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Science meets art at this year's Sasol New Signatures Awards

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on August 30, 2012.

Albert Einstein once wrote: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. So the unknown, the mysterious, is where art and science meet." The line between science and art is but a thin one. It is often thought that art is not related to science but without the image documenting of various animals, plants and organisms, we would not know what we do today.

The winner of the 2012 Sasol New Signatures prize is 48 year old microbiologist from Franschhoek, Ingrid Bolton, sees this merging of biology and art. Bolton depicts diatoms in her work which are one of the largest and ecologically significant groups of organisms on Earth and make a large contribution to the global carbon economy which is more than all the world’s tropical rainforests. Bolton explains that the organisms at the bottom of the food chain of all sea life but produce half the oxygen we breathe. The work titled Un(sea)n plays on the impact of industrialisation on global warming threatening the life of these organisms that play an important part in balance in the ocean.

Bolton studied microbiology but had an interest in ceramics making, completing a Diploma in Ceramics in 2005. She describes the connection between science and art as important part to her work. She is currently studying Visual Art at UNISA. Bolton received the grand-prize of R60 000 and a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Arts Museum next year.

The installation of carefully crafted ceramic items suspended in a circle above a pool of used oil, its smell instantly recognisable throughout our industrial society, depicts the importance of nature and how the development of the human race is impacting the fragility of the balance. "The way the installation suspends above the circular oil tray requires balance and echoes the precarious dynamic of these organisms in nature. Their fragility reflects back and becomes a metaphor for our own existence and the fleetingness of life," explains Bolton. The diatoms die, dropping down to the bottom of the ocean and over time become oil, becoming an important human resource. "The whiteness of the porcelain pieces reflect back into the pool of used black motor oil on the floor suggesting transience. The way the installation suspends above the circular oil tray requires balance and echoes the precarious dynamic of these organisms in nature," as stated in the judges' report.

Runner up, Kenyan-born, Mandy Martin's works, titled Trembling Giant and Virgin Pulp, are made from paper, paper threads and paper pulp cast into veil sheets. The layers of concentric circles represent the life rings of a tree and essentially the passage of time. She walked away with a cash prize of R20 000. She has spent most of her life in South Africa, completing her high school education at the Johannesburg Art School in 1991. She studied Photography at Vaal Technikon and is a recent Masters graduate from the University of Johannesburg. She has extensive experience working with paper and fibre and has visited various countries such as Japan to investigate paper making techniques.

This year's entries saw over 500 works judged by various regional centres throughout the country. The competition is in its 23rd year and and is the longest running, national art competition in South Africa. "The artworks submitted this year were of a high standard and the entrants understood the emphasis placed on quality craftsmanship," said Peter Binsbergen, National Chairperson of the Sasol New Signatures selection panels. The Sasol New Signatures art competition is open to artists who are 18 years and older and who have not held a solo exhibition, except for academic purposes before. The competition opens to fresh, local talent who have the opportunity to launch their careers locally and abroad.

The five Merit Award winners were: Brendon Erasmus, Martin Pieter Klaasee, Lindi Lombard, Renzske Scholtz and Zelda Stroud who each received R5 000. View a list of all the finalists here

Martin Pieter Klaasee has had no artistic tuition other than that of his field, architecture. His print, (D)evolution, plays on the psychology of the wavering mind or the untrained mind where the mind creates it own interpretation of the figure of the crow on the Christ-like figure and its overall misrepresentation which the viewer realizes the truth of the image. Brendon Erasmus plays on the theme of censorship in his work, It's all going down the tube thanks to media lube which depicts pornographic scenes hidden from the viewer through pixelsation. Lindi Lombard, who hails from Grahamstown, engages the audience in a relook at the lack of interaction and engagement between people due to the advancement of technology.

The exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum is open from 30 August to 30 September 2012. The 2011 Sasol New Signatures winner, Peter Mohau Modisakeng, will also be exhibiting his works as part of his solo exhibition. (The works appear courtesy of BRUNDYN + GONSALVES, Cape Town)

Photographs by Rupert de Beer.


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