2011 
3 X Granite posts of similar size and weight
One post: 3000mm (height) X 455mm (sideways width) X 355mm (inward width)
Work in place: 3000mm (height) 2400mm (W) (total width) X 355mm (inward width)
Weight: each stone weighs ± one ton
Text: 27 quotations sandblasted around the base of each column
Permanent installation, Estelle and Laurie Dippenaar, Plettenberg Bay

Reenwag

  • The Afrikaans title REËNWAG is analogous to Rembrandt’s famous painting NIGHT WATCH (Afrikaans NAGWAG). A night watchman’s job is to guard a building or other installation at night. A related Afrikaans word is brandwag – the sentry posted to look out for enemy activity or other threat. A troupe of baboons usually has their brandwag posted on an outcrop to scout for approaching danger. The implicit meaning of the word is to guard against fire – brand in Afrikaans means ‘fire’. Brandwag is widely used in Afrikaans: The Ossewa Brandwag was a self-appointed political organisation, guarding over the course of events in the first half of twentieth century South Africa and Die Brandwag was the first Afrikaans illustrated family magazine in the Transvaal. Several places are named Brandwag like Brandwag high school in Benoni and the Brandwag hotel in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The name REËNWAG is made to go with the nagwag and brandwag and to me a reënwag is a lookout, posted to attract precipitation and to tell of approaching rain.

     

    I took my cue from the custom of the Modjadji rain queen of the Balobedu tribe, resident in the Limpopo province. She is renowned for planting mysterious corner posts at her royal quarters believed to bring rain and good luck. When visiting the rain queen one is welcomed to her household by their silent presence. In the arid climate of South Africa these rain posts are of cardinal symbolic importance to guarantee rain at the right time. The traditional posts from Modjadji are round shafts with a minimal figurative aspect – a vague hint of a human head at the top. Through time and endless lashings of rain the wood became gnarled and heavily textured, showing rivulets of dry grain.

     

    I have a preference for simplicity and I am inclined to favour minimal features in my work – “less is more.”  I studied various types of posts that might invoke the idea of rain and to this end, I found the corner posts in the fencing of the farms in the vicinity of the granite quarries around Belfast most appealing. Like the Modjadli rain posts, their strategic placement on the farm makes one feel that they await and observe one. Their surfaces already have a rough corrugated effect caused by the drill holes used to prize them from the bedrock. I wished to polish these ripples to such a shiny state that they would look as if water or rain was running over them.

     

    On site at the Dippenaar residence in Plettenberg Bay a few aspects of the landscape played on my mind when, in conversation with Estelle Dippenaar, I decided to make three vertical sentries in dark reflective stone. I wanted the work to integrate with the endless repetition of waves crushing down on the sandy beach at the foot of the property and to reflect the hazy skies above and the vistas of blue and grey mountains on the far-away horizon. The setting of natural vegetation on the sand dunes around the work projects a sense of ageless calm.

     

    For my works in granite, I collaborate with Frans Haarhoff from the Boschpoort quarry near Belfast in Mpumalanga province. His quarry is no longer in use because it became too expensive to process the stone, but Belfast Black granite remains the darkest and most valued granite in South Africa. On the quarry Frans has a factory in which he operates a range of procedures to handle granite in an industrial sense. We have worked together since the end of the 1990’s when we made KRING VAN KENNIS (CIRCLE OF KNOWLEDGE) a large ring of eleven granite sculptures for the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg). Frans’s father began the quarry in the 1960’s and Frans’s position as foreman on the plant gave him a knowledge of how to cut and haul large blocks from the quarry and how to dress and polish them. The situation of having thousands of rejected blocks littering the quarry with a very competent quarry master makes Boschpoort Granite a sculptor’s paradise.

     

    Granite is an igneous rock. Thousands of millions of years ago, in its prehistoric life, granite had been a molten liquid lava substance that had solidified to obtain its present form. If one dresses and polishes granite, it begins to glow and glisten in the same ‘wet’ modulations that might have been characteristic of its appearance in bygone times. This rippling, moist shine on the surface of the stone is of course very suitable to my idea of establishing posts that appear to engage with rain and humidity.

     

    The physical work on the stones is very demanding. Sizing, grinding and polishing the REËNWAG posts took a small team of labourers about ten months. The first set of rain posts we cut from a solid block of granite turned out to have hair-line cracks in them. These cracks threatened the structure of the posts and because we were not prepared to risk the cracking-up of the work in transport or under the harsh temperature differences of the Plettenberg Bay climate, we abandoned our early efforts and started from scratch by cutting three new pieces.

     

    Looking back at my fixation on those cornerposts of stone on the Belfast farms, I realise that like other stones, they are enduring and set in their place, but unlike the other stones they display a stark, erect stature that stands out in the rocky hills of the highveld landscape. In sharp contrast to these man-made monoliths are the fields of slender highveld grass. Two species of thatching gra