Strijdom van der Merwe

Land Art Workshop with Strijdom an Inspiration!

Strijdom van der Merwe presented our second workshop for the MVP Environmental Sculpture Competition last Saturday (11 May) inspiring everyone who was fortunate enough to attend.

Strijdom is an icon of South African Land Art, often named as the leading land artist in the country, so we were absolutely delighted to have him share his knowledge and process with us all.

In the morning we gathered at the MVP amphitheatre and kicked off with a team building activity and some introductions before settling down to listen to Strijdom talk about Land Art and his artworks.

First Strijdom told the students a bit about the Land Art movement and the ethos of this kind of art. He spoke of working with nature instead of imposing your preconceived notions or artistic vision on it. He also explained that Land Art is about creating artworks that are temporary (some call this ephemeral art) and unique to the place where it is made (site specific).

Another difference between this type of art and other more traditional forms of art (painting, drawing and sculpture) is that it aims to make use of the natural materials provided by the site.

With Land Art, the artist seeks to use the natural materials that are already present in the place such as the leaves, stones, trees, sticks, earth and water. Furthermore, Land Art draws on the light and shadow of the site, the movement and sounds to create an installation or piece. It’s more of a conversation with nature – working with what is there naturally instead of importing materials and forcing the landscape to comply with the artist’s designs.

Strijdom explains that when creating art ideally:

“you respond to nature alone in determining what you will do. It’s a case of nature having a bigger impact on you, than you on nature. A site, and the materials it offers, will reveal itself to you as you walk – be it in a forest, or along a beach, or in the Karoo. Only then will ideas and working methods start developing. It’s a process of working with the natural material you find on site. Nothing is planned ahead – it’s all improvised as you go along…

the most important aspect must always be that nature is the determining factor in your creative process.”

Interview with Site Specific (2013)

Land Art is also known as Environmental Art (as used in the title of our competition: the MVP Environmental Sculpture Competition), or Earth Art and Earthwork.

After Strijdom’s inspirational talk we took a walk in the valley and stopped at a spot in the woods.

About to meditate in the woods

Here he asked us to spend some time standing quietly and observing our surroundings. This meditative practice is where his creative process begins.

We took notes and drew sketches of our ideas whilst listening to the forest sounds and noises from the neighbourhood around it.

After what seemed like a very long time of watching the trees and environment around us we shared our observations and ideas. Strijdom showed us some of his sketches and talked about his process a bit.

We then cleared a small area of leaf groundcover to create a contrasting patch of earth under the trees.

Then we got to make our own Land Art creations in the woods.

After lunch in the amphitheatre, we gathered back at our artworks and did a walkabout with Strijdom. He gave each of the students feedback on the artworks they created – praising their strengths and making suggestions for improvement. After our feedback session, we returned to the amphitheatre for a wrap-up and info briefing about the next stage of the Enviro Art Competition.

Student’s land art

It was such a privilege to hear this world-renowned artist talk to us about his passion and life’s work. An honour to get a glimpse into his artistic process and learn from him. We’re very thankful to Strijdom van der Merwe and his beautiful wife Melanie for visiting us in Swellendam.

Strijdom, Melanie and Andrew at Bokmakiri Books

To visit the place in the forest where the artworks were made during the workshop, enter this plus code into your google maps search bar:

XCMQ+5G Swellendam

When you see this “Google Pin” you’re in the right spot to start searching for the artworks … or remnants thereof.

Google pin in woods

co-ordinates: -34.017045, 20.438862

Feel free to add your own piece of Land Art using the materials on site 🙂

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