Tag Archives: soil

dot 51: point of view

This telegram is a work of art if I say it is.

– Robert Rauschenberg –


In my previous blog a sense of place I pronounced soil as my sense of belonging, my sense of place. Since then, I have painted a 5 meter canvas with various soils and attempted to substitute lithographic inks with soil in fine-art printing during a CMYK linocut workshop at Warren Editions. It has been an explorative process, filled with equal quantities of frustration and surprise. Nevertheless, it is a medium I am intensely curious and passionate about. In allowing myself to acknowledge the importance that soil holds for me, and actively pursuing this understanding creatively, I have been led to question what my point of view is.

Recently reading a book by Will Gompertz titled Think Like an Artist has funnelled this process for me. Gompertz – a previous director of Tate Gallery, voted one of the world’s top 50 most creative thinkers and who is now the BBC’s Arts’s Editor – says: “Let’s be clear, a point of view is not the same as a style. It is what you say, not the way you say it.” Juxtaposing some of the greatest artists, Gompertz highlights how some (if not the majority) of The Creative Greats at some time lost their way and ‘no longer had a point of view.’

What to do if one has lost one’s point of view, then? It is opinion that drives the creative process forward, says Gompertz, each artist’s individual filter on how they see the world:

…[it is] opinion that compels any of us to make something exceptional and different. If we want our ideas to be seen and heard it is essential we have a point of view and something to say.

Reading up on Robert Rauschenberg it is clear that his point of view was that art and life could not be separated in his lived experience of the contemporary world. What is mine? What could I clearly state as my point of view? What do I want to say? What is it that I am questioning..? My answer, from my art diary, reads as:

I question the immersiveness of traces. These traces, once made visible, help to show interconnectedness, or the lack thereof. Traces occupy space. Traces inhabit space. Traces are ever-present. They exist constantly, like the moon, but are not always visible to the eye even though they are present.

Once made visible, traces suggest sound to me. I am fascinated by the probabilities that exist at the intersections of traces, and imagine them to be co-ordinates or codes at interstellar level. These intersections are vibrational indicators which occur outside  human hearing.

My key idea stated then, and linked to my point of view, is the longing to print auditory traces using soil as medium. During the aforementioned CMYK workshop at Warren Editions, I attempted to do this but soon realised that there was too much grit still in the soil. Nevertheless, there was potential evidenced in the prints:

Currently, I am sieving soil through geological sieves in order to make paint from soil. My opinion is that I could very well substitute Rauschenberg’s statement with: This soil is paint if I say it is.

dot 50: sense of place

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.

Grinding red soil
Grinding recently collected red soil.                                                    Photo: Sonya Rademeyer