MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON (2015 - 2016)

…There having come,
I know not by what way,
Did with him speak and solemnly announce
A country rich in emeralds and gold.
The Quest of El Dorado by Juan de Castellanos, mid-16th century.

In a body of work entitled “Of Mountains of the Moon and Rafts of the Sea” I continue an on-going visual enquiry into the migration of economic refugees from far-flung African cities to Johannesburg. Simultaneously, I contrast the movement of a largely white and affluent group of South Africans away from the country of their birth to their perception of safer lives in the ‘West’.

Using the pivotal symbol of the life raft, I directly and indirectly reference the perils of migration, whether this be over desert landscape, open sea, or by air. I contemplate what it may mean to embark on a journey of forced flight from what once was home to what, in essence, is no more than a perception of safe haven – the mythical El Dorado.

In a drawing technique that is both individualistic and metaphorical, I burn car tyres and mix the crushed soot with oils and turpentine to make a dense black ink. My drawing technique is circular in that the tyre-soot ink is used to express images of unpeopled landscapes – these in turn scored with tyre tracks – speaking to the after-traces of those who have travelled through them.

But the car tyre is a loaded image in South Africa: aside from its enabling of movement from A to B, the toxic smoke rising from their burning for the recovery of the recyclable steel wire embedded in the rubber is a daily occurrence under the dingy overpasses near my studio. And, imbuing a further sense of unease, tyres will forever be associated with the necklacing practices of our sordid apartheid past – and more recently with the mob-killing of the Mozambican refugee Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, burnt alive in an orgy of xenophobic violence in Ramaphosa squatter camp on Johannesburg’s East Rand in 2008.

Lampedusa boat tragedy is ‘slaughter of innocents’ says Italian president
The Italian government declared Friday a national day of mourning as rescue workers continued to search the seas off the Sicilian island in a desperate attempt to find any more survivors. Initial rescue attempts managed to save 159 people but the 20-metre-long boat was believed to have been carrying between 450 and 500 passengers.
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013

Niger migrants died from thirst, after stranding in Sahara desert
The bodies of 92 people, almost all women and children, have been found in the Sahara desert. Rescuers said the people had died of thirst after their vehicle broke down during their attempt to reach Algeria from Niger.
The Guardian, Thursday 31 October 2013

Théodore Géricault’s famous painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819) depicts the aftermath of the sinking of the French naval frigate Méduse, which ran aground off present-day Mauritania in 1816. At least 147 people were set adrift on a hurriedly-constructed raft. All but 15 died in the 13 days before their rescue. In his analysis of the painting, Jake Hirsh Allen states that the political opponents of France’s monarchy used ‘shipwreck imagery’ as an “illustration of the danger to which France was exposed by a regime which put dynastic over national interests, gave the command of ships to political favourites and allowed aristocratic officers to abandon their men in times of crisis.”

In a body of work entitled “The Argonauts” I consider the migration of economic refugees from the socio-geographical margins to the cities of the industrialised world. Unpeopled landscapes scored with tyre tracks speak to the after-traces of those who have moved through them. Lengths of lead tape measure out the over-land distances from far-flung African cities to the perceived El Dorado of Johannesburg. And the sculptural work Wife’s Lot, makes reference to notions of forced flight, itinerancy and xenophobia in that the pose consciously echoes that of Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, burnt alive in an orgy of xenophobic violence in Ramaphosa squatter camp on Johannesburg’s East Rand on 18th May 2008.

Now in the Louvre, the caption to The Raft of the Medusa reads: “The only hero in this poignant story is humanity”. But in a contemporary world governed by grotesquely disproportionate flows of power, influence and capital, the caption could just as easily read: “The only villain in this poignant story is humanity”.
  ROAD (2013)
  DE MAGNETE (2011 - 2012)

"The Earth's magnetic field strength was measured by Carl Friedrich Guass in 1835 and has been repeatedly measured since then, showing a relative decay of about 10% over the last 150 years." (1)

It is a supreme irony that we live in a contemporary scenario in which global culture, predicated on the notion of progress, is, in fact, entirely based on the relentless destruction of nature. In a new body of work I have begun to interrogate the contradictions inherent in present-day human thought and behaviour, especially with respect to the disconnect between our material aspirations and their inevitable effect on our planet and ultimate future.

Key areas of interest relate to the forces of attraction and repulsion and, secondarily, to the speed at which we hurtle resolutely on our chosen trajectory into an uncertain future. I explore the concept of ‘anomie’ – a term referring to the loss of personal or societal norms of behaviour. The word was popularised by French sociologist Emile Durkheim in his influential book Suicide (1897). Durkheim was of the opinion that anomie arises as a result of a mismatch between personal or group standards and wider social standards, or from a lack of a social ethic, which acts to produce moral deregulation and an absence of legitimate aspirations.

A leit motif of the effect exerted by the magnetic field runs through my work speaking to the concepts of the loss of our societal moral compass and to the binary opposing forces to which we are subjected: nature on nature; man on nature; man on man, and inevitably, nature on man.

