Landscape art is one of the earliest themes in art as people used the genre as a way to depict the world around them. Historically in traditional Western art, landscape was a popular way to capture the beauty of the natural world and express emotions such as awe and wonder, and to share lands explored or ‘discovered’. Today, landscape art remains a popular and enduring genre, with artists beginning to critique the original purpose of the subject by looking more carefully at the locations and contexts of certain landscapes and what they represent.
A popular theme of art in South Africa is that of mining – it is an industry that has built many cities and towns – and something that at one point in their lives, every South African has encountered directly or indirectly. The artistic exploration of mining and landscape has an extensive history within South Africa, late nineteenth-century postcards produced by commercial studios celebrated views of industrial sites. However, in 1973, renowned photographer, David Goldblatt released his social documentary project: ‘On the Mines’, in which he challenged the positive narrative of mining in South Africa. This was the inspiration of many contemporary artists and photographers who have gone on to explore the implications on the landscape by the mining industry.
Let’s look at the different artists in the TAF Paper exhibition and understand where their works overlap and how they expand on the subject in their own unique way:
Landi Raubenheimer looks at the South African landscape as an exploited resource, she does this by experimenting with the map of South Africa and the way in which maps divide land and soil into territories using pattern, colour, and medium to convey her message. While Landi’s work uses visual language to tell a conceptual story – Talya Stein utilizes process to understand and portray her message. Although her work explores ideas of control and she doesn’t speak directly to the mined space, the experimentative process can be related to the mined landscape and the other works in this article. She looks at patterns that form on rocks and how those patterns speak to time and erosion.
The pattern appears to be a thread that ties all these works together, Shayna Rosendorff’s work explores the history of invasion, exploitation, division, and colonization using carefully sourced aerial imagery of mines in Southern Africa as a vehicle to consider the future of the African Landscape. She does this by representing only the unnatural aspects of the landscape and encourages the audience to consider what the landscape might look like without the mine. In considering things left behind, Chloe Shain’s story is much more personal, the work emerged from her family archive, looking at the ‘inherited histories of whiteness’. As her grandfather was a mining engineer who worked in mines across South Africa from the early 1950s to the late 1970s, through this, she looks at her ‘personal connection to destruction’. I find her title ‘mine to mine’ particularly clever in the way it encapsulates her concept in just one line. This is an example of how captions and titles are useful tools in trying to understand an artwork.
The mined landscape is a conceptual framework that has the potential to present multiple narratives, encourage diverse interpretations, and highlight the complexities of modern-day inequality that is the result of mining. Today, many young artists have set out to explore the mined landscape as a representation of contemporary uneven social relations, underlying political issues, and the environmental impact of mines.
Written by Shayna Rosendorff