Artist Jenna Burchell with her creation, Homing showing at Rhodes Theatre during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival.
100714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu
244 Artist Jenna Burchell with her creation, Homing showing at Rhodes Theatre during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival. 100714. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Evocative soundscapes and flights of fancy

By Diane de Beer Time of article published Jul 15, 2014

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Exhibitions are always a reprieve, nourishment for the soul, at a festival where rushing from show to show can become overwhelming. Diane de Beer discovered two such havens.

MOVING with her family away from home, artist Jenna Burchell went searching for something that would define her disassociation with the world, when everything familiar is suddenly removed.

Sounds revived memories most vividly, and she started working on a soundscape that culminated in forest of copper wires suspended from ceiling to floor in a collection of eight sound harps which culminated in her evocative Grahamstown exhibition, Homing.

With a simple touch of a copper wire or running your fingers through a set of wires you can discover sounds that might remind you of home, or awaken a memory so vivid it’s almost chilling.

Dogs barking, the sound of thunder, the bells of a cathedral, the hustle and bustle of taxis, people talking. All are divided into two cities: her home town, Pretoria, and the smaller Grahamstown, where she spent two weeks refining the festival home’s distinct sounds.

She was seeking a language she could adopt to express her longings and transform these into memories, which is exactly what she has achieved.

She has also turned something that might have intellectual underpinnings into a work that can be accessed by anyone.

“I want to invite a group of blind people to explore these soundscapes,” she says, and immediately one can imagine the impact – an artwork that makes use of different senses.

It’s playful, but allows for more pensive thoughts as your fingers wander trying to find the sounds that might lasso your nostalgia. It isn’t, she says, the entirety of tonality, but her specific encounters.

And while the sounds are clear and distinct, it’s like music to the ears as you pick up the sounds of the Gautrain transporting passengers to work, or the more organic and personal tones of Grahamstown.

There’s also the simplicity yet complicated methods for the functioning of this extraordinarily imaginative work. Or the technology that comes into play. But what she hopes to achieve is often not much more than a smile. Or a dreamy participant who is transported to somewhere far away, but close to the heart.

“It allows you to create your own music,” says this unusual composer, who will be taking the work to Joburg’s Turbine Art Fair from July 17 to 20, and to Cape Town’s Lovell Gallery from July 31 to September 13.

It’s a magic carpet ride to unknown destinations which turns into home.

Young Artist 2005, Wim Botha’s sculptures as a counterpoint can be quite overwhelming because they’re always in flight – or seem to be. With his fantastical festival show, titled Epic Mundane, one already knows there’s something amiss, because while this artist might be many things, mundane is not one of them.

When he speaks about the collection, which doesn’t seem to be travelling in its present form, he wants viewers, like he did, to start from a point where they abandon meaning.

Then, in his festival walkabout, he spends the next hour talking about exactly that – the meaning. Well, perhaps not as clearly as all that, but he does add some understanding to the viewing. The thing one has to understand about this astounding artist is his quest to explore – a journey on which he hopes to take his viewers with him.

He works not only in different materials (bronze, polystyrene, marble, wood, bibles and encyclopaedias), but also in various approaches.

He shied away from the most revered sculpting material – marble, for example. Even though he is regarded as one of our top young sculptors, he avoided working in this ancient stone for all the obvious reasons. But once he did, he poured black ink on the face so perfectly sculpted precisely for the result achieved. He wanted to distort the perfect image and make the sculpture his own.

The exhibition plays with the colours black and white, and he turns tired, one-sided conventional beliefs on their heads with white reflecting, and thus inscrutable, while black becomes the portal, allowing you entry.

The different figures suspended from wires from the ceiling, as if in a dance of association, warrants no coherent logic, yet hankers for discovery and surprise.

It’s intriguing and, from his perspective, unexpected, because while sculpting doesn’t encourage spontaneity, that’s exactly what he aspires to do when working, for example, in polystyrene, which gives him the fluidity he desires.

And with that, he achieves a dimension that allows us to marvel at these sculptures always in flight.

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