Spier Outdoor Sculpture Biennial: Satellite exhibition at Jan Marais Nature Reserve
by Paul Edmunds
I saw four tortoises, several flocks of guinea fowl and a large dung beetle. I was able to identify two of the tortoises, the guinea fowl were familiar enough and there was no mistaking the dung beetle. It was definitely a sculpture, and the first work I came across on my visit to the Jan Marais Nature Reserve, where a satellite exhibition of the Spier Outdoor Sculpture Biennial is on view.
The park is scrubbier than expected - flat, with a mixture of alien and indigenous plants, but attractive in a rugged way. Several acres in size, it is crisscrossed by numerous paths, many of which don't seem to take you anywhere in particular. But this was part of the joy, along with the unexpected heat on a partially cloudy day, the animals and birds, the small fenced-in tracts of indigenous bush and the clear, flooded plain in the middle of the park, which had me venturing out of my shoes and into the water.
Danny Carstens' Dung Beetle rolls a ball of "dung" about two and a half metres in diameter. The beetle's carapace and limbs are fashioned from steel and its underbelly from bent branches. Backing up on a trail of cut logs, it rolls a large orb made from a steel armature, the framework woven with flexible sticks. In the centre of this sphere hangs another, made of solid dung, sprouting radiating branches decoratively banded by the partial removal of their bark. As I entered the park at a side entrance, this work set a precedent for my experience - most of it being of a similar scale and informed by a playful spirit.
Further down the path, I caught sight of several teepee-like structures describing an arc over a distance of about 100 metres. Six in total, these were David Jones' Walking Aliens. The title probably refers as much to the strange, ambulatory appearance of the structures as to the fact that they are made from gum poles - the gum being an alien plant which is ubiquitous in South Africa and has even encroached on this nature reserve. Beneath several of these were smaller structures, one of which, with its broken bottles and animal bones, brought to mind a Santeria offering.
Next on the map was Sanelle Aggenbach's horse made from vegetation. Despite what I regard as my pretty competent map-reading skills, I was unable to locate this work. So I headed for the interior of the park where the glistening vlei attracted my attention, only to be distracted by a labyrinth. Terry de Vries' work occupies a cleared area about eight metres across, the path marked by shored-up stones. The path follows intestinal convolutions, so that you are forced to cover the largest possible area of the circle on your way to its centre. Goal-oriented habits soon give way to the steady cadence of one's steps and the repeated about-turns you're forced to make. The path opens up into a six-petalled form. At the apex of each petal are sizeable pieces of rose and clear quartz, guarding, in the circle's centre, a beautiful grey-green boulder thinly covered in lichens.
I admit I took the shortcut out, but I was intrigued by the large, white forms lining the curved bank of the vlei (probably a seasonal body of water, since the bottom was covered in grass and the water exquisitely clear). Hettie de Klerk's Spiral/Spele consists of eight identical cast plaster shell-like forms standing about 60cm high. They were refreshingly cool and pleasing to the touch and contrasted brightly with the dusky green vegetation. Their reflections were visible from the other side of the vlei.
Jacobus Kloppers' Feasting on the Road is one of the more conventional artworks on the show, but engages with South African landscape in the most successful way. A typical concrete roadside picnic table and chairs are set into the ground at a slight angle and lower than usual, making the surface of the table more conveniently visible. On this surface Kloppers has created a beautiful mosaic depicting the typical view down a long stretch of national road. The table is found alongside a dusty track in the partial shade of a dry alien tree, evoking memories of family road-trips across the country, punctuated by roadside stops in uncomfortable summer heat.
I was unable to appreciate the last work I saw, being alone at the time. Elmarie van der Merwe's Talking Tube is a balustrade-like construction, about five metres long with flared ends, which operates like a crude intercom (positioned at a height convenient for children).
If you are expecting a collection of Andy Goldsworthy-type works in a pristine or well-maintained park, you might be surprised. But take along a playful spirit, perhaps a towel or a picnic and be prepared to spend a bit of time there, and you won't be disappointed.
The works will remain on show until they deteriorate. Their construction was financed by the Jan Marais National Fund.
Click here for Tracy Murinik's review of the main Spier Outdoor Sculpture Biennial exhibition