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'Civilized Violence'

Jaco van den Heever at ArtSpace

By Lisa Allan
23 June - 14 July. 0 Comment(s)
Civilized Abandonment

Jaco van den Heever
Civilized Abandonment, 2010. charcoal, ink and sodium hypochlorite on cotton paper .

'The process by which a spatial image can be transposed into the emotional sphere is expressed by the spatial concept. It yields information on the relation between man and his environment. It is the spiritual expression of the reality that confronts him. The world that lies before him is changed by it. It forces him to project graphically his own position if he wants to come to terms with it.'
                 Sigfried Giedion 1965  

Jaco van den Heever’s latest charcoal drawings now on exhibition at Artspace in Parkwood are exquisitely and obsessively detailed images. The works depict lonely and abandoned buildings within equally unforgiving landscapes. The buildings are situated in the landscape in such a way that one questions their very reason for being. Human presence is absent, disturbing the normal continuum between 'man', buildings and landscape.

Heidegger writes that 'we attain to dwelling, so it seems, only by means of building. The latter, building, has the former, dwelling, as its goal'.1 The built forms Van den Heever represents - a church, a fragment of Hillbrow, a modernist highrise apartment complex - might have originally had dwelling as a goal, but now they appear only as buildings that may or may not be inhabited. Even the images of man-made industrial structures such as power pylons and railway tracks appear within the landscape as directional pointers, potential pathways; but to where? The built forms suggest that they are part of an urban domain, but one whose paths lead both in, towards dwelling, and out, away from dwelling. The buildings are mute, and the landscape is merely 'that of the "ground" on which the configurations of […] space have been developed'.2

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The artist’s statement for 'Civilized Violence' does little to illuminate the meaning of the images, if one expects such a relationship. The title, does, however, invoke other speculative interpretations. The political, social, and economic relations embedded in representations of landscape are unavoidable and Van den Heever’s drawings resonate with these substrata. Both Sophiatown and District Six are evoked by the image of the lonely, unused church. Holy buildings could not be destroyed and yet their function as a site of community gathering disappeared once the surrounding landscape became barren and devoid of human habitation. The image of the low-cost apartment complex standing isolated at the top of a hill again suggests the policies of housing the poor under apartheid. It is hard to imagine the appropriateness of Heidegger’s dwelling under these conditions. This image, with its eerie absence of people, in fact represents the inability to dwell due to political and economic forces and restrictions.  '"To be inside" is, obviously, the primary intention behind the place concept, that is, to be somewhere, away from what is "outside". Only when man has defined what is inside and what is outside, can we really say that he "dwells"'. 3

Jaco van den Heever’s images are about living, working, worshiping, travelling; in other words, human activities. But these activities have been expelled from these spaces. The violence that made it impossible for people to enact these activities freely has led to the collapse of the psychic structures of civilization. The physical structures are left as absences on the landscape, the marks of a dystopian ideology fully realised.   

Endnotes:

1. Heidegger, M. 1971. Building dwelling Thinking.  New York: Harper Colophon Books.    

2. Norburg – Schulz, C. 1971. Existence, Space & Architecture. London: Studio Vista. 

3. Norburg – Schulz, C. 1971. Existence, Space & Architecture. London: Studio Vista.

Lisa Allan is a part-time lecturer at the University of Johannesburg and an affiliated member of the FADA Research Centre at UJ.