Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013

About

Building on last year’s body of work shown at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town, Vári’s new exhibition in Johannesburg concentrates on the trope of excavation. For this native Gauteng artist, who has worked consistently with the idea of a mutant geopolitical landscape throughout her career, the revelatory potential of turning up the soil, or drawing things out of the earth, is not new.

Nor is it an unfamiliar trope in South African contemporary art. While many celebrated SA artists concentrate on the direct confrontation between landscape, capital, labour and imagination that goes into the iconography of South African mining, this is becoming less tenable, for both historical and politico-aesthetic reasons, the seismic shifts of Marikana being prominent among them.

Vári’s exhibition departs from the general template of an aesthetic depiction of the contest between capital and the embedded political power of the historically white mining elite on one hand and the perpetually displaced and disempowered working class majority on the other.

Through her lens, and through an exhibition of truly mixed media work – in photographic prints, video installations, paintings and sculptures – she presents the trope of excavation as a key metaphor in the Southern African imagination, one that goes back to antiquity and draws together the material and metaphysical aspects of the underground.

Working with themes that range from archaeological discovery to the extraction from the earth of resources to the subconscious origin of creativity and regeneration, Vári specifically references the ancient and more recent history of the Johannesburg region, from the Cradle of Humankind, to the Gold Rush and Randlord era, to more personal and contemporary narratives relating to the city. Her work investigates how the stuff of the earth (minerals) and of mind and spirit (mythology and sacred knowledge) is brought to the surface, where it undergoes a fundamental transmutation into secular and spiritual currency.

A tension thus exists in the exhibition between ideas of a supernatural existence expressed through the ability to transform physical materials and resources and a secular take on the same idea. In the secular sense the mining industry excavates raw minerals and resources and turns them into capital, control, social and political power, while the excavations of archaeology reveal the riches of time and the depths of identity. In the spiritual sense the stuff of the earth is extracted and transformed through a “torment of the metals” into material of rare power – the prime matter of the universe of which our planet and everything on it is made, changed alchemically into substances which can allow us to live forever, possess great knowledge, and so on. Common to both also is the idea that wealth – or sacred knowledge – could cheat death, provide access to the beyond in terms of a spiritual or civic legacy.

The transformative illusion – lead into gold, death into life, is envisioned in Vári’s show as a series of such uncanny transformations. In the depths of Vári’s imagination, the excavations become primal and futuristic in the same moment, the urban landscape the inverse of the underground, the sky the inverse of the tunnel or the cavern. It is a vision both political and aesthetically transformative.

One key idea connects both the spiritual or alchemical realm and the extractive or capitalist one: through the fire – whether that of the imagination or of the purifying smelter – all things taken from the earth will return to ash. And ash, of course, is one key element in the grinding of the lenses through which we continue to be able to see and imagine.

  • Treasure (foretold)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (foretold), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (blighted)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (blighted), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (taken)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (taken), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (lost)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (lost), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (abandoned)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (abandoned), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (forgotten)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (forgotten), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Treasure (wagered)

    Minnette Vari

    Treasure (wagered), 2013

    Archival pigment ink on cotton fibre paper

    1000 X 637.5 mm

    Edition of 5

  • Baubo on the Shore (The Unforgetting of Knowing)

    Minnette Vari

    Baubo on the Shore (The Unforgetting of Knowing), 2012

    Ink and oil on paper

    152 x 135 cm

  • Revenant Study I

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study I, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22 cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study II

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study II, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study IV

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study IV, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study V

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study V, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study III

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study III, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study VI

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study VI, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study VIII

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study VIII, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22cm

    Edition of 10

  • Revenant Study IX

    Minnette Vari

    Revenant Study IX, 2012

    Pigment ink on archival paper

    32 x 22 cm

    Edition of 10

  • The Revenant

    Minnette Vari

    The Revenant, 2012

    Edition of 5

  • Life of Baubo: Apotrope I

    Minnette Vari

    Life of Baubo: Apotrope I, 2011

    Ink on paper

    70 x 50 cm

  • Life of Baubo: Apotrope II

    Minnette Vari

    Life of Baubo: Apotrope II, 2011

    Ink on paper

    70 x 50 cm

  • Life of Baubo: Apotrope III

    Minnette Vari

    Life of Baubo: Apotrope III, 2011

    Ink on paper

    70 x 50 cm

  • Life of Baubo: Apotrope V

    Minnette Vari

    Life of Baubo: Apotrope V, 2011

    Ink on paper

    70 x 50 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Sunday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Sunday's Child, 2012

    Fine gold and chalcopyrite

    Approx. 20 x 3 x 2 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Monday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Monday's Child, 2012

    Sterling silver

    Approx. 20 x 3 x 3 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Tuesday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Tuesday's Child, 2012

    Iron and steel

    Approx. 20 x 6 x 3 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Wednesday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Wednesday's Child, 2012

    Mercury, sterling silver and mixed materials

    Approx. 21 x 3 x 3 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Thursday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Thursday's Child, 2012

    Tin

    Approx. 20 x 5 x 2 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Friday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Friday's Child, 2012

    Copper

    Approx. 20 x 5 x 3 cm

  • Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Saturday's Child

    Minnette Vari

    Charm series (Torment of the Metals) : Saturday's Child, 2012

    Lead

    Approx. 20 x 4 x 3 cm

  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]
  • Installation picture [Minnette Vári / Songs of Excavation / 2013]