Land art in South Africa
Did you know?
Andrew van der Merwe – a world-famous beach calligrapher – creates artworks on the beaches of Cape Town on a regular basis.
Land art is the process of creating an artwork with natural materials from the landscape. 'Artists use things like sticks, sand, mud and stones to create interventions and artworks that focus the viewer's attention on an aspect of their surroundings,' explains artist Anni Snyman, who co-founded Site_Specific, a non-profit group that produces land-art events in South Africa.
While artists' reasons for creating land art may differ, 'it is a way of interacting with the natural world that does not aim to utilise or tame and restrain the environment', says Snyman. By working with the materials, rhythms and processes inherent in nature, land art becomes a way to reintegrate the human, as artist and viewer, with the environment.
While land art can have complex and profound thought processes behind it, part of its appeal is that it's intellectually accessible. 'The spatial experience of walking, being human under a vast sky and upon a textured earth, is one that every human being can access. You do not need to have a degree in art history to appreciate it.'
A guiding principal of the creation of site-specific art is that it may not cause harm to the environment, living creatures or their habitats, and must leave no trace that cannot be reabsorbed into the environment.
While some landscapes are easier to work with than others, 'it is important to realise that the scale of the intervention can be really small, and if the artist has no intention of impressing other humans with the work, then any place that inspires the artist can become the location for land art', says Snyman. This also means that different artworks have different lifespans. 'Some are as ephemeral as the patterns in water, others as "permanent" as enormous boulders stacked upon each other.'
It is generally accepted within the site-specific art community that good land art focuses the viewer's attention on an aspect of the environment that might have been overlooked otherwise. In this way, it can act as a framing device that brings meaning to the site, celebrating the natural world, and sometimes making a statement about its use, conservation or simple beauty.
Aartmoeders by Simon Max Bannister and Calling the Herd by Strijdom van der Merwe are two well-known pieces of land art along the Eden to Addo land-art route that visitors to South African can see. Other places where people can experience site-specific art in South Africa include the Nirox sculpture park at the Cradle of Humankind. You can also see Marco Cianfanelli's installation at Nelson Mandela's capture site near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal and a thatch sculpture by Angus Taylor at the botanical garden in Potchefstroom.
There are also quite a few examples of land art on Boland wine farms, while 'all prehistoric art can be seen as land art. Rock engravings and paintings can be found all over South Africa,' says Snyman.
As well as being a 'memory anchor', different cultural traditions like weaving, thatching and mud painting, as well as certain patterns found in traditional pottery and crafts, find their way into land art.
'Very often land artists are concerned with environmental issues such as disappearing habitats and species, so the artwork can act as an entrance point for people to learn more about the natural, as well as the cultural, world,' says Snyman.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Site_Specific land art
Around the area
South Africa's beautiful environments inspire artists around the country to experiment with land art, so you'll find it in some of the country's most scenic areas, including on beaches, wine farms, mountains and other diverse landscapes.
Tours to do
The Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative hosts a hike every September, while artists Galeo Saintz and Simon Max Bannister are in the process of developing eco-art trails.
What will it cost
Land art is generally free for anyone to enjoy.
The Land Art Biennale takes place in South Africa every two years. It is a platform for established South African artists to meet, learn from and work with international land artists and vice versa. There are generally many opportunities for the public to participate and interact with the artists.
You can't buy land art, but many artists who create site-specific art also sell artworks in other genres.