalala iAfrika (God we are sleeping Africa) a satirical statement to question whether Africa has indeed been blessed or whether Africa is sleeping while parasites (metaphorical and real parasites like mosquitoes) are feeding on it.

However, national identity can be seen as being arbitrary, especially because in our current globalised world, “…we find nation-states… [are becoming] increasingly transitory sites…” (Rapport 1998:63).

Fig 6. Simon Tamblyn, Nkosi Siyalala iAfrika (2018).

Conspicuous absence

Representations of the land (signifier) whether it be maps, photographs, landscape paintings or schematics are not the land (signified7) (Korzybski 1958:58, Derrida 1967:12). There is then a constant distance between signifier and signified.

The signified is therefore not present in my work; the object, language and land is conspicuously absent. Only the signifiers of object and spoken language are present: text and image. I am thus using a set of signifiers to discuss another set of signifiers; the same metalanguage mechanism used in contemporary public dialogue.

7 Many landscape painters may depict the landscape, but they are often signifying something else. In the first quarter of the twentieth century in South Africa, for example, landscape painters like Jakobus Pierneef were driven by racist ideologies; the indigenous peoples of South Africa completely absent from their works (O’Toole 2015).

To think that the name of the earth that was underneath my mother at the time of my birth determined my nationality is somewhat bizarre. Exactly where my mother was when she gave birth to me, also determines how freely I can move across the earth because that’s how the passport system works.

CONCLUSION: Anthropocene blues

“At the core of the concept of diaspora lies the image of a remembered home that stands at a distance both temporally and spatially [and represents] an ‘ideology of return’” (Stock 2010:24).

Humanity is constantly somewhere between its origin and an idealistic future home. Identity is inextricably linked to land but, humanity must realise that the land does not know we walk on it, it does not know at all. Even though we live on the land, we are nowhere near it. Only through embarking on a journey of language, will problematic ideologies be revealed. This will allow humanity to gain insight into the fragility of our positions on terrain that is not a silent partner in any of our affairs, but rather the original force of nature.  



Fig 1. Simon Tamblyn, The Land of Zilch and Money (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.
Fig 2. Simon Tamblyn, Our Brittle Piece of Heaven (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.
Fig 3. Simon Tamblyn, Polonialism (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.
Fig 4. Simon Tamblyn, The Map is not the Terrortry (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.
Fig 5. Simon Tamblyn, Fat of the Land (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.
Fig 6. Simon Tamblyn, Nkosi Siyalala iAfrika (2018). Ink illustration on digital print on Strathmore Premium, 420 x 594 mm.


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