Strijdom van der Merwe, land artist, Cape Town

South African artists on Sylt

"You're not in control"

Those going for a walk around Rantum during april 2009 may have mused at strange phenomena: an equilateral triangle of different sand structure on the beach. A piece of moss, quadratically cut from the ground and wrapped around the branch of a tree. A line of stones of increasing size. A fragile fence built of reed.
Strijdom van der Merwe, land artist from Stellenbosch, used his four weeks in Rantum on the island of Sylt to discover the landscape within a radius of maybe one kilometer around his host’s house, the foundation kunst:raum sylt quelle, to work with the manifold material he found there.
While sand and dunes are familiar to him he found the reed to be different from the kinds he encountered in Japan or Malaysia. „And even the beach“, explains van der Merwe, „in South Africa the tide and the waves are much stronger. I could never find a sandbank smooth as a piece of canvas like the ones I used here. And I love the very dark green of the heathland.“ The strong north sea wind remained a challenge: „I’m still thinking of a way to work with it rather than against it.“

Constant change and decay are integral part of Van der Merwes art and sometimes recorded in the photographs he takes of all his pieces. „Beautiful decay does not happen to everything though but sometimes the process is more beautiful than what you could expect. You’re just not in control.“ Take the triangle: „The surface was brighter that the surrounding sand. But when I returned the next morning the light was different and in the sun the triangle  showed dark. Being part of the cycle of nature ist he reason that I’m working with nature.“

What Strijdom van der Merwe is doing today was initiated by a teacher during his sculpture studies in Prague. He told the students to go out an make a sculpture without buying anything. And he gave them the idea that it was not necessarily meant for eternity – soft sculpture. This changed not only his art but his way of looking at the world. „Now when I look at grass I’m looking at possibilities of making a sculpture.“

What you see in the grass at your feet can be subject to change as well as Van der Merwe realized on different Sylt days. „Today I went to the same place I had been to before and suddenly noticed a pile of reed with blades in different directions. Why didn’t I see that yesterday? Maybe you see the obvious things first, the ones you are used to, and while working with them you discover a new world on the same spot.“

Strijdom van der Merwe