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Curatorial Statement

During the global pandemic we learned to normalise uncertainty while we experienced firsthand the fragility and resilience of life, our personal connections and our social relationships. We found joy in subtle moments, celebrating the opportunities to bond with one another and to check in with ourselves. Spier Light Art takes this moment in the pandemic both to reflect and to depart – gazing back while looking forward.

After an overwhelming response to our call for artworks, we have carefully selected works to create an environment that acknowledges our collective joy, commemorates our individual triumphs, and honours the human spirit’s powerful impulse for regeneration.

Enabling us to look further than our everyday realities, the selection of works from some of the most extraordinary artists in our country – and beyond our borders – presents narratives of land, difficult histories, and our relationship with the earth, calling for different, more caring and fuller futures.

The vast selection of work complements and holds together these reflections, manipulating form, light and colour to seduce the senses and invigorate the imagination. By shifting scale, changing our perceptions of materials, and exploring the interplay of light and colour, the art manifests exuberance – for the sheer joy of it.

We’re confident that these light artworks will soothe and inspire, helping us all to navigate this vital moment in time, which is an important turning point in so many respects.

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1. Communion

Seth Deacon

Art as activism drives Deacon’s work. Communion in particular is a response to the ongoing violence against queer people, and it offers a sense of hope amid sadness and despair. A series of portraits vibrant with light and colour form a circular shrine in this installation, creating a place to contemplate our shared humanity as simultaneously ordinary and transcendental. The artwork encourages the viewer to consider the lives of the marginalised while celebrating the unapologetic resilience shown by so many queer people who simply want to live their lives in spaces that prize love, colour and creativity. Through the very act of living, they inspire others to embrace life.

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2. Songsmith

Jenna Burchell

Songsmith (The Great Karoo) is part of award-winning artist Jenna Burchell’s ongoing project wherein she restores broken objects and sites by embedding into them golden instruments called ‘songsmith’. The resulting sound sculptures and interventions respond to human contact by revealing songs about people, places and events as they fall into, and rise from, the vicissitudes of time. Burchell’s work is about preserving the fragile and ephemeral nature of memory and experience – often by fusing the digital with the natural world to create archives wherein the historical is subverted with narratives from the periphery.

From the Spier Arts Collection

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3. Night Light

Lady Skollie & James Delaney

Walk through a valley at night, let the light calm the troubling past of history. Let memories guide you into the future as you contemplate the eland, snake, ostrich and walker. In Lady Skollie and James Delaney’s collaboration, the pair asks the viewer to imagine a story about humanity’s past, present and ultimate ideals. It’s time to consider what came before, what remains and what could have been.

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4. Thyini Bethuna

Joe Turpin

“Oy vey” is a shortened form of the Yiddish phrase “Oy vey is mir”. It translates to “Oh, woe is me” and should be yelled at the heavens or whispered to oneself, says visual artist Joe Turpin. It’s a playful and fitting emotional reaction to life in the pandemic. There is no direct translation from Yiddish to isiXhosa, but a close equivalent expression is “Thyini bethuna.” Both Yiddish and isiXhosa have faced historical persecution but have shown steadfast resilience – precisely the attitude needed amidst lockdowns and interruptions to the lives we once lived.

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5. Alchemy in a pandemic

Nicholas Hales

‘Inner alchemy’ involves practitioners quietening their minds to unlock the suppressed parts of themselves for greater personal integration. Hales uses the pandemic as an enforced context of isolation and containment from which to create his digital installation. The artist asks: have we given our minds the space to explore and accept the previously suppressed parts of ourselves? Using light as a metaphor, Hales plays with ideas of repression and awareness within the broader search for personal transformation.

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6. Air conditioned extremism: Feel Something

Nico Athene

The work explores the concept of self as a co-creation of becoming and undoing, moving beyond divisions of purity and pollutant, nature and technology, sentient or material, other and human. Athene’s video installation forces the viewer to examine the difficulties of late capitalism and the ‘anthropocene’ epoch rather than hide from them. Viewing the art through a maternal paradigm means forgoing rigid boundaries between parasite and collaborator – noting the self as permeable, complicit and vulnerable.

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7. Ophelia

Nandipha Mntambo

‘Ophelia’ is a literary figure from Shakespeare’s play, ‘Hamlet’. Numerous artistic interpretations have transformed her from a minor character into an archetype of feminine madness. Throughout the play, in life and death, Ophelia is acted upon by external forces and rarely speaks for herself. Her death takes place offstage when it is revealed that she has drowned in a stream, in a state of delirium after falling from a willow tree while gathering wild-flowers. From the story it is not clear whether she committed suicide or if her death was rather an untimely accident, an act of chance or fate.

