Cate Terblanche takes an in-depth look into Reconnect, an exhibition by award-winning visual artist Ingrid Bolton. Terblanche holds a Masters of Arts in Art History (Cum Laude). She is currently a lecturer in art history at Unisa, as well as being the art curator for the Sasol Art Collection.
This exhibition entitled Reconnect is a continued exploration of the works exhibited by Ingrid Bolton in her first solo exhibition that was held at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2013 as part of her prize for winning the Sasol New Signatures competition the previous year. Entitled Connect /Disconnect, showing with Berman Contemporary at the 2018 Investec Cape Town Art Fair, the exhibition investigates the importance of copper, and more specifically copper cabling, in the process of communication.
In this new body of work, Bolton returns to the questions relating to technology and its ability to either enable or disrupt communication. As the title suggests, Bolton not only wishes to reconnect with the subject matter, but also with the issues that concern her. In order to understand Bolton’s work, one needs to be aware of her acute interest in environmental issues. Her background in microbiology has served as inspiration for her art on several occasions.
Bolton uses the cables as metaphor, not only for the transfer of information, but as a structural component of her cityscapes. Our cities, our world cannot exist, or even function, without the crazy network of cabling that surrounds us. This network allows for communication, global communication, as well as constructing our daily experiences as city dwellers. Cut at a 90-degree angle, the cables reveal their secret landscapes. These hidden geometric patterns form shapes reminiscent of glass jewellery from Murano, those fragile beads of glass that both delight and terrify us. One wrong move and the precious glass bead is shattered, broken, never to be restored. That is, of course, unless it finds its way into a recycling bin. In a similar way, Bolton’s cityscapes are simultaneously fragile and highly complex ecosystems always bordering on the brink of collapse, but always with the potential for revival.
The issue of sustainability is also at the heart of her work. While recycling is generally encouraged as a moral and ethical act towards saving our planet for future generations, some would argue that the ‘real’ cost of recycling does not make economic sense. A few lone voices still denying the global environmental crisis, are often those with vested interests in commercial ventures which exploit natural resources. Still, others would say that the act of recycling simply makes us feel better by alleviating our feelings of guilt produced by indiscriminate consumerism. There are those, on the other hand, who see recycling as an opportunity, not only to reduce waste and our impact on the environment, but also to create jobs and to provide employment. For the majority of us, recycling is a process born from good intentions despite the lack of supportive infrastructures.
E-waste, especially, is an increasingly problematic by-product of our rampant consumerism and throwaway culture. The problem is compounded by the fact that many countries have no specific laws or policies for dealing with e-waste, leaving many poorer countries vulnerable to becoming dumping grounds for the discarded technology no longer required by more affluent countries. Not only do these countries then have to deal with the physical disposal of tons of redundant technological objects, but recycling of these products are often toxic and highly hazardous to the environment, as well as the people working in these areas. In some instances, cables are burnt to retrieve the metals, releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere, threatening both the individual and the community’s health. It is this tension between the creative and destructive forces of technology that informs much of Bolton’s work. Even the highly technical manner in which the cables are cut to reveal the inner cores without destroying them in the process, reflects this tension. Her cityscapes are deceptively beautiful aesthetic objects, products of our malevolent obsession and over-consumption of technological products.
The need for protecting our environment is becoming all the more urgent. Bolton’s work is a call to reconnect with our values, the environment and our own role in ensuring the sustainable and ethical use of our limited natural resources.