Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life

‘Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life’, 29 July to 1 October 2011, sets out to navigate a course through the many wonders and complexities of water and to challenge the way we think about and respond to one of the most precious substances on earth.

Norman Catherine, Requiem, 1994. Oilstick on paper. 130 x 112 cm. Private Collection

Norman Catherine, Requiem, 1994. Oilstick on paper. 130 x 112 cm. Private Collection

The Standard Bank Gallery exhibition, curated by Marion Dixon, seeks to bring home just how fragile and tenuous life on earth would be without sustainable water resources.

[Publicity: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=151660]

Thread of Life”]Water, the [Delicate} Thread of Life. Foreground: Karel Nel, Reflective Field, 2011. Karel Nel, Reflective Field, 2011, foreground  Through the eyes, minds and creative endeavours of South African artists, it shows how integral and fundamental water is to life. Water is indeed the delicate thread on which life depends.

Penny Siopis, Still Waters, 2009, Ink and Glue on Canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Collection: Standard Bank Corporate Collection.

Penny Siopis, Still Waters, 2009, Ink and Glue on Canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Collection: Standard Bank Corporate Collection.

Deborah Bell

Deborah Bell, Crossing, 2005-9, Collection Goodman Gallery and Artist, foreground, with view of exhibition space

The exhibition comprises work by a host of artists, such as Deborah Bell, Penny Siopis, Simon Max Bannister, Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Jackson Hlungwani, Walter Oltmann, Norman Catherine, William Kentridge, Georgia Papageorge, Simon Max Bannister, Thomas Mulcaire, Alan Crump, David Goldblatt, Andrew Verster, Noria Mabasa, Strijdom van der Merwe, Moshekwa Langa, Marcus Neustetter and Durant Sihlali. Through their artworks, the exhibition traces water’s role on earth, from sustaining life and fuelling economies to its presence in belief systems, religions and rituals.

Threat of Life”]Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life exhibition spaceView of Water, The [Delicate] Thread of LifeBoshoff’s Walking on Waterplays off the multiple interpretations of the word ‘water’, as he ingeniously combines notions of the Christian religion with science and technology to summon a warning against the abuse of clean water resources.

Willem Boshoff, Walking on Water, 2011, in the central space Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life

  • Karel Nel, Reflective Field, 2010, reflections on the ceiling of the site specific work for Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life
  • Karel Nel, Reflective Field, 2010, reflections on the ceiling of the site specific work for Water, the [Delicate
  • Nel’s site-specific installation, Reflective Field (2011), explores the liminal space between knowing and not knowing, the inexplicable realm symbolised in his work by reflections of water against the gallery ceiling in what the artist describes as a “scientific exploration of divination”.

    Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life

    Divination Bowls and Ngoma/Drum, Venda, Artist Unrecorded, Wits Art Museum

    Water in the religious and spiritual realm features prominently in the exhibition, made manifest by the work of southern African ‘traditional’ artists in an exploration of ‘living water’ believed to have been sent by a supreme deity. Water is also considered as a manifestation of life and fertility, reflected in water rituals, including that of Modjadji, the Rain Queen of the Northern Sotho Balobedu people.

    Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Untitled, 1999−2001. Oil on canvas. 203 x 101 cm. Private Collection

    Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Untitled, 1999−2001. Oil on canvas. 203 x 101 cm. Private Collection

    Water as a vehicle for metaphors is a recurring theme in the work of Deborah Bell, while Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi and Jackson Hlungwani conflate cultural, traditional and religious references to water.

    Walter Oltmann, Coelacanth, 2010, Linocut, 180 x 85 cm. Collection: Standard Bank Corporate Collection.

    Walter Oltmann, Coelacanth, 2010, Linocut, 180 x 85 cm. Collection: Standard Bank Corporate Collection.

    Another topic is the mythical evolutionary transitional state between fish and land animal, represented by Walter Oltmann’s mythical Coelacanth (2010). He has inventively given his coelacanth subtle human elements, such as a human eye and foot.

    Noria Mabasa, Carnage II, 1988 (foreground)

    Noria Mabasa, Carnage II, 1988 (foreground)

    Conversely, Norman Catherine’s Requiem (1994) features a disproportionately huge male figure with hybrid-like fish teeth looming large over a catfish held in his arms. Standing in red waters, the man dominates both the landscape and the natural environment, seemingly to his own detriment.

    William Kentridge, Drawing from Stereoscope, Soho in Flooding Room, 1999

    William Kentridge, Drawing from Stereoscope, Soho in Flooding Room, 1999

    William Kentridge’s video of animated charcoal drawings creates a confluence of activity on the beach in Tide Table (2003). With each wave that laps ashore he exquisitely rolls out layer after layer of social, political, economic, ecological and philosophical comment. Paul Stopforth’s Bather I (1986) adds a political twist to the prevalent theme of bathing found in the art historical canon with his depiction of a man’s sunburnt face barely keeping his head afloat above the political sea of oppression in the South Africa of the 1980s.

