Memory Keeper by Sonya Rademeyer & Garth Erasmus
“…it [the tree] pragmatically expresses the materialization of multiplicity (represented by its succession of boughs, branches, twigs, and leaves) out of unity (its central truck foundational trunk, which is in turn connected to a common root, source, or origin).
Memory Keeper takes its title directly from Memory Keepers: District 6- conversations with National Living Treasures, where South African cultural elders participate in an open conversation around memory from a post-Apartheid perspective. This project also seeks to explore cultural memory, albeit obliquely.
There was a time when trees were regarded as having an ‘immense and tangible significance to our existence’ where humans regarded trees as ‘powerful images of growth, decay and resurrection’:
In fact, trees have had such an immense significance to humans that there’s hardly any culture that hasn’t invested them with lofty symbolism and, in many cases, with celestial and religious power. The veneration of trees, known as dendrology, is tied up with ideas of fertility, immortality, and rebirth and is often expressed as axis mundi (world axis), world tree or arbor vitae (tree of life). These motifs, common in mythology and folklore from around the globe, have held cultural and religious significance for social groups throughout history – and indeed still do.
The depicted tree above similarly holds significance to the artists of this project, and the concept is thus framed around the personal (experience) of this specific tree, but also expands out into the global by the very nature of trees as ‘one of the most widespread and long-lasting archetypes of our species.”
It is therefore not difficult to imagine this tree as having specific and particular significance where it has been residing on a farm outside of Fortifier (South Africa) for at least the last 150 years or so. Botrivier is a small town in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, where:
Long before Western settlement, this east-facing glen was home to prosperous herders, the Khoi-Khoi, who pastured their livestock in rich pastures along the banks of the “Couga River”. The river flows south towards the marsh Botrivier estuary, and was for centuries the home of contented tribes who savoured the privilege of fresh waters in the water-scarce Cape.
This tree can thus be viewed as an elder, or even as cultural elder, that stands witness to both time and memory. Questions arise as to what may have been witnessed by this Evergreen Elder: What is the untold narrative of this place? What significant cultural depths do the roots connect to? What are the archival memories, and how can these memories be brought to surface ..?
With these questions in mind, Garth Erasmus responds to the original sound to the video piece with only one given directive: “ask questions instead of making choices”, hereby making clear reference to composer John Cage’s creative process of serendipity and chance. With this in mind, Erasmus creates a haunting sound track based on seven drawings created by Rademeyer with each drawing equating to one minute of the musical composition. In the drawings, Rademeyer plays with both the recorded sound of the wind as well tracing the greater movement of the moving branches. Erasmus chooses to play solely with the aspect of wind moving within the branches, creating an improvisational composition for tenor solo saxophone which accompanies the 7 min video piece.
Just as the roots of this ancient Evergreen has survived through its own turbulations, we hope that Memory Keeper will be able to inspire us to hold on in these current times that bring their own challenges.
We offer this work as symbol and reminder of the value of being unified in the collective, and connected through the common root of humanity.
TAF Open Access is a library of content form Turbine Art Fair’s. ongoing programme. Watch past talks, artist & curator interviews and professional practice insights and training.