Researcher Blog by Reader in Fine Art Hester Reeve – Reflections on a residency at Nirox Sculpture Park, South Africa
About the author
Hester Reeve is a performance artist who works with Live Art actions, philosophy, dialogues, drawing and photography. Hester is a Reader in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University – find out more information on Hester Reeve and her work on her webpage.
I’m currently on a research residency at Nirox Sculpture Park in South Africa. This is a site of some square miles dedicated to the creation and installation of outdoor artworks and it is composed of one side of exquisitely maintained lawns and lakes and on the other side a nature reserve of wild ‘veld’ land. All this sits squarely in the centre of the ‘Cradle of Humanity,’ a world heritage site where some of the world’s most important Hominini fossils have been discovered. As the Nirox Foundation’s website explains, “3 million years of human activity have taken place in the Cradle, including the earliest known mastery of fire and human’s becoming bi-pedal.”
I am here setting the foundations for a new long-term art project (with great thanks to Yorkshire Sculpture Park for establishing the introduction), so this trip is all about getting to know the site, its staff and initiating a process of connections, philosophical reading and art making. There is no pressure to produce a final work on this visit, and this is quite
liberating. When I first arrived I used my studio to write poetry, read books on African cosmology and stare out expectantly, hoping for the over five-foot-high ‘Goliath Heron’ who materialised like a supernatural sentry from time to time in the distance. Once in the studio working I might have been anywhere, but the sign on the door reminded me I was somewhere very specific – keep the door shut or the monkeys will come in and meddle with the artefacts!
Whilst here, I have convened a Bohm Dialogue as an event linked to Nirox’s upcoming winter exhibition Not a Single Story which also coincided with international Slow Art Day. The whole point of this is not simply to slow down but to reconsider how we perceive, what we perceive and the consequences – both for art and the humans who experience it. For this public event, Jess Doucha had the inspired idea to curate Alexander Technique (local practitioners Lucia Walker and Sharyn West) and Bohm Dialogue together in order to explore how paying attention to the micro management of body movement and the individual and collective faculty of thinking to create ‘coherent meaning’ might benefit one another.
In some ways the comfort of the morning session (with Alexander Technique and barefoot walking in the landscape) made the trickiness of the afternoon session of Bohm Dialogue (where people have to stick it out together in a room with there no agenda other than to get over the inevitable obstacles of ego, communication habits and an over-dependence on knowledge in order to discover insight together) even more pronounced. I learned a lot from this experience, particularly how useful it will be in future meetings to incorporate body based exercises in breaks to help facilitate deep thinking.
Alongside this, I have been reading about the philosophy of Ubuntu and the resonances between this and Bohm’s ideas particularly in how we might better approach the problems facing us as civilisations and the integral relationship between the individual and the collective.
It’s been such a rewarding stay. There are many things I wasn’t expecting. Firstly, I am still unable to process the ‘effect’ on me of working within the context of the ‘Cradle of Humanity’ because it is too vast, too stimulating and far more real than I had expected. Here, ancestry and the sometimes overbearingly uncanny nature of possessing consciousness and imagination, starts to lay claim on you. So much so that I abandoned the studios on the garden side of the site and took up residence in an old archaeological base camp hut nestled in trees and a stone’s throw from the mouth of Plovers Lake cave.
Here I have started performative actions and drawings on grasses. Secondly, there are other artists from around the world here too and I’ve had some incredible chats about artistic process and the current status of art school art education, the inspiration from which will be infusing my future work at SHU for a long time to come.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.