Elements, my work in the group show Shaping Things, reflects my ongoing questioning of where we are in the age of the Anthropocene - the present geological period in which human activity has been the dominant influence on the environment. This body of work is a continuation of my personal journey of commenting on how I encounter the world at this time. There is ‘sickness’ over the earth, with the temperatures rising, droughts, floods, unprecedented displacement of people, the melting of ice caps, water scarcity, widening economic disparity, food scarcity and, most recently, the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the pandemic and the ensuing national lockdown in South Africa, I struggled to find an operating kiln in which to fire what were intended to be ceramic sculptures. However, this restriction of movement due to our world out of balance redirected me to the elements around me, thankfully. The sculptures in this body of work are made using clay from De Bosdam, a process I see as a collaboration with the elements: sun, water, air and,
particularly, earth. Clay from rivers and dams is unfiltered and, thus, very precarious and fragile.
This fragility of the clay is a symbol for the fragility of our own bodies, lives and world. It is the essence of this body of work. As humans, we come from dust and return to dust. Clay will eventually return to dust. Yet it can also be regenerative; when seeds are present in the clay, the addition of water presents the possibility of new life.
In their seeming incompletion, these works rebel against the perfection and structure often implied in ceramics. As the products of experimental yet serious play, they speak rather of impermanence and change. They are honest in their materiality and their transience, calling us to examine these qualities in ourselves and our world.
Some of the sculptures are non-vessels; commentaries constructed out of roots and other plant material held together by cobbing (an ancient building technique that uses a mixture of mud, plant matter and water to create a concrete of sorts). These objects broadly consider the concept of home in the context of displaced populations and suggest the potential for non-invasive building materials. Throughout this body of work, there is a sense of returning to analogue methods of creating - a symbol of the limitations inherent in the current moment of lockdown and ‘sheltering in place’. However, I envision a marriage of the analogue with the digital in a future iteration of this installation as a regenerative biomimicry structure, with LED lights and a computer programme that is sensitive to the elements and assists in growing seeds, moss and fungi.
Below images courtesy of SMAC Gallery, copyright Kathy Robins.