The past 2 years saw the development of the Hazardous Objects project in which I constructed exact replicas of industrial and consumer cast-offs (recyclable trash: bottles, tins, polystyrene punnets) from beaten lead. While on residency, I decided to extend the concept of Hazardous Objects to include organic objects and other natural detritus found on-site. Hazardous Objects already comprises some 60 pieces of lead ‘trash’ and it is my intention to match this with a similar number of natural objects, crafted either from lead or unfired clay. Ultimately, I would like to play the two sets of objects off one another in a way that I hope will comment on and expresses my concern for the severe impact man continues to have on the environment.

At the ‘open studio’ at the end of the residency I opted to display the objects I had made as a site-specific installation on the beach in front of the estate. This beach was once pristine but Itaparica is 16km off the coast of the huge city of Salvador and tons of rubbish wash up on the beach daily. According to the locals, the off-shore coral reefs that surround the island are under threat, and the coastline mangrove forests are receding. Itaparica is an island of subsistence fishermen and as the damage to their island continues, their catch dwindles, as do their livelihoods. I called the work High Water Mark and felt that it’s site-specificity made an appropriate comment on the damage being done to the Bahian coastline.

Now that I am back in South Africa, I intend to explore this concept further and am continuing to construct an array of organic objects out of unfired clay. Most of my organic source material, including seed pods from endangered plant species, unique objects and ‘rare finds’, was collected by me in the Southern African region over many years.

I intend to install the unfired clay objects on the high water mark on local beaches. The action of the waves will be allowed to erode and ultimately destroy the pieces with the idea that the resulting video or photo-documentation of the process will again speak to man’s devastation of the environment.

“We bring the rich people’s dustbins back here and we do their dirty work.” – Portia Gcobisa Zungula, informal recycler, House 38. South Africa, judged to have one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, is an absurd mish-mash of first world wealth clashing up against mass unemployment, poverty and displacement. And while the rich get richer, the poor must become increasingly resourceful in the business of everyday survival. The recycling of paper, plastic, tin and glass is generally perceived to be the preserve of prosperous, stable nations. But in South Africa, the informal recycling of these materials has established itself as one of the few accessible means by which the urban poor can generate an income. House 38: Hazardous Objects probes the experiences and rationales of a community of informal recyclers living at ‘House 38’ on the corner of Sievwright and Charles streets in downtown Johannesburg. This is a bleak place – two stories high, the ground floor is taken up by a panel beating outfit, the upper two, home to around 200 people. There’s hardly a pane of glass left in the windows, there’s no running water, no electricity, and the stairwell and inter-leading passages double as storage space for reeking, recyclable trash. But House 38 is a site of initiative, hard work and even harder-won self-determination. The lead replicas of the rubbish collected and recycled by the community at House 38 become a memorial of sorts to the thankless yet valuable role played by informal recyclers in our society. Although their motive is a matter of survival and not a desire to protect the environment, I nevertheless wanted to recognise the significant environmental role they play, whether inadvertent or not. I wanted the (indestructible) lead relics to signify, or become tokens to, the permanence of man’s devastating impact on the planet and to the positive contribution made by the recyclers.


Concept and interviews: Jacki McInnes. Pictures: John Hodgkiss


Works in this ongoing series reflect on human migration, displacement and alternative strategies for survival. The politics of land and land ownership are investigated, as is the encroachment of man on his environment.

Using the archaic meaning of the word ‘augur’ – “n. a Roman official who observed natural signs, especially the behaviour of birds, interpreting these as an indication of divine approval or disapproval of a proposed action” I have endeavoured to respond to our collective response to the ever-increasing number of foreign Africans living in inner-city Johannesburg.

Feral pigeons are not indigenous to South Africa. They’re aliens. They inhabit our cities where they strut, eat, fly, fuck and die. Strutting Flying & Dying becomes a visual exploration of the uneasy status quo endured by foreign Africans living in Joburg’s inner city. Like pigeons, foreigners tenaciously adapt to their temporary home but they never lose their alien stigma. And as they eke out territory and livelihood they’re generally tolerated, but mostly disregarded, sometimes despised. Living space is highly contested forcing people to cram themselves into rotting buildings. Furthermore, foreigners have very little recourse – many of them are here illegally or without legitimate papers. They are highly vulnerable and likely to be the first scapegoats when local tensions boil over, as was the case earlier this year. And yet they persist and survive, even thrive. These people will come and go as the situations in their home countries change but as a phenomenon, they, like the pigeons in the cities, will always be a part of our society.

Patterns in Silence provides a backdrop for an exploration into the inconsistencies that inevitably exist between everyday social realities for South African women and a constitutional ideal. The body of work seeks to visually interrogate social and psychological factors associated specifically with infanticide. Mc Innes attempts to understand, and to communicate through her art, why women, traditionally viewed as nurturing and passive, might resort to killing their babies, and how these women are regarded in terms of the South African legal system. It is clear that women who commit infanticide are by and large marginalized by poverty and unsupportive family structures. Unemployment, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse all play leading roles. Mc Innes works with kitchen knives, scissors, salt, copper sheeting, lead and steel. The work avoids the use of sensationalistic material, preferring instead to rely on metaphor to provide a backdrop against which topics that are notoriously difficult can be exposed. The work is less about the abusive situations than it is about the silences that inevitably shroud such topics.