Text | Sway Benns
Photograph | Guy Lowndes
You’re wandering through the brush, looking for sustenance, the sun beating down on your concave chest. Suddenly an object falls from the empyrean heaven. You cautiously pick up this small vessel, clear as water—but hard—and emblazoned with the characters C O C A C O L A. You come to admire its aesthetics and functionality, and that’s a problem because there’s only one, and the rest of your tribe has come to admire it too. Swept up in idolatry, you’re unaware of the fact that the object of your affection is merely a mortal afterthought.
This scene, from the Australian film The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), was the inspiration for what 87-year-old Los Angeles born artist Betye Saar calls mojo-tech, and the foundation for her views on technology. “It’s an object of magic…they throw away all this ‘over’ stuff and invent something else and it keeps going and going. That’s what the mojo is: the magic technology, mojo-tech.” [Incidentally, following this interview, I was surprised to learn that The Gods Must Be Crazy is widely pegged as a slapstick comedy.]
We sit in her studio, inset in the hills of Laurel Canyon, as her pug—not so coincidentally named Miss Mojo—keeps a watchful eye out for an unoccupied hand to perform an obligatory belly rub. Lining the shelves around us are groupings: mini twig furniture, paint-chipped birdcages, and wood figurines. Saar, a recent recipient of MOCA’s Distinguished Women in the Arts award, pulls out a piece, her own objet magique: a circuit board stripped bare, reconfigured in an assemblage. “The only thing that I like about technology is some of the components that are used—like the circuit boards—because they just seem too beautiful. They use real gold and real silver because that traps the electricity. That’s how I relate to technology; the components of it and how beautiful they are and what I can visualize with them.”
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