The bronze ‘Ophelia’ was exhibited as part of Mntambo’s show ‘Metamorphoses’, which takes its title from the famous narrative by Roman poet, Ovid. The epic tells of one transformation after another and has profoundly influenced art and literature. One Ovidian myth recounts how the nymph, Chloris, was raped by the west wind, Zephyrus, and then given as his bride. She was given sovereignty over all the world's flowers and so metamorphosed into Flora. Ophelia has long been associated with the ambiguous figure of the flower-dispensing goddess, Flora.

From the Spier Arts Collection

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8. Internalising 'Other'

Nicola Taylor

The artwork explores the scientific principle of relativity through a large, illuminated sphere embedded in the ground. The sphere is the magnification of a representation of the building blocks of matter that create the world around us. As the viewer looks into the sphere, they will see the glow inside, contemplating how the friction created by polarities on a micro-structural scale are required to manifest physical form. Relativity is inherent in physical form and requires at least two ‘things’ that are not the same. Internalising ‘Other’ asks the viewer to consider their origin at an atomic level and our internal polarities. The theory of relativity, therefore, is also an emotional experience.

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9. Petrified

Blaukind and the Renderheads (David Hecker, Alina Smith and Elzeth Calitz)

It’s time to question the prevailing narrative that science and technology hold a place at the top of human creation; instead, we ought to consider the environmental impact. Petrified transports the participant into a petri dish, making them part of an experiment. The growing artificial mycelium and humans inside the petri dish are engaged in a performative dance, oscillating between dystopian and utopian futures. Control over laboratory research is an illusion as a mushroom cloud takes over the sky, highlighting environmental cost.

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10. A Place Inside Time and Space

Nicola Taylor

Visitors are invited to move from source consciousness to physical form through this ‘reality generating machine’ that presents a visual representation of the invisible manifestation journey. This way of seeing the world, with each moment appearing in time and space, describes an inherent state of belonging that is constant but often forgotten. It asks: what and where are we in this context? Do we play the role of the subjective lenses, the light source or perhaps the entire mechanism?

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11. Night Days

Emanuele Dainotti

Lebanon is battling a devastating crisis. Violence, economic scarcity and infrastructural damage plague the country. Frequent electricity outages leave the people in darkness. The video artwork uses light as a medium to define everyday experiences, blurring the line between night and day. Despite being caught in a perpetual abyss, hope persists.

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12. My Secret Digital Garden

Natalie Paneng

Quirky, complex and awkward, this video provides an isolated moment of magic and serenity. Referencing the Ophelia, painted by Sir John Everett Millais, Paneng aims to bring a new life and energy to the original artwork. The installation explores the relationships between nature, technology and magical beings, inspiring playfulness and imaginativeness in the viewer.

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13. "Oy Vey"

Joe Turpin

“Oy vey” is a shortened form of the Yiddish phrase “Oy vey is mir”. It translates to “Oh, woe is me” and should be yelled at the heavens or whispered to oneself, says visual artist Joe Turpin. It’s a playful and fitting emotional reaction to life in the pandemic. There is no direct translation from Yiddish to isiXhosa, but a close equivalent expression is “Thyini bethuna.” Both Yiddish and isiXhosa have faced historical persecution but have shown steadfast resilience – precisely the attitude needed amidst lockdowns and interruptions to the lives we once lived.

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14. Thokoza Mama

Sandile Radebe

Sandile Radebe explores art’s meaning in public and private spaces. ‘Thokoza Mama’ is a sculptural installation comprising six kites tied by strings to a metal base. The base symbolises the role that ancestors or abaphansi play to connect the material and the spiritual world. The kite, with its constant negotiation with the wind, represents the relationship between abaphansi and those seeking spiritual purpose in the material world. The sculpture explores how amabheqe (bracelets) in material culture affect the practice and performance of ‘ubuZulu bethu’ or ‘our Zuluness’.

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15. Night Crumple

Hedwig Barry

This large sculpture made from crumpled sheets of aluminium will change in appearance between night and day. Treated with automotive paints mixed with phosphorescent powder, the artwork has two lives and dramatises the relationship between force, scale and fragility. Aspects of the work that are invisible by day will take on new life in the night's darkness, revealing concealed secrets. The amount of light absorbed by the phosphorescent paint in the day will affect how the work manifests at night in an ongoing and changing response to its site. The weather, the position of the earth relative to the sun and the number of daylight hours will all influence the appearance of the work, whether it is seen by day or by night. Night Crumple invites the viewer to consider the structure’s simultaneous resilience and vulnerability.

