Jan van der Merwe The Archaeology of Time 2006 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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The Archaeology of Time 2006 | PAM (Pretoria Art Museum)

Photography by Rupert de Beer

The Archaeology of Time
PRETORIA ART MUSEUM - 28 June to 29 October 2006

Jan van der Merwe uses images, video and found objects for his installation art. The found objects range from personal possessions and inherited items to objects that others have cast aside and rubbish that is thrown away – objects that have outlived their time. These objects have all been used by someone; have belonged to someone. He uses simple materials because simplicity and humility can express more.

All living and non-living things decay and return to dust in the end. Rust is one of the ways of returning to the original substance. Rust is something that destroys, that slowly eats away at an object, causing it to return to dust. Jan uses rust to tell and preserve stories – to preserve our history. Rust is seen as a process of life and a metaphor for our own survival – a symbol of man's struggle for survival. The rusted tin preserves and at the same time hints at fragility and vulnerability.

Layers of rusted tin are attached with bitumen (a thick, sticky, black substance obtained from tar) to everyday found objects. He ages and preserves objects, and captures them, covering them in rust, and by doing this he preserves worlds of vulnerability, transience and impermanence. Everyday, ordinary, banal objects are frozen in time. Tins that once preserved food now become representative of things that are consumed, discarded and lost, and are now preserving the vulnerable, the fate of innocent people.

Jan is an "archaeologist" who excavates the stories and memories of and references to the past that hide in the objects others throw away – objects that once had an impact on their lives. He gives existing objects archeological status by covering them with layers of rusted tin. These objects become remnants of a way of life, a civilization fallen into decay and fossilised by the passage of time and by rust. He places objects in an archeological time capsule, thereby commanding intensive study, as is the case with real archaeological finds.

His installations focus on the human situation, on victims of violence, political events and social realities. The hope is there that these things will not be repeated, but alas, his installations are about things that have happened and will probably happen again. Still, it is an artistic engagement with renewed hope and conscience. Jan cares about the pain and suffering of others.

The End (2006) is an installation art work Jan created specially for his retrospective exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum. The gigantic installation art work (probably Jan's biggest to date) – a movie theatre – consists of 108 movie theatre chairs arranged in rows, through which the viewer can wander. The seats of the chairs – in rows – represent film frames, each freezing a moment in time. Walking along the rows and observing, the viewer undertakes a pilgrimage so to speak.

Some of Jan van der Merwe's other installations and earliest paintings are also on display. His works are represented in a number of public and private collections. He is an award-winning artist who has worked abroad on invitation on several occasions. The Pretoria Art Museum is proud to present this retrospective exhibition of this Free State-born local artist.


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