When Standard Bank signed off on the designs for their five-star green rated office headquarters in Rosebank, Johannesburg, they saw the potential for their legacy to be expressed in an artwork that would inhabit the central atrium.
The bank has gradually expanded through Africa, investing in local economies and evolving with the various economic landscapes. It was this investment in Africa, not only its people but also their posterity, that saw the bank make such a bold shift to environmentally sustainable practises. The green star rated building features a massive indigenous green piazza, triple glazed glass walls that play a central role in thermal regulation, while offering incredible views, intricate grey water systems and rain water harvesting, An energy-saving gas-powered tri-generation plant, a cutting-edge digitally addressable lighting system, as well as bicycle racks and bathing facilities to encourage a ‘greener’ corporate culture.
The Seed installation explores the Bank’s relationship with this continent, its people and its land. Measuring 34.33 metres high, 9.58 metres wide, and 8.55 metres in depth, Seed makes reference to Standard Bank’s position as a leading African bank.
Playing on the metaphor of the seed in its representation of Africa, it’s potential, it’s history and it’s future, Seed is intended to evoke a continent abundant in resources and cultural heritage, rich histories of origin, migration, engagement and trade, alongside troubled histories of conflict and colonisation.
Referencing the immediate context of Johannesburg, the world’s largest manmade forest, Seed draws attention to the positive function of investment, growth and return. It sets addresses the tense nature of the dialogue between environmental sustainability and rapid urban expansion.
The sculpture comprises a collection of 229 laser cut plywood panels which are detailed with drawings of people, and translations of maps that represent various aspects of the continent, from political terrains and population densities, to topography and mineral resources. The plywood panels, a natural and renewable material, are pigmented with wood-stains and soil originating in various regions of Africa where Standard Bank is present. Each panel is suspended from the ceiling with steel cables, collectively forming a fractured mass.
Much like a seed, it takes time to reveal the promise that lies within. When one enters the grand foyer and looks upwards at, what was from the outside, a cluster of discreet panels, an image of Africa comes clearly into view. Like many of my sculptural installations, Seed plays with depth and perspective, encouraging the viewer to interact with the work and enjoy the shifting form of a static object. From most vantage points it is fragmented, seemingly haphazard — until, through your motion, it becomes a graphic form.
The complex narrative, told through individual stories that are peppered through the panels, becomes intermittently accessible as one navigates the numerous floors of the building. Each geographical region has a tale to tell that contributes to the larger identity of the African continent. These panels, pregnant with micr-narratives, speak to the man made borders that divide African nations and their people, and as one circumnavigates the work, these discreet national identities become devoid of meaning, simultaneously converging with, and diverging from the greater African identity.