Venue: Katie and Pieter du Toit’s farm Rietfontein between De Aar and Hanover, Great Karoo

Measurements: 40 metres (length) X 5.9 metres (width)

Materials: 160 large bags of firewood, 50 bales of straw, 1 drum of diesel fuel, 110 litres of fire gel, lime/chalk

Fire extinguisher truck on standby

Artwork text on the ground: “Piss-off!” with typeface in Arial bold

Assistants on site

Katie and Pieter du Toit

Klara-Marié den Heijer (measurements and scale of text)

Miné Kleynhans (event coordinator)

9 Students of the University of the Free State

Photographic prints

1. EARTH SIGNAL chalk lines

2. EARTH SIGNAL stacked wood

3. EARTH SIGNAL white ash

Printing: Silvertone International, Johannesburg

Film and documentary

Wicus de Wet (Aerial Scope Imaging with drone filming)

Jaco Spies (on-site video)

Jürgen Marx (editing)

Jaco Spies, Karen Boshoff (production)

Documentary film in progress

Earth Signal

  • An earth that speaks


    If we allowed the earth to speak a few words, what would it say?


    Much has been made of the earth as a nurturing person in so many cultures. In many societies the earth is seen as a mother with a voice and with an interest in us. I am a stickler for lists and catalogues and I found the following Wikipedia entries for earth goddesses:

    Aisyt, Ala (Odinani), Al-lāt, Arinna, Asintmah, Atira, Beira, Bhūmi, Cel, Coatlicue, Diti, Erecura, Etugen Eke, Gaia, Ila, Iusaaset, Jörð, Khaltesh-Anki, Ki, Kishar, Libera, Liluri, Litavis, Lurbira, Māra, Mat Zemlya, Mefitis, Mother goddess, Mother Nature, Nantosuelta, Nerthus, Ninhursag, Onuava, Ops, Pachamama, Papa, Papahānaumoku, Pele, Phra Mae Thorani, Prithvi, Rangi and Papa, Rhea, Shala, Sif, Spenta Armaiti, Terra, Tlazolteotl, Toci, Tonantzin, Triple Goddess, Uras, Asase Ya, Yer Tanrı, Zemes-mãte, Žemyna.


    If there is one thing a mother can do, it is talk. Usually she is the one who teaches the children in a family their words and how to express themselves. We even speak of ‘mother tongues’. Today, however, the primordial mother that gave life to all things, appears to be silent in a human sense.


    In toying with the idea to allow the earth a brief moment of speech, I have often asked friends and students what they think the earth would say to us. Can they please give her a voice? Please put words in her mouth. After a moment of reflection almost all of them had the idea that the earth would say something unpleasant. It would tell us off and in many cases quite vociferously – a mother disowning her issue.


    The general consensus was that she would scold us for the way we have treated her. We would be told to go away or at best leave her alone. In most cases the imagined words of the earth were euphemistically paraphrased, but in the strongest sense it was felt that she would swear at us or even put a curse on us.


    In the end I imagine that the earth might dearly like to say “fuck off,” but this might not be heard because she would be censored from saying so to schools and in the media. I also guessed that if she were forced into saying anything less vulgar, she would not be quite honest. She needs to come up with something so drastic as to project her sense of disgust and dismay with us.


    I finally decided on “piss-off!” for EARTH SIGNAL. As a rebuke, it has an angry, damning ring to it.



    The battle to get the earth to speak.


    I often fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town and when I do, I always ask for a window seat away from the wings, to be able to take photographs of the cloud formations and the patterns in the earth below.


    Many airlines fly on daily routes from cities all over southern Africa to Cape Town. On approach to Cape Town International Airport, the planes align themselves with the runway against the wind. If the southeaster is blowing, they will make their turn over the farming areas of Riebeeck Kasteel and Riebeeck West to the north-east of Malmesbury. When the plane’s wings are tilted for the turn, it allows one the clearest of views of breathtaking patterns of the wheat- and canola lands of the Swartland. The western Cape