The Mesh: Connecting with environmental damage
By Thabo Twala
“The Mesh”, an art installation by Keith Armstrong, with contributions by Thabang Mofokeng was exhibited at the University of the Free State’s Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery earlier this month, Thabo Twala reports.
Following a lecture on cultural studies with a particular focus on the broadened definition of the concept of a “text”, I felt the need to try and look at things from that perspective. Now, I certainly wasn’t going to read an activity like studying, as a text. That gets enough attention as it is. I would prefer something leisurely and out of my daily routine. Keith Armstrong’s art work came to my attention and his exhibition became the object of my reading.
One of the artworks in this interactive, experiential exhibition is titled “Eremocene (Age of Loneliness)”, it is a video installation described as an “internally glowing creature” that is observable through a set of peepholes highlighted by a neon strip necessitated by the almost pitch-dark room which hosts it. The accompanying sounds which haunt the installation seem to charm the glowing creature as one would a snake.
These elements combined establish a sense of immersion which reinforces the fact that we are on the outside looking in, despite our sensory vulnerability in this space.
Contributing artist Mofokeng’s work “O Tswellang” seems to emphasise Armstrong’s visual art. Mofokeng’s “O Tswellang” reads: “there is no time to complain, the only remaining time is to start implementing change. If not, we will perish” and in Sesotho “ha ho na nako ea ho chacheha ka mohono, nako e setseng ke ea hore re fetohe eseng moo re tla timela”.
One of the most engaging works in this exhibition is titled “Seasonal”. This three-part installation includes a projection of images sourced from “the subtle transitions between what Europeans once named ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’ and the multiple seasons recognised by indigenous cultures”.
The images are in a uniform state of de-generation. It strikes me that these images are the only yardstick we have to help us visualise an overworked eco-system.
This re-imagination of the meaning of the images takes place seamlessly, without any alteration to the images themselves. It reminds me of how little I’m phased by the 1 degree rise in global temperatures since the turn of the century.
The kicker to this well-articulated message is “Inter-state”.
It underscores the centrality of socio-cultural aspects, like language, in distinguishing the seemingly indistinguishable. Furthermore, it positions these aspects as an impetus for human relations at the micro-level and social action at the macro.
This is primarily done through the texts which constitutes a single revised image of the periodic table of elements in an archaic computer interface system.
The text itself contrasts “modern scientific ideas and processes of elemental organisations with the relational thinking of selected contemporary artists and philosophers”
To boil everything down and sum it up the exhibition concludes with “Shifting dusts”.
Following in the Biblical tradition the narrative of a single human’s cyclical degeneration and reformation is projected onto a bed of beach sand.
This intertextual reference imbues the text with a hope that human relations with the natural environment can be repaired to restore an overall balance.
The clarity of the images, especially at transitional phases of the aforementioned cycle, seem to contrast with the high-definition era which has locked in all popular media.
This contrast serves to remind us that while some good may be salvaged the situation we have brought ourselves to is beyond any hope for absolute repair.
Images courtesy of by i-flair photography.