Today’s guest post comes to us from Strijdom van der Merwe, Africa’s only dedicated land artist and one of three artists who were selected to create earth works in the Smithsonian Gardens as part of the exhibition, Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. A contemplative artist, van der Merwe gives us a peek into the thoughts behind his work.
The British artist Richard Long once made the statement when he said “the ground is the beginning and the end of existence, whether in terms of clay, canvas or the fabric of the mind. The place you start from, where you make your first mark, there is always a starting point which effects the outcome of your undertaking.” As a land artist myself I believe that the land must always have greater impact on you than you on the landscape. When following the disciplines and rules of the cycles of nature and observing its beauty and fragility you became aware of how and where you fit into this natural world. No work in the landscape can begin without a proper meditation process and understanding of that space, the reason for its existence and where it is going and were it is coming from. Once this knowledge has been obtained, only then can you start to sculpt the land according to what the site allows you to do or the message that you want to bring across. But first was the land, always the land.
As an artist that predominantly does work in Africa you are aware that Africa is a multiplex of cultural marks that have been left behind by generations. First was the San people that trekked through the landscape leaving drawings and engravings on the rocks, then came the tribes from north Africa who built stone walls and dwellings, then came the settlers from Europe and they build telephone poles and roads. All of these leave marks and imprints on the landscape as explanation of different needs and purposes. As a land artist, whenever I touch and work the land all of these become part of my thinking process. How much does history and culture influence my work, how deep a mark do I want to leave behind or do I only want to leave behind a reminder of an individual that has altered and changed the natural material into geometric forms in order to create an art work, an art work that is only for the moment and will disappear again within the cycles of nature.