In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

TERRA: Mining the Artist’s Paintbox from the African Industrial Landscape by Jeannette Unite

Ten years ago I started spending time on mines. My shock response to the 40-year old diamond prospecting pits on the paleaolithic African West Coast beach deposits resulted in the first body of work I exhibited as “Earthscars: A Visual Mining Exploration” in 2004. This show has travelled in different forms to site significant cities and galleries around the SADC countries. Mining has defined African cultural and socio-political identity and the impact of colonialism and globalization affects how we occupy our current landscape.

The work expanded from Earthscars to exploring rehabilitation plants and environmental relationships. Conversations around visual interpretation of the extractive industry with geologists, engineers, metallurgists, and industrialist’s have further expanded my understanding of mining. I have developed paint and pastel and glass recipes from the advice of earth scientists, geo-chemists, paint-chemists and a ceramicist to develop this ‘eco-alchemic’ work.

Over the past decade visual explorations include journeys to Namaqualand, Simon van der Stel’s copper mine, the first colonial mine from 1685, to harbours and construction sites and visits to active gold, coal, salt, manganese, titanium and platinum as well as obsolete and archaeological mine sites. I take photographs from these travels and duplicate images from mining museums and archives, the internet, mining journals and libraries. But the most significant treasures I get from mines are the sands and detritus soiled with history.

My pallette is jars filled with metalliferous and diamondiferous mine dump sand, dust, overburden and metal oxides. My artworks incorporate industrial waste containing enough metal to yield startling colour when molten in kilns in extreme temperatures. The artist as end user of mining re-establishes the art and science link and reminds us that pre-industrial era artists used pestles and mortar in art production. The abstract chthonic glass panels are constructed from recycled detritus and sometime toxic material like lead, arsenic and cyanide that catalyse the mineral and metal reactions.

My material is both subject and object of this corpus of work. Abstract landscapes are made from the actual landscape in a ‘beauty-from-waste’ aesthetic.

I am currently investigating a way to transform current research into work around the issues of the Resource Curse, also known as the ‘paradox of plenty’.

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