Once as I was strolling through the gardens of the People’s Culture Park just outside the Forbidden City in Beijing, I was stopped in my tracks by a man writing on the pathway. He used large sweeping movements across the stone with a brush dipped in nothing more than water. As fast as he wrote so the characters evaporated and disappeared like an invisible memory of the city. The temporality of the water writing took my breath away… it seemed as futile and at the same time as purposeful as shouting words on the wind.
There’s a similar concept in the work of Andrew van der Merwe who catches ephemeral moments, not in water but in wet sand. He uses the wide open vistas of the sea – sand, sky and rocks – to inform his work. The script appears totally at one with the landscape. The marks are as mysterious as runic or cuneiform inscriptions and seem to echo and almost emphasize the ripples left by waves and like mirror mosaics they catch glimpses of the sky in the water that collects in the hollows and grooves. The patterns and marks are precise. He has devised special tools to make them and he leaves no trace of footprints or upturned sand.
The work focuses on the fleeting moment as we wait for the wind to dry and blur the script, or waves to come and wash it away. Remember doing this with sandcastles? Rushing down to the beach the next day to see what had happened? It’s an ever-changing process –in his case, a tactile merging of words with the physical. To me the marks themselves together with the idea of being transitory – that sense of temporariness and ephemerality – seem to focus and accentuate glimpses of atmospheres, memories, sounds and movements that go unnoticed and sometimes even unseen.
So since it’s August and some of us are at our desks and not at the sea… here we are then…
Dianne Hofmeyr: www.diannehofmeyr.com
For a review of the 2011 Kate Greenaway:
For those interested in historical writing: http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com/
For more on Andrew van der Merwe: http://www.behance.net/beachscriber