Bronwyn Katz, //xū//nana (seeds of the sweet-thorn)
Bronwyn Katz, //xū//nana (seeds of the sweet-thorn)
Image: Mario Todeschini

Bronwyn Katz’s first solo exhibition in Joburg, “stone’s embrace, a love spiral of erosion and renewal” and the first with Stevenson Gallery, brings a spare, austere and beguilingly beautiful mix of sculpture, installation and audio to the gallery’s bright white interiors. Katz brings to this exhibition a kind of intense naturalism, almost a worship of nature and our inextricable interdependence with it. The approach is both deceptively simple and politically charged in our era of climate destruction and denialism.

The sculptural elements of the show dominate, as do the themes of the land, water and the body, especially in how these earthly phenomena relate to the cosmological, expressed in the delicate positioning and staging of each major sculptural piece. The cyclical renewal symbolised by the erosion of the earth and the stones by the flow of water forms the major concept of the exhibition, alluded to in its title.

In the artist’s statement, this cycle of natural renewal, in which we all participate, forms a definition of love, both of a personal and a more universal kind.    

The interconnectedness of types of life, even when it appears inanimate, as with stones taken from the sea, is expressed in the two standing sculptures on the floor of the gallery’s main space, titled Maaghout (Stomach wood). The multivalence of their shapes, at once suggesting trees, undersea kelp or other biological forms, express the idea of uncontained life, the marine stones held loosely together by a mild steel “cage” allowing light to flow through. The wall-based installation !Khāǁaeb (Flowering season) dominates the room. Comprising pieces of driftwood and stone each mounted separately and arranged to resemble a constellation, the works reflect on the idea of indigeneity by using the wood of invasive alien trees sourced from freshwater locations, and stones washed by the rainwater that enters the artist’s studio.

In one of the gallery’s smaller spaces, the work Soetes (Sweetness) startles the viewer with the sight of what seems to be an entire uprooted and transplanted thorn tree. Deriving from the artist’s memories of childhood in Kimberley, the installation is accompanied by a sound work reflecting on the tree’s place in their memory and its resilience despite the soil and air pollution of the diamond mining there.

Bronwyn Katz, Maaghout (Stomach wood)
Bronwyn Katz, Maaghout (Stomach wood)
Image: Nina Lieska

The themes brought by the thorn tree installation continue with the second wall-based sculpture, //xū//nana (seeds of the sweet-thorn), comprising a delicately crafted constellatory web made up of iron ore, rose quartz, jasper and mild steel. The artist again suggests a cyclical and reciprocal theme from the materials, connecting the infinite and the infinitesimal, the seeds of the thorn tree with the stars of the night sky.

The work gestures to land art, but ultimately takes shape as a fragile, beautiful and minimalist reflection on the necessary ephemerality of nature and our often-destructive place in it, asking in an elegant and aesthetic way, why we cannot love as all other existence loves?

Katz has held solo exhibitions in Cape Town and several internationally, including at White Cube in London (2021), at Peres Projects in Berlin (2019), and at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2018). The work has been included in the 59th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, and in 2019, they were awarded the First National Bank Art Prize. In 2022 Katz was selected as a protégé for the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, and as a result has been working with world-famous African sculptor El Anatsui.

stone’s embrace, a love spiral of erosion and renewal” is on at Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg until May 3. 

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