UP-CLOSE Ernst van der Wal posing with one of his art pieces from ‘invasion’ at SMAC gallery. Photo: Hugo Ubisse

‘Invasion’ at SMAC

Ernst van der Wal’s solo exhibition is currently showing at SMAC Gallery. Alexander Brand spoke to him about his inspiration behind it.

Something has invad­ed SMAC Gallery and it has us transfixed. Ernst van der Wal, acclaimed writer, practising artist, researcher and lec­turer gives us an in-depth view of his solo exhibition – invasion. It is both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing and warrants a closer look.

According to Van der Wal, a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Visual Arts Depart­ment, invasion was triggered by a minuscule photograph he found in a medical journal after which he proceeded to enlarge through the use of Indian ink and graphite, capturing the technology of mid- 20th-century ink printing.

He was fascinated by the factual nature of the photograph but equally fascinated by how it also comes across as very intimate. As he was still a novice in this particular technique, it took him almost three years to complete.

The exhibition includes a vari­ety of different disciplines, rang­ing from Indian ink and graphite on Fabriano paper to wood, ash and imitlin sculpture work. A few of the pieces were completed in advance, before Van der Wal de­cided on assembling the pieces for exhibition in February.

invasion deals with how we currently view and previously viewed science. Since the majori­ty of the photographs were taken from the 1930s, 1940s, where peo­ple (especially in our country) had a very distinct view of science and humans, it is very applicable to our current environment. This all links to the title, invasion, because it takes an investigative look at the past and how certain things were seen as fact, but looking back now it might seem absurd. It takes a deeper look at how we, as humans, perceive these bewildering envi­ronments we experience around us, but also within us. From the more factual pieces, he moves into much more abstract ones that “speaks more to our contemporary understanding of invasion.”

Van der Wal is very successful in this and uses circular pieces that represent bacterial forms, but also takes on a moonlike image. These can also be interpreted as lenses, either being seen as microscopic lenses looking within or telescopic lenses looking at the sky.

Van der Wal is also captivated by the entire exhibition dealing with environments that we cannot fully grasp, and that this causes fear, but also pinpoints that unde­niable human curiosity.

As someone who regularly deals with topics regarding the LBGTQ+ community, as seen in his previous works as well as his doctoral thesis, he says he enjoys that the exhibition deals with as­pects that are applicable to the queer community but can also be applied to the rest of humanity.

Older medical journals and textbooks, such as the ones he used, show clearly just how many prejudices humans had concerning race, sexuality and gender. Because of this, Van der Wal wants the viewer to leave his exhibition knowing that science is a process and not an end re­sult and that we constantly need to look back and reevaluate our current beliefs.

It is not every day that we have the opportunity to experience and appreciate incredible artwork like this, and furthermore artwork created by one of our own alumni. So in your next study break, swing by SMAC gallery and pay invasion a visit.

The exhibition is open until 16 November and definitely worth making a trip down to Church Street.

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