NIROX Sculpture Park is 30ha of cultivated lawns, arbors, fields, waterways, and wetlands, on the banks of the Blaauwbankspruit River adjoining the Kkatlhamphi Private Nature Reserve — a 1000ha wilderness of hills, valleys, riverine forests, caves, and highveld grasslands, populated with diverse local game and birdlife.
The Park hosts more than 50 permanent and long-term installations by artists from across the globe; and at least one annual large scale curated exhibition of new and temporary installations and performances, in collaboration with NIROX’ wide circle of global partners and curatorial affiliations.
Layers: Rock Art Across Space and Time
NIROX, in collaboration with the Embassies of Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, France, Italy, Mexico and Portugal, is pleased to announce the opening of Layers: Rock Art Across Space and Time, a travelling exhibition that brings together the work of artists and scholars from Europe, Latin America, and Africa, foregrounding the impact of a particularly pivotal moment in human history and its ramifications in the present.
The exhibition is also supported by The European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC).
The first iteration at NIROX, located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, will open on 26 November 2022 and run until 23 January 2023, before travelling to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
LAYERS: ROCK ART ACROSS SPACE AND TIME
Dineo Seshee Bopape
María Pía Flachi (Argentina)
Dr. Marcela Sepulveda (Chile)
Mila Simoes de Abreu (Italia)
Dr. Francisco Mendiola Galván (Mexico)
Foz Coa Museum (Portugal)
Diego Gárate Maidagan (Spain)
*Colombia will be represented through the screening of the film: Chiribiquete, Cinematographic Expedition to the Centre of the Earth
Rock art predates language; our ability to name, classify, describe, and effectively communicate with others. Aside from the figurative, the symbols found therein – asterisks, dots, half-circles, lines, claviforms, crosshatches, spirals, triangles, et al – may well prefigure the graphic systems used to develop the written word, enabling information to pass from one generation to the next.
Speaking about the rock art of Europe, for example, Genevieve von Petzinger (2015) makes the astounding observation that only thirty-two signs have been discovered throughout the entire continent over a 30,000 year period. The implication is that such marks were not random, but represent a complex system of communication, the meaning and purpose of which is subject to ongoing debate. What did these marks mean, and who was their intended audience?
One might be tempted to think that our ancient ancestors were trying to tell us something, in the manner, say, of those tasked with developing future-proof warning labels for nuclear waste deposits (Piesing 2020) or those who sent messages into outerspace on Voyager I and II (Schalansky 2021, 23). We cannot say for sure. What we do know is that the emergence of rock art – or more broadly, marks and engravings on rock – signals a pivotal moment in the history of our species, running hand-in-hand with the realisation that one thing can be used to represent another.
Cormac McCarthy (2017) describes this singular eureka moment as central to everything that we do, ‘from using colored pebbles for the trading of goats to art and language and on to using symbolic marks to represent pieces of the world too small to see.’ It is the bedrock of all the world’s beliefs and religions, the backbone of commerce, and, according to Yuval Noah Harari (2014), the only thing that truly distinguishes homo sapien from other species, enabling large numbers of strangers to ‘cooperate successfully, through believing in common myths.’
Such myths abound in the paintings of old, be it in the depictions of jaguars in the Chiribiquete mountains of Colombia (which date back some 20,000 years); the association between the gods and rain that one finds in the rock art of Mexico (Mendiola Galván 2022); or the goddess Mari in the Basque territory of Spain (Garate 2017, 172). Although subject to romanticisation, such myths also enabled like-minded strangers to function in unison, towards a common goal, suggesting that the rock art of old has much to teach us about the construction of the modern nation state and our capacity to organise and act. In this way, the study of rock art provides crucial insights, not only into the world of our ancestors, but our present and future, lending credence to Judith Schalansky’s observation that
The Earth itself is, as we know, a heap of rubble from a past future, and humanity the thrown-together, bickering community of heirs to a numinous yesteryear that needs to be constantly appropriated and recast, rejected and destroyed, ignored and suppressed so that, contrary to popular belief, it is not the future but the past that represents the true field of opportunity (2021, 18–19).
That most rock art dates back some 70 – 30,000 years, to a period in which our species
‘witnessed the invention of boats, oil lamps, bows and arrows and needles,’ as well as ‘religion, commerce and social stratification’ (Harari 2014), should tell us something about its significance on the global stage. With every new epoch comes a new layer, a new skin or sediment, to the point where the Earth has become wholly consumed by human activity (Colomina & Wigley 2016, 12).
It goes without saying that the scale of urbanisation, agriculture, industrialisation, etc. would not have been possible without language or a system, such as rock art, around which ideas could be expressed, preserved, bettered.
Taking as its base the understanding that ‘archeology has always been about design’ – a form of ‘reverse engineering’ that highlights ‘the sedimented ways’ in which we reinvent ourselves (Colomina 2016, 11) – this exhibition traces the continued legacy of rock art in its varied manifestations today, unpacking the similarities and differences that emerged over time in different parts of the world, whilst pointing to the possibility of a shared origin.
It asks where we would be, were it not for the first person(s) who left their mark on a rock in the Blombos cave some 70,000 years back? How different might our sense of self be, were it not for the individual who decided to leave their handprint on the wall of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in southern France; a gesture which seems to foreshadow the thumb-print as the surest mark of individuality?
Would we be in the current predicament that we’re in, were it not for these early surface incisions? And how might we conceive of such symbols in light of our current data-driven age?
