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Spier Light Art – Artistic embrace of the dark is an experience like no other

Spier Light Art – Artistic embrace of the dark is an experience like no other
"Night Crumple" by Hedwig Barry. The sculpture is made from crumpled sheets of aluminium and is treated with automotive paints mixed with phosphorescent powder, making it change in appearance between night and day. Image: Supplied / Spier Light Art

Back for its fourth year, the Spier Light Art show offers a unique approach to art, inviting guests to experience its numerous installations by night, letting each piece light the way.

The show brings together myriad artists and creators, with their own stories and mediums, all linked by a common ingredient: Light.

This is merely a starting point, and each installation has a unique approach to the task as the artists showcase their own perspectives on what it means to both reflect on the past and look forward to the future of modern-day South Africa.

“As we emerge from hard lockdowns, and are seemingly moving to a space of living with the pandemic, we believe that the artworks this year in turn provide gentle and tentative ways around emergence,” Jay Pather, one of the curators of the exhibition, explains.

“The works talk through a quiet unfolding, unravelling and waking up.”

At one of Spier’s permanent exhibits, Songsmith (The Great Karoo) by Jenna Burchell, the first two light installations can be found.

Seth Deacon’s Communion involves a circle of portraits lit up to reveal bright and vivid colour and inviting the viewer to move into the middle or circle to each piece. Deacon, known for works driven by activism, presents these portraits of queer people who have been subjected to violence and abuse. The stained-glass effect of the portraits creates a holy moment in an installation that Pather likens to a “temple of reverence”.

“Communion” by Seth Deacon. Image: Supplied / Spier Light Art

“Night Light” by Lady Skollie and James Delaney. Image: Supplied / Spier Light Art

Moving next to Night Light, this collaborative work by Lady Skollie and James Delaney stands tall in the darkness. As with Communion, this piece demands that the viewer move around it to fully experience it, reflecting on South Africa’s history.

Night Light draws us into a contemporary evocation of a totem, lit from the inside like a column of fire, around which we are meant to gather,” Pather says.

“Both Communion and Night Light are a clear invitation to move into or around a space,” co-curator Vaughn Sadie explains.

Regular visitors to Spier Light Art may remember more interactive pieces around the estate at the show’s inception. Due to the pandemic, the curators scaled back on installations that invited guests to touch and move the pieces.

Petrified by Blaukind and the Renderheads (David Hecker, Alina Smith and Elzeth Calitz) is one of the few interactive pieces, where guests can stand underneath bright, neon shapes that change colour and emit sound as people move below.

Petrified transports the participants into a Petri dish, making them a part of an experiment and engaging them in a performative dance,” Pather explains.

“Petrified” by Blaukind and the Renderheads (David Hecker, Alina Smith and Elzeth Calitz). Image: Supplied / Spier Light Art

Nicola Taylor’s two pieces, A Place Inside Time and Space and Internalising ‘Other’, are complementary and contrasting. Internalising ‘Other’, which is installed into the ground, forces the viewer to look within. In daylight, the orb reflects its surroundings, and at night it becomes possible to look into the piece, a commentary on the importance of embracing the quiet and the dark.

While Internalising ‘Other’ looks within, A Place Inside Time and Space looks out. Like a kaleidoscope, the images are blown up and projected by light onto glass. Rotating each glass piece to the perfect position, one may be able to find the image hidden inside the projection. 

Moving to the Werf, in front of the Manor House, you’ll find Night Crumple by Hedwig Barry. Made out of crumpled sheets of aluminium, the piece is painted with a mix of car paint and phosphorescent powder which absorbs light in the day and begins to glow as it gets darker.

As dusk settles in, the piece’s true form becomes more visible, highlighting detail and textures that went unnoticed in the daylight.

“This emerging more fully at night is a gentle reversal of the expectation of opacity, invisibility and blindness in darkness,” Pather says, as the piece takes on a second life after the sun goes down.

“Oy Vey” by Joe Turpin. Image: Sarah Hoek

Moving towards the bridge, this is where the show begins to climax. In the full darkness, guests move across the river to a crescendo of Nkosenathi Koela’s haunting sound sculptures of Inkungu.

On the other side, at the foot of the bridge, is Lionel Tazvitya Mbayiwa’s Kudzivirira Mheni, a piece made from coarse black, red and white salt.

“The play on the welcome mat at the threshold of the home, constructed with salt, is a reference to the coarse salt thrown at the entrance to the house to ward off evil and protect it from danger,” Pather explains.

This piece sets the viewer up to move into the great expansive field beyond, where Lhola Amira’s Looking for Ghana and Buhlebezwe Siwani’s Ahahubo are found playing on large projector screens. Here, sitting underneath the stars, the two artists “take us through the complex and layered atmospheres of spirituality, land and home”, says Pather.

The scale of Spier creates an experience of art like no other. By traversing the earth, this is a show that celebrates movement, community and exploration as guests move from piece to piece like moths to a flame, or adventurers seeking beacons of hope in the darkness. By moving away from a gallery space, the exhibition gives the guests the freedom to move and explore as they make their way across the grounds in the darkness. DM/ML

​​Spier Light Art runs until 18 April 2022 at Spier Wine Farm. Entry is free and booking is recommended to ensure adherence to Covid-19 protocols.

Disclosure: The author was invited to attend the opening night event on behalf of Maverick Life, which included a sunset picnic and walkabout with the curators.

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