[when spirituality was a baby]

Originally published on art-agenda, January 2019.

At once named and unnamable, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s installation 〰️ gathers myriad references (astrology, classical sculpture, Afrodiasporic spiritual practices, the Anthropocene) and materials (soil and rocks, satin and spices, glass and plastic, charcoal, jute, feathers, clay). It weaves them together thrillingly, with gold wire, cotton thread, and lines scraped into the concrete floor. In scale, the installation oscillates from tiny holes made by drawing pins to the vastness of a universe. Seen as a single entity, this is a work that marks itself, maps itself, archives its own making and its own meanings. It is a work that prompts a pile-up of words and renders them all inadequate. All my notes are lists.

The first mystery of the exhibition is its title: a glyph designed by the artist consisting of six wavy vertical marks, represented here by the “〰️” symbol. In print it is like rising steam (or is it falling rain?). Scratched into the gallery floor, or marked in tiny biro lines on the wall, these wobbly lines read more like the Egyptian hieroglyph for water: a linguistic echo of tidal marks in sand or the flowing of a river. It does not translate into letters or sound or language; it cannot be converted into Unicode. In square brackets is a clue: [when spirituality was a baby]. This phrase reaches back toward a nascent state before belief had crystallized into institutional religions, before land ownership perhaps, before meaning itself had yet solidified.

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