Foreword to "Unknown"
by Stefan Hundt (Curator: Sanlam Art Collection)
Jan van der Merwe has developed and refined his approach to his art over many years. Although he has received a number of awards and has exhibited frequently on group exhibitions his reputation as an artist still remains localized. This catalogue will for the first time provide readers with and insight to this artist’s oeuvre.
Working primarily in rusted metal van der Merwe has developed a language that speaks subtly yet eloquently of the South African psyche. Often his inspiration is drawn from highly personal sources to develop themes that can be universally appreciated but more intensely so by viewers familiar with the peculiarities of South Africa - its society and history.
Van der Merwe often refers to his works has ‘monuments’. Like conventional monuments the installations impose on a significant amount of space and the viewer is to some extent always kept at distance yet smaller details require the viewer to step up towards the installation for closer examination. Unlike most monuments van der Merwe’s installations contain no direct reference to a person or event that is memorialised. The installations are anonymous or broadly universal; they refer to the memory of the unknown many. This quality of anonymity combined with van der Merwe’s own localised reputation as an artist, inspired the title for the exhibition and this publication. Van der Merwe’s most recent work entitled Unknown, which consists of a approximately 200 rusted metal envelopes with postage stamps, without addressee suspended to form a wall materialises this further.
This catalogue presents a broad overview of van der Merwe’s works over a period of some seven years beginning with installations he completed for his Master of Technology Degree at the Tshwane University of Technology and concluding with his most recent works produced in 2004. The texts in this catalogue begin with an insightful introduction by Willem Boshoff a long time observer and at one stage examiner of van der Merwe’s work. An essay by van der Merwe reflects on the use of found objects in his earlier work and an extended interpretation of some of van der Merwe’s installations by Koos van der Watt form the body of the text while two short entries by Clive Kellner and Robert Hodgins provide personal insights and experiences. The shorter texts accompanying the reproductions were provided by van der Merwe and provide the reader with some guidelines to his intentions behind the making of each work. A comprehensive curriculum vitae and an extended list references are included at the end of the catalogue.
Readers of this catalogue will quickly realise that the physical experience of van der Merwe’s work is a necessity to be able to appreciate the mental acuity and physical dexterity required to create such intricate installations. The catalogue serves to encourage viewers to look, listen and at times feel more intently when confronting the multi-sensory installations by van der Merwe in real time and space. There is no doubt that this artist’s works will provide a fecund source of interpretation for now and in the future.
Website of South African Artists