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Marks on the landscape hold the memory of ancient material choreographies of water, fire and earth – within, around and over which, the fleeting presence of human imagination is carved, folded and draped.

Featured in the curator’s special project, Mnemonic, at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale, Letters from the Landscape is an experimental mapping project, in which landscape and artefact are interchangeable and recorded in fragments, imprints and residues.

Indigenous reeds collected from the site were prepared to form an agitated watery solution from which a series of fibre sheets were gently pressed, by hand, onto the two and a half billion-year-old rock surfaces of Nooitgedacht Glacial Pavings, an archaeological site in South Africa’s arid Northern Cape region. The forces of bending, folding, imprinting and tearing are visceral drawing tactics which the paper itself ‘remembers.’ Each sheet is a palimpsest of landscape and time, bearing testament to ancient glacial striations and engraved artwork.

Seven pairs of fibre sheets are suspended from the ceiling, and touch the ground of Venice only in shadow. One of each pair contains the imprint of startling infographics, critically highlighting the magnitude of natural resources demanded by the global paper-making industry. Suspended from timber clamps and cotton thread the sheets are held in equilibrium by small metallic weights that glint curiously from time to time. A panoramic three-part screen frames the context in which the landscape, ingredients and methodology for Letters from the Landscape is defined. The clicks of an ancient Khwedam story appear and vanish as the fibre sheets gently sway in the breeze. Suggestive of fragments of an atlas, pages from a book or sections through a landscape, the installation hangs in a state of balance. Much like the water from which paper-making is so reliant, traces of the original landscapes exist here in fragments, shadows, whispers and suggestions: ungrounded and unsettled.

Proiect team: Craig McClenaghan, Hashim Tarmahomed, Wihan Hendrikz, Hugh Fraser

Collaborators: Dr David Morris, Rena Maghundu, Phumani Paper