Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spacial perception together.
– Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams –
Whilst cleaning up my studio this week I came across an article on the South African painter, Colbert Mashile. My interest was immediately captured by Oliver Roberts’ subheading which stated that Mashile ‘thinks and talks like a writer.’ This is a space I can certainly relate to and at times this dichotomy has caused me some distress. Blogging has proven the equalizer.
In The Colbert Rapport Mashile talks about growing up in Bushbuckridge which is a more rural area situated in Mpumalanga province. Mostly, his characters are placed in similiar landscape settings on his canvases and art prints. This, Mashile says, is because he himself does not relate to the city ‘as a place of belonging’, geographically describing it as ‘a place for the outside.’ For Mashile ‘the inside belongs somewhere else.’ He talks about the importance of a sense of place:
… a sense of place is what created your thoughts, your world view, everything.
I started wondering about my own sense of place, and what has contributed to my personal world view. After playing around with various and rather obvious elements I was left with the idea of soil as place. Running right through my artistic development over time, is the deep and weighted pull of earth itself: I have collected soil from anthills and painted with it, I have buried artworks deep into the soil, I have done fine art printing with soil I have substituted for printing ink, I have done video performances using soil as a medium, to name but a few. And I have collected soil all my adult life.
As a child I played in the soil, with the soil. This was the vehicle for imaginary spaces, for watching and playing with migratory Matabele ants and for making pathways to other worlds that no one else could see. It was the resting place for countless insects and small animals that I tearfully and ceremoniously buried. It was the red receptor for the first rains, releasing a smell that defies language. Soil, as sense of place, is truly a sixth sense as Solnit suggests.
The reality, however, is that I no longer live in my country of birth. Place of the red soil. My sense of place has long shifted into that of memory where it may very well be acting as an internal compass and map, and, if so, I need to follow this ‘inside place’. For me, the ‘outside places’ are what the anthropologist Marc Ange coins as non-spaces. Examples thereof are shopping malls and airports where no relational or historical identity can be found. I am surrounded by such things.
I must r[re]connect to soil as my sense of space in order to map [and see] ahead.