Ronél de Jager
Song selection: Track 11 ‘When the Earth Stands Still’
About the artwork: When the Earth Stands Still, 2020, Oil on canvas, 130 x 90 cm
Ronél de Jager’s work When the Earth Stands Still is a response to a poem of the same name by Don Macdonald. Performed by the University of Johannesburg Choir, the haunting piece forms a context into which De Jager’s oil painting of destruction or regrowth fits.
Working from an image she had shot at the Bakoni Ruins in Mpumalanga while on a 2018 residency, the work evokes both stillness and trepidation, a twist on the trope of idealized African landscape paintings. Limiting her palette to luminous tones of pinks and reds reflect the fact that De Jager’s original photograph was shot in infrared; at the time, this choice explored her interest in the real versus the fictional; De Jager’s works at this time showed an anticipated future for either potential or regret. With this work, made especially for the Pandemic exhibition, the imagery took on another dimension of meaning. De Jager says, ‘I had a cathartic experience when lockdown was announced – I had a strange yet deep feeling of connectedness to the world, more than ever before. Perhaps one of empathy, as isolation is a state that the artist knows all too well. But there was more; I felt universal connectedness to other humans. I had a weird sensation of relief. There was something levelling about the experience – for once, the world was forced to come to a standstill.’
Undoubtedly, this relief tapped into a collective sense that COVID-19, for all the trauma and loss it brought to our species, also forced on us a moment of pause, of reflection. De Jager has said about her unpopulated spaces, ‘I’m drawn to these empty landscapes, filled as they are with latent energy, as they present to me, an idyllic space – devoid of human inhabitants. People have a tendency to ruin their environment. It often seems that things would be better off without us, and that nature’s potential and balance would be achieved in our absence.’
De Jager’s work often deals with a paradox: despite working from imagery that is culled from the fleeting pursuits of photography and videography, she is concerned with the notion of deep time. She examines our understanding of time, often by slowing down these snapshot in the medium of paint. When the Earth Stands Still, both in its title and in its imagery, continues this exploration.
WATCH each artist’s visual interpretation of When the Earth Stands Still on the next page and keep an eye out for new additions every day!