Earth artist explores geologic deep time

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Capetonian artist to exhibit in unique circumstances at esteemed “Olympics of Geology” conference.

Jeannette Unite - mineral periodic table by Jac de Villierse
Jeannette Unite – mineral periodic table by Jac de Villierse

Jeannette Unite’s industrial scale artworks, made with vivid pigments collected directly from smelters, mining sites and slime pond tailings, are no stranger to prestigious venues.

After her recent successes with solo exhibitions in Museum Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany and CANNW, University of Exeter, UK, Unite’s Earth-scale art once again makes an appearance in the city of her birth, this time in the CTICC. Given the nature of her subject, the very substance of geology, it makes perfect sense that the 35th International Geological Congress would invite her to exhibit at the conference.

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Held in Cape Town, South Africa, between 27 August and 4 September 2016, it is one of the largest international geological congresses, and presented by a different country every fourth year. In 2016, it is the turn of South Africa to present this exciting event – on behalf of the African continent. The event will be held in the acclaimed Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town, the Mother City of South Africa.

Having lived on Africa’s West Coast Alluvial diamond mines in the 90s, with then fiancé, a geologist and mine manager, Unite’s was struck by her complicity as end-user of mining, causing her to shift her artistic practice to the periodic table of minerals, the industrial sublime and all that comes with it; machines, headgear and strata and humans’ compulsive drive for metal harvesting. Centred on pigments and the periodic scale; the plethora of minerals that are the ingredients of the manufactured goods in our contemporary lives are essentially the subject of Unite’s aesthetically commanding works.

The works that Unite will show at the conference are sourced from three of her recent international exhibitions; TERRA – mining headgear rendered in pastels, made by the artist from smelted copper, platinum, iron and other oxides, COMPLICIT GEOGRAPHIES – Various scaled split panels designed to evoke bar-codes, with elements from the periodic table depicted in archival polymer acrylic, & THE INDUSTRIAL SUBLIME – Large scale abstractions of the mining industry in tin, lithium, titanium, kaolin, and Fuller’s earth on canvas.

Unite has travelled through more than thirty countries accumulating an extensive personal archive of images and materials from the mining industry. She has mined for her paint box, using oxides, metal salts and residues from extraction, heritage and industrial sites, and has developed paint, pastel and glass recipes from the advice of earth scientists, geo-chemists, paint-chemists and a ceramicist to develop this ‘eco-alchemic’ work.

For those not attending the conference a selection of Unite’s work will be available to view at:

  • Eclectica Contemporary Gallery – 69 Burg Street CBD, Cape Town &
  • IS Art Gallery – 11 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.

Unite’s work has won numerous awards that include a public art commission at CSIR, Pretoria and was first prize winner in a National Art competition that paid for her studies from Kellogg’s foundation. Unite has received grants and scholarship from Center for Curating the Archive, University Cape Town amongst others.

Unite is represented on five continents including public art museums, Anglo American Kumba, MTN and Vodacom collections and her Earth Scale hangs in collections in Frankfurt, Basel, Tokyo and Chicago, as well as largest law firm in the world, Clifford Chance, (Brussels and Frankfurt) and oldest law firm in Africa, Fairbridge’s Cape Town and Johannesburg offices. African travel grants from Universidade Autonoma, Madrid, and from Art Moves Africa(AMA) made possible her primary research experiences to remote post- industrial African locations.

This invitation to exhibit at the 25th International Geological Conference came about through working with the Department of Earth Science, University of Oxford where Jeannette Unite was researching geological history. This involved road trips of 10000 miles in total across the coal fields of Germany, England and Wales collecting the chalk, metal and minerals from geologic ‘Deep Time’.

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