Art reflects climate change realities

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Small pieces of plastic junk found on Cape Town’s Strandfontein beach form a snake-like shoreline in an art piece warning that paradise beaches have become wastelands.

It is a simple work, called ‘Tide Line’ by artist Simon Max Bannister, currently on show at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis Galleries on Orange Street in the city. It is among a series of artworks that Bannister created out of plastic junk found on various beaches and in ocean waters.

Last year this Johannesburg artist travelled across the Atlantic Ocean as a volunteer to collect 42 water samples. It was part impetus on his four-year journey to create work that comments on environmental issues.

Arctic Ice

“Every one of the water samples contained some degree of micro-plastic indicating that there’s plastic throughout the ocean. What is hard to accept is that there is no way of picking that up. We see the remains of it on our shoreline. One can imagine the compounding effect of what’s happening in the ocean,” says Bannister.

His exhibition in response to this expedition’s findings is entitled ‘EKDUO’ which is ancient Greek for “to take off” or “to strip one of his garments”.

Bannister says that his exhibition is “about adapting this shedding behaviour to our own culture” and managing our plastic waste more effectively.

“It stems from a concern, a sense of responsibility to pick up litter, to do something with our excess. I find a whole lot of material and need to turn that into the message. I use the medium as the message. And that’s resulted mainly in sculpture,” he says.

The result is not mind-blowing artworks but rather “quite a lot of found objects exhibited as specimens to bring peoples attention to what’s happening”. At least a thought trail lingers via this collection of junk on display, unlike a lot of the more self-indulgent commercial junk shown on walls of some of this city’s galleries.

Of ‘Tide Line’, Bannister says the “evidence of our cumulative waste is now visible and unavoidable”.

“Brightly coloured and fascinating in form, the pristine paradise beach we now crave no longer exists, it is but a plastic dream. Dispelled from the gutters, these husks of culture now drift through the ocean.”

Bannister has interestingly also embraced plastic to form a reef sculpture, indicating that he views plastic as a life-giving material too. He says this is a “way to detach and a way to innovate, a way to recreate new forms and ideas within culture”.

“There are good and bad things about plastic. If you consider that plastic is a life-giver. Take any hospital or food scenario. You see how essential it is to our modern lifestyle. It holds water or food.

“However, once it’s given you water or food, instantly it becomes waste. Unfortunately there are not good management systems to control it,” he says.

Bannister says that his work comments also on how “nature deals with this”.

“The debris that we found in the south Atlantic had life forms grown on it. In this way, plastic is helping fish. It’s a wonderful contradiction.”

Bannister’s small exhibition runs alongside a collection of cartoons, under the banner ‘Facing the Climate’, by South African and Swedish artists. This exhibition is part of the Swedish government’s efforts to “promote critical sustainable development… (with) sustainability the Swedish way” in mind.

“The impetus behind this began in December 2009 in relation to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, when a group of 25 Nordic newspaper cartoonists provided some amusing and alarming reflections on climate change. To illustrate Sweden’s active involvement in this area, the Swedish Institute developed the exhibition,” informs the exhibition notes.

“These simultaneously critical and humorous visual devices have the potential to bring viewers and makers into more intimate and comprehensible relations with the often titanic narratives of climate change.”

Among the interesting cartoons on show are those by Independent Newspapers staffers Tony Grogan and Wilson Mgobhozi.

Grogan shows how mankind evolves from greed to extinction at the rate this specie is tormenting the earth’s resources.

Mgobhozi shows a tree, with a hand at the end of a branch, in a dry area. It reaches out to a glass and asks: “Water please”. Another one of his cartoons shows penguins spelling out the word ‘global’ in their message about global warming. They ask: “Seriously, must we spell it out to the people?”

Sweden’s Magnus Bard presents a cartoon entitled ‘Arctic Ice’. It shows a woman in an aeroplane asking, “Where did the last ice in Actis go?” as she looks out the window at the catastrophe below. A cabin crew staffer holds out bucket of ice with her drink and says: “Here.”

These exhibitions were part of a two-day symposium ‘Hot Water: Art and Climate Change’ at the end of September. The exhibitions and symposium were organised by UCT’s Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts’ (GIPCA).

The exhibitions run Tuesdays to Fridays (11am to 4pm) and Saturdays (10am to 1pm) until October 13. Exhibition queries can be directed to or 021-480-7170.


This article was published in the Weekend Argus newspaper, a weekly regional publication in the Western Cape, South Africa, on October 8 2012.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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