Virginia MacKenny’s exhibition At Sand’s Edge comprises oil and watercolour paintings that re-examine the tradition of landscape painting in a time of environmental duress and socio-political uncertainty.
MacKenny, currently Associate Professor of Painting at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, has long been interested in the genre of landscape painting, one that historically conjures a picturesque view or panorama of a scene and by implication posits distance, or power over, as the standard viewing position. At Sand’s Edge hopes to bring to mind a more intimate view, one that acknowledges both our alienation from, and connection to, our environment and its creatures.
In the popular imagination thoughts of sand may conjure up images of children’s sandboxes or seaside beach holidays, however such times of carefree innocence may be at an end. Sand’s material instability embodies precariousness. Its elemental characteristics have recently been posited as a possible fifth state of matter given that sand exists somewhere between a liquid and a solid. It is these qualities that provoke, in biblical terms, an injunction against building upon it. The more ominous implications of indeterminacy, the difficulties of coming up with solutions to species extinction concomitant with social justice, are central on a planet experiencing the vagaries of rapid climate change.
At Sand’s Edge references landscapes of the Cape and the red sandscapes of the Kalahari, and was prompted by the artist’s increased awareness of the particular vulnerability of biological hotspots in the Western Cape. The current drought in the western Cape has produced an increased threat of desertification and pressure on resources. At Sand’s Edge was produced during the time of student protests and academic institution closures and, in its making, embodies many of the anxieties of our day. In these restless and unpredictable times of societal and planetary disruption MacKenny explores the historical acculturation of, and domination over, the natural world. In a landscape populated with domestic, wild, heraldic and mythological creatures the image of the dog, humankind’s longstanding companion, stands witness as the certitude of progress is replaced by an eroding edge in an uncertain light.
MacKenny, has won a number of awards including the Volkskas Atelier 1991, Ampersand Foundation Residency 2003 and Donald Gordon Creative Arts Award 2011. MacKenny’s interest in environmental concerns manifest in a variety of forms – she curated ‘Threshold’ (2011) an exhibition of environmentally engaged artists, she runs an Environmental Interventions elective for Michaelis art students and is a founding member of the new interdisciplinary Environmental Humanities postgraduate degree at UCT.