“Everything we use is either from mining or agriculture.”
The South African artist Jeannette Unite has for the last two decades explored the effects of mining on the landscape and in her paintings, drawings and glass works generated by this interest she uses an abstract aesthetic to impart her discoveries and observations.
As she told The Mining Weekly’s Jade Davenport “I have chosen to depict the visual imagery in an abstract format because the process of mining in itself is abstract, involving the amalgamation of a variety of disciplines. I want people to respond sensually to things because I think that helps them to access any idea.”
Over this long association with what is considered by many to be a destructive and irresponsible industry Unite has come to appreciate her complicity within the process.
“It’s easy to criticize mining from the outside. I used to feel the same way as a lot of artists – that it’s a dirty, destructive business. But I came to see I was just as complicit because I derived benefits from the industry. Everything I use, all the materials that go into my work, start life in the ground. Those dope smoking artists who want everything to be natural… well, cyanide is also natural. So is uranium,” Unite told African Mining in 2013.
And over her many visits to mine sites to feed her inspiration Unite has gathered minerals, mine tailings and site specific sands to make her own pastels and paint as well as using them as ingredients for her glass sculptures. For Unite, the magic inherent in her raw materials enable her landscapes to be literally made from the land itself.
From necessity Unite has developed a close association with the industry but she is no apologist for it. She is well aware of the environmental crisis caused by the exploitation and contends that the repair should be economic.
As she has said “Mining should be made more expensive. Then we would not be able to randomly take minerals out of the ground. If it cost us more to produce, we would be more careful with what we mine. The value of materials is determined today not by the cost of extracting them but by stock markets. For example, if we used platinum judiciously we would get better value for it. Platinum is a necessary component of modern cars. But nobody buys cars for their platinum content. They use other criteria. So the value of platinum in the vehicle is hidden. If it became a lot more expensive it would be valued more. Commodity brokers think they are working with numbers, when in reality they are working with something that is magical.”
Unite’s current exhibition Complicit Geographies is on show at England’s Contemporary Art Natural Innovation Centre until the 22nd of January.