Currently showing at Cameraland on Long Street, beyond Beyond is a photographic exhibition by artist Kali van der Merwe that takes the relationships between plants and insects as its imaginative starting point, bringing all the drama and visual splendour of plant life of the Overberg wilderness into a city context.
‘Having survived for close to a billion years, plants have developed some of the most intelligent, resourceful ways of attracting what they need to survive and propagate. ‘They are known to communicate with each other through the release of pheromones,’ says the artist, whose background as a photographer, filmmaker and ceramist enable her to tell micro stories with macro impact.
Curated by Jackie Murray and lushly printed on high-quality photographic paper by ArtLab, Van der Merwe’s composite photographs explore the mystery of plant intelligence, casting common and endangered fynbos flowers and insects in leading roles in a spectacular drama of courtship and cosmic dalliance. The exhibition also features perspex prints in light boxes and a large-scale projection on the rooftop deck wall at the Cameraland premises.
Five years ago, Van der Merwe moved away from the city. As an image maker, using photography as her medium, she chose to situate herself in the floral heart of the Overberg fynbos region, where she has slowly become more and more attuned to the ‘world of plants, creatures, silence and stars, experiencing their cyclical rhythms and complex network of interactions’.
Her images conjure a charged and magical sense of both her relationship to her chosen habitat and the intimate connections between other living beings in the world around her.
‘Exuberant fynbos displays the most abundant proliferation of species of any floral kingdom, yet this glorious heritage is seriously at risk with over 1000 species close to extinction,’ says Van der Merwe. ‘At this historical juncture, the imbalances human destructive forces have wreaked are noticeable. I feel it is important to give image and agency to the natural world we are destroying. Beauty is a useful tool for inspiring value and emotional connection.’
On a daily basis, she is privileged to come into contact with rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. Using a slow photographic process of long exposures with a continuously moving light source in her creative documentations, she searches for ‘an elusive soul quality’ in everything that comes under her macro lens, ‘opening up worlds within worlds’.
In as much as Van der Merwe’s images celebrate life in in all is diversity and potency, they also consider darkness and death, honouring the lives of the dead creatures that she comes across on her daily walks in the veld surrounding her home. ‘Beyond documentation, I fictionalise interspecies relationships, taking license to arrange my “tableau mort”,’ she says. ‘This storytelling is presented as “poetic ecstatic truth”, a term coined by filmmaker Werner Herzog.’ Many of the actual creatures that feature in her images have been included in the delicate installation that forms part of the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition, beyond Beyond, was inspired by the last line of the Buddhist Heart Sutra, which translates as, ‘gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond’ poetically pointing to the path of awakening.
‘The Hubble telescope has imaged more and more of the seemingly boundless universe,’ says Van der Merwe. ‘If anyone viewing my creations can come away with a sense of marvel, mystery, greater affection or empathy for the creatures and plants with which we share our greater context, then I feel I have made a tiny contribution to a expanding awareness of our mutual interconnectedness.’
Where Cameraland, 68 Long Street, Cape Town
When Until 7 November (exhibition will be open on the night of 5 November for First Thursdays Public Artwalks Evening)
Contact [email protected]