Activities / Attractions / Western Cape

Untamed at Kirstenbosch

Updated Friday, 26 May 2017

Go and see this exhibition if you can. Actually, you can’t miss it if you visit Kirstenbosch in the next year – or just under a year as it’s moving on, they think, to Johannesburg come June 2011 – as the organic structure takes up most of a space you’re used to viewing simply as ‘lawn’, which alone I find inspiring.

Untamed lies on the lower region of grass just as you enter the gardens from Gate 1. It is really close to the part of the garden my family and I call the duck pond (for obvious reasons) and the ‘climbing tree’ – the sprawling wild almond tree hidden in amongst the plant beds on the river bank, and the only tree I will allow my young son to climb in the gardens …

A living wall, a set of solar panels, incredible sculptures, potent poetry and a fine example of architecture merge to form what is described as an ‘unfolding and evolving collaborative response’ by sculptor Dylan Lewis, architect Enrico Daffonchio and psychologist, psychiatrist and writer Ian McCallum.

Aside from the fact that three super talented men have contributed to the work, there is little of the ego involved in each of their offerings and, as a result, the three art forms effortlessly merge to form a message that is at once strong and true – ‘Having turned a blind eye to the fact that we are part of nature’s great diversity, we have become ecologically unintelligent’, says Ian McCallum.

And this, in a nutshell, is what the exhibition explores. There is an incredibly unique flow of thought and ideas evident in the space of the exhibition. They at once challenge and delight the senses. The effortlessness of the concepts and the message perhaps exist because all three contributors are masters at their respective trades and feel little obligation to prove themselves.

Rather the all important missive – wake up and smell the coffee, re-member, re-connect and reflect on our part in the natural order of things or we will fast lose what we have – is extraordinarily pronounced and undeniable.

Untamed at Kirstenbosch
Photographs – Left: Sculpture / Right: “Our wildness within and without”. 

There is a very strong presence in the work. The sculptures are enormous, powerful, energetic and forceful. Their presence is unyielding. One cannot ignore the essence of Dylan Lewis’ work. He is no stranger to the garden. His lionness and other wild cat sculptures have graced both entrances, but these newer works are particularly compelling.

Walk up along the ridge to the west of the garden, beyond the vygies, and you will see another three of his larger sculptures, one of these just below colonel Bird’s bath, (smaller versions of these are housed within the exhibition space itself), whilst his Rodin-invoking main sculpture just outside the space, captures something of the wild that is within each of us. I found it intimidating and yet so tangible that I wanted to bit off and swallow its essence; it evoked the animal in me and my response was a rising desire to fly.

Each of his pieces does exactly that, as he intends – ‘a reconnection with our wild inner essence’.

The eight works he introduces to the landscape are in direct response to those parts of the garden that he finds most evocative. He speaks about the ‘human psyche’s need for wild landscapes’ and he sees a parallel between wild and pristine uninhabited areas and the original untamed human nature that is in all of us. His works are in the realm of demigods and powerful archetypes, reinforced by the combination of human form with animal skull masks.

Ian McCallum’s poetry addresses the meaning of wilderness – ‘strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as human nature. There’s only nature and the very human expression of it. Nature then, is not something “out there”. We are of it and in it.’

Untamed at Kirstenbosch
Photographs – Left: Dylan Lewis’ work in the garden / Right: “we have to stop speaking about the earth being in need of healing …”

The man who also wrote Ecological Intelligence, sees his role as a poet as that of ‘partner’ in the sense that a great many scientists struggle to get their message across, which he believes is the challenge facing science today. And part of the reason we are facing the challenge of climate change.

‘Good poetry’, he says, ‘goes to the very heart of things. It protests. It challenges. It leaves the reader with little doubt that the poet’s message has something to do with them’. His words reinforce, balance and intuit Lewis’ sculptures.

And the architecture in its turn, supports both fellow artists in a mature and graceful reaction to the Untamed sculptures and words. Enrico Daffonchio reveals his capacity to support and collaborate in a unique way. His father is South African and he grew up between Johannesburg and Northern Italy, and his accomplishments include the Cradle Restaurant at the Cradle of Humankind and Arts on Main in Johannesburg. ‘The major challenge’, he says, ‘was to make sure that the focus remained on what was being said, and not to get sidetracked’.

His creation took into account not only the artists’ work and their message, but also the literal site itself, bearing in mind the ecologically-aware intention of the building. Most of all, he set out to create a meangful experience for the viewer. His intention was to create a space and shape that could elicit a precise reaction, hence the choice of a simple architectural shape which follows the character of the labyrinth, yet also respects the complexity of the lines of Dylan’s work.

Untamed at Kirstenbosch
Photographs – Left: Foot / Right: The Exhibition

To say I was moved by the work is an understatment.

It is very seldom one enters a space where truth is so obvious, so blatent a message that there is no counter-revolution within the viewer; no need to argue a point or refute a statement. I followed the labyrinth design, reading the words in counterpoint to the sculptures and realised that I was in the company of heroes.

June 2010 – June 2011
Sculptures by Dylan Lewis, architecture by enrico Daffonchio and words by Ian McCallum

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