Marelise Van Wyk, solo exhibition at Eclectica Print Gallery
The sea, from the creatures and particles it holds to the ships it carries, has impacted the lives of people on the shores of the Cape for generations. In Palimpsest, Marelise Van Wyk invites a reconsidering of the objects and histories washed ashore, as a palimpsest that contains the traces of different and varied narratives. Although the histories of South Africa may have been rephrased, overlooked, denied and re-interpreted many times, objects and artefacts witness and bear the marks of times passing. Through the layers of impact and interaction a palimpsest is created.
“A piece of a shipwreck that I came across about 15 years ago on Long Beach, was the initial driver for this exhibition. A corroded copper plate and handmade nails were retrieved from this piece of wreckage and now forms the basis for some of the prints and the exhibition overall”, describes printmaker and teacher, Marelise Van Wyk. The origin of the plate and nails is most likely from the ship, The Staaten Generaal, later renamed Bato.
As a Cape Town based artist, Van Wyk explains, “I am inspired by textures that are formed by erosion, corrosion and disintegration in nature as a result of the passing of time. In my artworks therefore, there are references to erosion, destruction, excavation. Through the use of imagery referring to historical structures, fossils, organic materials and strata, I attempt to relate to the paradox of expanding into the past”. Her solo exhibition Palimpsest will show at Eclectica Print Gallery for the month of April and will include a print workshop and artist walkabout to unpack some of the key questions and inspirations of the exhibition. Marelise van Wyk is the winner of Eclectica Print Gallery’s printmakers competition which was held in 2019.
South African history is marked with layers upon layers, lingering and visible across the eras. Although the histories of South Africa may have been rephrased, overlooked, denied and re-interpreted many times, objects and artefacts can and will provide us with evidence of what has been, with traces of the previous and the layers of time that have followed.
In this exhibition, the word palimpsest is used as a vehicle to understand the multi-layered nature of South African history and culture. Van Wyk engages with the recurring and cyclical rewriting of South African history and culture through available artefacts and the layers of interpretation they present. Through this mode, it becomes evident that voices from the past can form a combined melody when history is interpreted with patience and interconnected sensitivity.
This exhibition explores both a collective memory of history and also queries the interaction of individual perspectives and interpretations of events, symbols and spaces. Playing off the stark masculine associations to nails, screws and even shipwrecks, Van Wyk juxtaposes the feather duster as a representation of a feminine presence. The feather duster is also often seen as a symbol of servitude, slavery and colonialism. By presenting understood symbols and common associations, Van Wyk introduces a kind of collective memory alongside the works. This collective memory creates an interconnectivity that can allow new and ongoing interactions, which Van Wyk draws on in this exhibition.
By using eroded plates and objects weathered by nature, she incorporates the idea of the palimpsest and metaphor directly into her work. The found nails – a critical part of constructing a ship’s hull – are interpreted as metaphor for history as constraining, captivating and fragile. As the nails were forced apart through the impact of time, so too can our understandings of history be broken down, eroded and reconstructed.
The prints from sourced plates have become imprints of history; they are images lifted from the remains of an artefact – a part of history. Through the use of organic matter and found source materials, Van Wyk attempts to loosen a traditionally very tight medium. Reconsidering layout, format and surface, she prints from non-traditional plates (collagraph, tetra pack, found plates). Additionally, each work is unique, rather than part of an edition or series, denying the multiple – which is often a key characteristic of printmaking. Rather, the body of work is fragmented into a series of individual presentations, coming together to represent the whole. In this way Van Wyk activates our relationship to memories which, singularly, can never be the complete story but as part of the collective come alive.
By challenging the medium of printmaking Van Wyk extends her questions of history: what is laid down in print, what is lifted or interpreted and what the source information is drawn from. Referring back to the palimpsest, where the recurring process of new layers are deposited through time, Van Wyk leaves her marks amongst the historical residue she interacts with – physically, mentally and psychologically.
Co-writers: Gerrit Loots and Marelise van Wyk, edited by Clare Patrick