Humankind’s first connection with art was through nature. Drawings etched in rocks, paint made from mashed berries, limestone carvings of the feminine corporeal form. We are not removed from the dirt and dust beneath our feet. Rather, we are part of the earth and when we are abstracted from the natural world, we lose a significant aspect of ourselves. Often, making art that represents nature is like an instinctive compulsion for humanity to engage with and reflect upon itself and its world. A clear example of this is Retha Buitendach’s artistic endeavour, Metamorf, that intricately combines the microscopic with the macroscopic.
“My inspiration has always been rooted in the beauty of nature. The [microscopic and macroscopic] is equally important for the whole. You can’t discard insects and think we’re bigger and the ecosystem will survive. Because we won’t – its interlinked and interdependent,” says Buitendach.
Metamorf is an exhibition of Buitendach’s collections of ‘Art Insects’ – creepy crawlies and bumbling bugs constructed from natural and found materials, such as leaves, feathers and bones and even recycled computer materials and perfume bottles. “I really like the idea of having something that was discarded and bringing into it new life,” Buitendach muses.
Buitendach started making art from natural materials about twenty years ago, unable to resist picking up interestingly shaped leaves or sticks. “I wondered, ‘how can I make other people also appreciate this beautiful leaf?’ and I decided to start making insects from it,” she says. “I have a great love of insects. I think they are exquisite creatures and the variety is phenomenal – I mean, there are millions of types of insects out there!”
What is particularly spectacular about this exhibit is the interrogation of a concept from multiple perspectives. Buitendach not only creates insects out of ‘found’ materials, from leaves and twigs to discarded circuit boards, she also takes a step forward and creates a digital collection of photographs depicting the inverse of bugs made from leaves – insects made from digital photographs of plants.
Metamorf beautifully depicts the evolution of Buitendach’s practice of making art depicting insects from found materials. The experience created carefully combines a crude reality with the tranquillity of nature and the fantastical universe that exists within oneself. “I give each of them a common name and a Latin name as if they were real specimens but they actually, they have their roots in reality but they’re imaginary,” says Buitendach quirkily.
Metamorf is located at the Highlander and is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00.
By Thandiwe Matyobeni