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16. Dogwatch

David Brown

The term ‘dogwatch’ is a nautical term that references the split watch over dusk and into the evening, when sight is easily confused by fading light and shifting shadows. Since each was a half-watch, someone taking the shift was said to be ‘dodging the watch’. This may have become associated with dog-sleep, the fitful or interrupted sleep of sailors. The name may also be derived from the dog star, Sirius, first to be seen as night creeps in.

This installation forms part of a series of large structural works, with brutish bronze figures placed on decks made of contrasting cor-ten steel. Brown took inspiration for these portrayals tableaus from heavy-weight wrestling matches: “I attended many of these – they were filled with macho bravado, brutal violence, heads were battered with chairs, ring posts and so on – along with an adoring crowd of fans, shrieking in pleasure. This was another microcosm of the brutal, oppressive system we lived under” – part carnival, part ritualised combat.

From the Spier Arts Collection

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17. The Ocean wants you back

Jen Valendar

Watching window cleaners on the job on a high-rise building in Melbourne’s CBD sparked this work by Valender. Impressed by the cleaners’ calm confidence at a precarious height, the artist contemplated the commonness of the moment: it’s so easy to forget our fragility and vulnerability. As the cleaners descend the exterior of a building, they wipe it away to reveal a volatile sea. They are all united in their vulnerability within a changing environment.

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18. The Sound of my Voice

Tiago Rodrigues

The painful history of the Cape cannot be avoided. This installation encourages contemplation of this history. The phrase of the work is taken from Brett Bailey’s 21 Gables, where the character Sannie says “Ring your bell meneer, ring it loud for soon it will be quiet”. The slave bell used to rule slaves - the installation is an attempt at changing that voice; to bring a different presence to an object that once held so much power.

From the Spier Arts Collection

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19. Inkungu

Nkosenathi Koela

This work “Inkungu '' – seeks to explore the crossroads as the ‘the thin line between the seen and unseen’. In the BaNtu and Nguni cosmology / religious healing ecology, the fog (Inkungu) denotes the presence of ancestors - like rain, it is a deeply significant sign to show that a ceremony, incident and or vision has powerful ancestors and angels present. Koela delves deep into what sound can do as a physical, material and spiritual material that can impact space and time. Exploring this, Koela will collaborate with Mntana. WeXhwele, Andile Dlyalvane, Platoon Records, Milestone Studios and Sean Davenport create an immersive 3-dimensional sonic portal that takes one physically across the bridge of the spiritual realm.

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20. Kudzivirira Mheni

Lionel Tazvitya Mbayiwa

Growing up in the Zimbabwean countryside, painter, drawer, sculptor and photographer Lionel Tazvitya recalls how storytelling and fables kept him entertained. It also shaped his art. One story is about how salt can be used to ward off evil, particularly kudzivirira mheni (to block lightning). In times of rain, thunder and lightning, the belief is that lightning can strike homes and livestock, but only when the gods are upset or it has been orchestrated by someone to hurt another. To avoid this calamity, coarse salt must be thrown at the entrance of the house. The artist uses three types of salt in this project: black for black people, red for lighting and danger, and white for cleansing.

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21. Looking for Ghana

Lhola Amira

As she stalks the streets of Accra, Lhola Amira tackles her preconceptions of Ghana – the first sub-Saharan country to demand independence from colonialism. The film emphasises the futility of trying to fully understand another geographical area’s issues without having extended personal experience of it. Looking for Ghana & The Red Suitcase should not be seen as a summary of a country but rather an intentional focus on inadequate borders and geographical divisions that continue to enforce colonialism in Africa. Lhola Amira worked with local photographer Francis Kokoroko and filmmaker Wanlov Kubolor.

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22. Amahubo

Buhlebezwe Siwani

‘AmaHubo’ is the isiZulu translation of Psalms. In this artwork, Siwani combines her work as an artist and traditional medicine practitioner to explore alternative forms of knowledge and spirituality within the context of a complex and traumatic history of South Africa. She contemplates spiritual connections between community and place – and how these are experienced through shared rites and rituals demonised by Christianity. In her artwork, Siwani examines black women’s bodies as active sites of cultural memory and archives of colonial violence.