Emma Willemse Epitaph for a place called Bank | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Epitaph for a place called Bank | Stuff/Staff group exhibition, Unisa Art Gallery June/July 2012

Artist statement: Epitaph for Bank

In Epitaph for Bank the fragmented shards of manufactured objects found at a place called Bank, a site of displacement situated near the town Carletonville, have been documented repeatedly. The residents of Bank lost their homes in the 1970’s when the houses were demolished due to the danger of sinkholes, caused by the extensive mining activities in the area.

According to Laura Marks, objects “encode both the discursive shifts and the material conditions of displacement [and we can attempt to decode] the displacements, and the social relations, that objects carry with them [by] connecting them to memory” (2000:79 & 81). In their weathered brokenness and stages of decay, the remains at the Bank site revealed indexical information of the trauma and memories relating to displacement. It is in its references to absence and presence that the cyanotype process, employed in Re-surface, manifests its metaphorical significance for displacement. The process records not the actual objects but the negative spaces around the objects, the nothingness that shares a reciprocal edge with the object. Consequently, although intended as a process to document presence, the resulting images define the loss of a presence and trace the evidence of a previous existence.

In the fragile floor installation Re-trieve the negative spaces of the discarded objects have been recorded by using the actual soil from Bank, as an attempt to regain their tactile presence.

As a drawing on the gallery wall that will eventually be destroyed, Re-trace is also a writing on the wall: it predicts the inevitable destruction of the objects left behind at Bank, through decay, in the same way that time changes memory into ever-fading traces of the real event.

The three ‘texts’ in the Epitaph for Bank are testaments of visual loss and the installation serves as a sample commemoration of the trauma experienced by the more than 15 million people world-wide (Oliver-Smith 2009:3) annually affected by displacement due to development projects.


Marks, L.U. 2000. The skin of the film: intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Durham: Duke University Press.

Oliver-Smith, A. ed. 2009. Development and dispossession: the crisis of forced displacement and resettlement. New Mexico: School for Advanced Research Press.

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