Water Matters – six folded metal sculptures



Download the catalogue: water-matters-catalogue

Water Matters 

While parts of the world have seen the worst floods in years, South Africa is in the throes of its severest drought since 1982. South Africa relies on water-harvesting, and dams and lakes are a central part of this endeavour. Renowned sculptor, Gavin Younge, responds to these issues in a doubly-framed series of ‘folded’ metal sculptures, and redrawn, topographic landscapes.

The sculptures, three of which are two metres high, look abstract, but are, in fact, accurate representations of the outlines of six dams and lakes in South Africa. These outlines, delineated by topographic contour lines, have been removed from the plate steel and exist as absences – metonyms for desire as in most cases these dams are never full. Kalkbank, a glorious, three-sided yellow pillar, depicts a straggling watercourse in Limpopo Province. Satellite imagery, however, shows the effect of the current drought on this 100-kilometre- long expanse of water – it is a dry, naked, farm-free scar in the landscape.


Hartebeespoort                                                        Kalkbank
2016                                                                                2016
Steel plate, 2K paint technology                      Steel plate, zinc primer and powder coat
120 x 144 x 45 cm                                                     200 x 40 x 36

Another large work describes the Vaal Dam. Visually, this resembles a large, crawling, iguana-like creature, rather than a conventional D-shaped dam with a concave wall. Vaal’s claw-like tributaries make, and unmake, an unusual coagulation of waterways. The artist has chosen Ferrari-red to mark off this water-world playground for weekenders from nearby Johannesburg.


Steel plate, 2K paint technology
200 x 65 x 67 cm (Raposa Collection)

Steel plate, 2K paint technology
60 x 60 x 40 cm (MAP, Richmond)

In their seminal paper, the Comaroffs detail the predicament of countries such as South Africa ‘through the prism of environmental catastrophe’.  In this body of work, Younge has detailed six interventions, made over time, to ameliorate South Africa’s status as a drought-prone country: Hartbeespoort Dam, begun in 1916, is possibly the earliest state-sponsored intervention, aimed at providing irrigation, but thwarted since the mid 19th century due to the presence of severe cyanobacteria; Gariep Dam – a central element in the  Orange–Fish–Sundays River scheme which transfers water from one water basin to another; Lake Sibhayi, part of the iSmangaliso Wetlands in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest freshwater lake in South Africa; and De Hoop Vlei near Bredasdorp which is a Ramsar wetland, a saline body of water of great importance to birds, and something of an anomaly to scientists. The De Hoop area was once part of an ancient river which disgorged itself into the southern Atlantic Ocean. Following climate change, it is now a coastal lake measuring about 16 kilometres in length.

Water Matters is an audacious and highly unusual series of sculptures. The technique employed is an extension of the artist’s 2008 work for the Cape Town International Convention Centre. In that nine-metre-high work, the Rift Valley was cut out of the figure’s upper body. Its ‘heart’ is Lake Turkana, site of important early hominid discoveries which placed human evolution firmly in Africa.



Gavin Younge works internationally as a sculptor, author, and curator. He attained an MA in Fine Arts in 1988 and is Emeritus Professor in Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. He is a past Director of the Michaelis School of Fine Art where he lectured Sculpture and Videography. In 2000, he represented South Africa on the Champs de la Sculpture exhibition in Paris, and has since held three major exhibitions in that country – Prosthesis at Cloitre des Billettes in Paris in 2007, Deep Skin at Metropolis in Nantes during 2009, and the Quagga Project at La Conciegerie de Paris in 2011. He was awarded the UCT Creative Arts Award in 2012 for this exhibition consisting of 10, sewn, vellum sculptures.

Water Matters at IS Art in Franschhoek is his first solo exhibition in South Africa since he showed ‘Cradle Snatcher’ at Everard Read’s CIRCA gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg in 2010.


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