Land Throws Up a Ghost / 2013
Goodman Gallery, Cape Town
“Land Throws Up a Ghost“ is the title of one the works on my new show. The idea for many of these paintings is that there is an underneath landscape, echoing in distorted form the landscape above, containing evidence of past endevours, battles, mining, the histories of lives lived. Ghosts accrue to this history, sometimes taking definite form as in the two “Man Loses History” paintings but sometimes the form is suggestive as in “Land Throws Up a Ghost III”.
I suppose there is some symmetry in the fact that as the son of a miner, I would be interested in the underground, the space underneath the visible landscape. In truth I love both the above ground landscape and the more elusive below ground space, but for this exhibition I have made paintings that explore the underneath as a place where an archive of our distempers resides.
I have probed this terrain on and off during the past decades, first as the space that I crawled into as a child, “As a child growing up in Zambia, the son of a miner, I loved to burrow into the earth. I remember digging tunnels and the intimate sexual sense of lying under the ground surrounded by redness remains with me.”
Indeed that ‘redness’ persists, as the dominant colour of these paintings is red, red earth, red sediment, red stains in the earth.
When I moved to Johannesburg some twenty years ago the first thing I fixed on were the mine dumps, those strange additions to the landscape, made up of the wastes of mining.
At the time I wrote “The city of Johannesburg exists because of its mines. They have provided its wealth, its industry, determined its society by moving populations and have made, if not mountains, at least some hills. Here, a comparatively flat landscape has been divided, demarcated and provided with vistas by the piling up of its underground wastes. I am compelled by these dumps. Strangely silent, these mounds have something of the sacred about them. Unbuilt and unpeopled, they alone are free of commercial activity in a city avaricious for rentable space. “
Extracting the contents of the underground has been central to our history. Besides the myriad shafts under our feet, forming doppelganger cities, our landscape is also latticed by defensive surface trenches, dug by opposing armies, marshaled in pursuit of the below ground riches.
My series Memorials Without Facts and Frontier Erotics were concerned with imaging alternative narratives to the heroic masculinity often associated with the battles that have so powerfully inscribed our psychic realm.
Landscapes tell stories, some obvious, some wishful, some obscure and some concealed. It is these narratives of land that I am concerned with in this show. As most of the images are placed in the ‘underneath’ the usual conventions and grammars of landscape art centered around the logical construction of space using perspective, tone and horizon do not apply. I needed a different grammar and in assembling this vocabulary I have looked at the languages generated by Ground Penetrating Radar, which flares into lurid colour when a body is found, the beautifully precise mapping techniques used by anthropologists, and archaeologists and of course the images and diagrams generated by mining.
Flying through one image is a solitary Kingfisher, a reference and homage to the beautiful Hiroshige print, Komakata Hall and Azuma Bridge.
As in the Hiroshige the bird is both subject and witness to the landscape below.