Will future generations be equally baffled by the various data storage systems used today – ‘strange aluminium boxes whose contents, owing to rapid advances in platforms and programming languages’ may come to resemble nought but ‘meaningless code’ (Schalansky 2021, 24)? What will they make of our road signs, logos, branded clothes, and social media accounts?
Good Neighbours provides a timely reflection on the relations amongst South Africans and our neighbours in the face of growing global instability. It supports the work of more than 30 artists, 24 of whom have received grants from the Claire and Edoardo Villa Will Trust to produce new work on the given theme.
Partner institutions include the University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Pretoria, University of the Free State, and Tshwane University of Technology. The exhibition is supported by the Portuguese Embassy to South Africa.
"No human life, not even the life of the hermit in nature’s wilderness, is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testifies to the presence of other human beings."
- Hannah Arendt
OPEN LABORATORY #2:
Yusuf Essop (NIROX)
Sven Christian (NIROX)
Raphael Chikukwa (NGZ)
Ndeenda Shivute-Nakapunda (NGN)
Dominick Maiar Tanner (EEL)
Wilma Mutize (UJ)
Genre Pretorius (UP)
Tshegofatso Seoka (TUT)
Tammi Mbambo (UW)
Lyrene Kühn-Botma (UFS)
Jade Nair (UCT)
Janine Allen (UFS)
Kamyar Bineshtarigh (UCT)
Mhloniswa Chiliza (WITS)
Alexandra Cunningham (WITS)
Laura de Harde (UFS)
Johandi du Plessis (UFS)
Marika du Toit (UP)
Angela Ferriera (NIROX)
Daniel Gray (NIROX)
Caitlin Greenberg (TUT)
Viola Greyling (UP)
Tapfuma Gutsa (NGZ)
Dan Halter (NIROX)
Manuela Holzer (UP)
Binelde Hyrcan (EEL)
Mine Kleynhans (UFS)
Lyrene Kuhn-Botma (UFS)
Thero Makepe (UCT)
Collen Maswanganyi (NIROX)
Gonçalo Mabunda (NIROX)
Mário Macilau (NIROX)
Cow Mash (TUT)
Bridget Modema-Mayhew (UP)
Shepherd Ndudzo (NGZ)
Ngwenya Glass (TUT)
Majela Paballo (TUT)
Carol Preston (UP)
Daniela Ribeiro (EEL)
Chloe-Sarah Shain (WITS)
Penny Siopis (NIROX)
Rowan Smith (NIROX)
Briggita Stone-Johnson (WITS)
Moffat Takadiwa (NGZ)
Tawanda Takura (UJ)
Adelheid von Maltitz (UFS)
Ashley Walters (NIROX)
Leon Withuhn (UFS)
MORE WORK TO BE ADDED
In the spirit of ‘Good Neighbours,’ NIROX invited a number of different universities across the country, as well as institutions from our neighbouring countries, to appoint a curator to develop their own take on the overall theme. Set up in conversation with NIROX’s own curatorial section, each curator invited artists to respond to this year’s focus, creating a series of satellite exhibitions that function in conversation with one another.
Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)
University of Cape Town (UCT)
University of the Free State (UFS)
University of Johannesburg (UJ)
University of Pretoria (UP)
University of the Witwatersrand (WITS)
The National Gallery of Namibia (NGN)
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ)
Visual Art Forum for Educators in Southern Africa: (VAFESA)
Empire Arts Agency (EAA)
El Espacio Luanda (ELA)
The Claire and Edoardo Villa Will Trust
The Portuguese Embassy to South Africa
THE COVERED SPACE
On 20th December 2020 NIROX inaugurated its newly covered exhibition space with a solo installation by Nicholas Hlobo.
The Covered Space is a generous rammed earth structure continuing the upskilling of local communities in the craft of building with the earth which began with the construction of the Columba Leadership Residency at NIROX in 2018.
The Covered Space hosts a program for solo artists, installations, and performances.
‘Spirit Matter’ - Jonathan Freemantle
NIROX is pleased to announce Jonathan Freemantle's upcoming solo exhibition, Spirit Matter, opening on Saturday 19 November 2022 in the Covered Space.
The exhibition will debut a range of paintings made in Freemantle's Edinburgh studio and during his residency at NIROX earlier this year. It will also include an installation and performance on the day of the opening, intended as an entry into Freemantle’s meditative painting process, and as a continuation of the artist’s ongoing exploration of the relationship between his body, time, and the earth.
I recently read an interview with the brilliant photographer, Dorothy Bohm. In it she describes attempting to capture ‘poetic, mysterious, transitional moments.’ This resonates very much.
I’m a classically trained painter who now makes largely abstract works, informed by a love for the alchemy of paint and for sacred art across the ages. My works oscillate between minimalism and expressionism, with a spiritual undercurrent drawn from personal experience. My work is about essence. I’m trying to create a language for myself that can speak where words fail, or at least, to signpost experiences of heightened illumination.
With the ‘Spirit Matter’ series, I paint in reverse. The canvas is dyed with a dark black or indigo. I then bleach parts of the surface to reveal lighter areas. The process happens slowly, in many layers, as I attempt to encourage an ethereal light into the artwork. The result is hopefully open-ended and suggestive of a numinous experience. The paintings are not depictions of Spirit — how can one represent the invisible? — but evocations and echos, a vapour. They point towards a presence that you catch out of the corner of your eye, just before it slips away.
The incredible space at NIROX opened new possibilities in the work, both in technique and scale. The paintings appear simultaneously as portals and as veils. They stem from an instinct for a kind of light that I have felt all of my life.
- Jonathan Freemantle, October 2022