The unbearable uncertainty of waiting
The starting point is the sensation of waiting – waiting for what? A Waiting that is filled with expectation or with fear?
Sarah Biggs´ new exhibition is called “Waiting for Rain” and in the Capetonian reality of today this waiting is testing the nerves to the extreme. The absence of rain, the increasing lack of water is one of the major threats of our times and climate change an uneasy fact that leads us stumble and despair when we think about our future.
The worst drought in a century is forcing the most stringent water restrictions ever implemented for South Africa’s second largest city. Cape Town has less than 10% of its useable water remaining for its nearly 4 million residents.
The draught and its devastating effects on nature and people is yet only the starting point of Sarah Biggs´exploration of how transformation and change play their roles in our lives, our perception of nature and our ability to cope with it.
The alienation of nature and human is a long deplored fact and the juxtaposition of the landscape and the human beings whose hopes seem to have shattered is an integral part of our contemporary conception of the world we are living in. In the 1950ies German philosopher Günther Anders wrote his famous book “The Obsolescence of Man” in which he deals with the impossibility of man to keep path with his creations.
The gap between the apparent perfection of the machines that we create and the apparent imperfection and deficiency of our own vulnerable, mortal and messy bodies (and accordingly, since we cannot detach ourselves from our bodies, of ourselves) is hard to accept. In fact, it is a permanent source of a particular kind of shame, which Anders calls “Promethean shame” and which he defines as the “shame for the embarrassingly high quality of the things we make”. It is the frustrating and humiliating recognition of our inferiority when compared to our products, and the fact that more than anything else seems to make us inferior is the fact that we have been born rather than made.
The destruction of humanity goes hand in hand with the destruction of nature and Sarah Biggs´ figures do no longer inhabit a landscape but are barely connected to anything anymore and seem to behold in a lonely wasteland of their own imagination and creation. How do we keep pace with the technical monsters we created when we do not understand the enormous consequences of them? The desertification of our lands is growing and still there are those (even scientists) that see no relation of that to man made destruction.
Sarah Biggs´ landscapes are waiting too – either for rain or for destruction and like a botanist who wants to explore the lives of the plants she renders into the inner soul of the landscapes. These inner forms may be atomised depictions of landscape, might be the evocation of the ephemeral through dissolving structures. Nature is changing, is transformed too by our human strife for perfection and thus destroyed. The vortex of reality results in a torn consciousness as well. Ashes are fallen from the sky, fires of destruction tell us of a spiritual twilight in which the abuse of nature has been turning its reliance into an ecological dystopia. Made nature our enemy.
This faceted consciousness of man today is his curse and often goes in hand with an orientation to the mythological and traditional certainties in the search to understand this unprecedented dystopia of his very own creation.
Sarah Biggs´ portraits are found in this ambiguous realm of not understanding and still trying to apply patterns of knowledge that we still know. She scrutinized the alienation of those lonely men, the anxiety of waiting and their futile approach to handle their situation. It is not a waiting room to expect something that is to come. No, Sarah Biggs´ waiting room plays with the fact that this waiting might be futile, that the world we have known will come to an end in a dystopian nightmare that can no longer be inhabited.
The obsolete souls of the depicted, the different expressions of waiting, of anxiety, of futility composed masterly next to the images of the transforming landscapes.
Sarah Biggs´ plays with our culturally formed ideas of nature and how it should react. But can we still trust our perceptions here? And as obsolete man seems to be today he uses the technique and the knowledge he has been dealing with the world through the times.
There is a portrait of a crow. A foreboding for those who are waiting? Waiting for rain? Waiting for destruction? Waiting for death? The cultural history of man has been observed by crows. They came close to us because they lived of the fields of our corpses. Their reputation as death messengers is deeply rooted in our cultures and our arts. This portrait plays with our myths, our perception of nature and is simultaneously an homage to one of the most intelligent animals that might therefore survive in a dystopian new world. One feels to hear the quiet laughter of the winning crow or is there a sign of pain in its croaking?
It is the pain and the lost beauty of creation that remain after we have done with our hybris. Anders´ three main principles that “we are no longer adequate to our products, that we produce more than we can imagine and take responsibility for and that we think that we are allowed to do everything we can actually do” are more relevant today then ever.
And it is in Sarah Biggs´ paintings that our fight for transforming our social, political and ecological landscapes to rescue the world becomes a visual memento mori. An evocative appellation that it is us who need to change – the viewer becomes the very subject of each of the images and therewith is object and subject at the very same time.