    Paul Stopforth, Bather I, 1986, Oil and Beeswax on Board, 69, x 98,5 cm. Collection Wits Museusm

    Paul Stopforth, Bather I, 1986, Oil and Beeswax on Board, 69, x 98,5 cm. Collection Wits Museusm

    Two other important themes with which the exhibition engages are the dramatic effect of global warming as a result of unsustainable human practices, and the tide of plastic debris that is choking our oceans. In regard to the former, Georgia Papageorge’s persuasive dual projection video installation, Kilimanjaro/Coldfire(2010), captures both deforestation practices and melting ice in tropical zones.

    Georgia Papageorge, Kilimanjaro, Coldfire, 2010

    Georgia Papageorge, Kilimanjaro, Coldfire, 2010

    Georgia Papageorge, Kilimanjaro, Coldfire, 2010

    Georgia Papageorge, Kilimanjaro, Coldfire, 2010

    Simon Max Bannister’s Return (2010), from his Plastikos series, draws attention to the vast swirls of plastic polluting our oceans.

    Simon Max Bannister, Return, 2010 (from the series Plastikos), Reclaimed Polyethylene, 187 x 187 x 10. Collection Artist

    Simon Max Bannister, Return, 2010 (from the series Plastikos), Reclaimed Polyethylene, 187 x 187 x 10. Collection Artist

    Water and memory are encapsulated in Thomas Mulcaire’s video Study for Solaris (2007), showing water in different stages of flux encountered on his journeys to the Antarctic.

    The rich history of watercolour painting is exemplified in the exhibition by the work of Alan Crump. In his watercolour Mine Landscape (1993), Crump shows the once distinctive and familiar landmark dumps that dominated the Johannesburg skyline together with slime dams, the catchment pools for mine waste.

    Alan Crump, Mine Dump and Slime Pool, 1992, and Eroded Mine, 1993.

    Alan Crump, Mine Dump and Slime Pool, 1992, and Eroded Mine, 1993.

    The grim and harsh consequences of mining is also explored in David Goldblatt’s hard-hitting photograph of a small group of men, young and old, bathing in a highly toxic asbestos mine shaft.

    Other themes covered in ‘Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life’ include the shocking devastation caused by floods (Andrew Verster and Noria Mabasa); drought conditions and severe water shortages in South Africa (Strijdom van der Merwe); the consequences of drought and thoughtless human intervention when it comes to water, particularly as it affects the poor (Moshekwa Langa); and the humanitarian consequences of water-related disasters (Marcus Neustetter and Durant Sihlali).

    Noria Mabasa, Carnage II  (Natal Flood Disaster) , 1988; Andrew Verster, Flood I, 1989, Marcus Neustetter, And Yet it Revolves - Galileo Galilei, 2011.

    View of exhibition (from right), Strijdom van der Merwe, Drawing Water Ripples with Black Sand in the Karoo, Noria Mabasa, Carnage II (Natal Flood Disaster) , 1988; Andrew Verster, Flood I, 1989, Marcus Neustetter, And Yet it Revolves - Galileo Galilei, 2011.

    Cyril Coetzee, Human River, 2011, Pastel on Canvas, 102 x 532cm. Collection: The Artist

    Cyril Coetzee, Human River, 2011, Pastel on Canvas, 102 x 532cm. Collection: The Artist

    With his installation, The Water Vortex, Sculpture of Human Form, Cyril Coetzee explores the biomorphic properties of water by means of the illustrations of renowned theorists and, in addition, he has produced a series of drawings titled Human River (2011).

    The Water Vortex: Sculptor of Living Forms

    The Water Vortex: Sculptor of Living Forms

    The Water Vortex: Sculptor of Living Forms

    Coetzee also includes a range of biological, plant and geological specimens which reflect the morphology of water. He has had a long-time interest in water as a ‘sculptor’ of form, and how the gestures of moving water create flow patterns that are found in the human body, in the natural world, and in art and design.

    The Water Vortex: Sculptor of Living Forms

    The Water Vortex: Sculptor of Living Forms

    Walter Oltmann’s specially created, Shell (2011) exemplifies an archetypal form, both in the shape of the object and by means of his method of wire weaving.

    Walter Oltmann, Shell, 2011, Aluminium Wire

    Walter Oltmann, Shell, 2011, Aluminium Wire

    The artworks on exhibition show how water touches every facet of our lives. However, life on earth is threatened by the unsustainable use and abuse of limited clean water resources.

    David Goldblatt, While Fernando augusto Luta washes his Clothes, Augusto Mokinda (13)m Ze Jono (12) and Ze Ndala (10), pose for a Photograph in Water that has risen from Underground in an old abandoned Mineshaft at Pomfret Asbestos Mine, 25 December 2002

    David Goldblatt, While Fernando augusto Luta washes his Clothes, Augusto Mokinda (13)m Ze Jono (12) and Ze Ndala (10), pose for a Photograph in Water that has risen from Underground in an old abandoned Mineshaft at Pomfret Asbestos Mine, 25 December 2002

    In general, the message of ‘Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life’ is that it may not be too late to adopt a new approach towards water, a vital, fragile and miraculous substance. With creative interventions and a collective commitment to preserve and nurture our natural environment there can be a promise of new beginnings.

    The exhibition is curated by Marion Dixon, a freelance art curator and author, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Marion Dixon, Nessa Leibhammer, Cyril Coetzee and Caroline Crump.

    Exhibition: Water, the [Delicate] Thread of Life

    Venue: Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Dates: 27 July – 1 October 2011

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