Why does the earth matter to you as an artist?
I start with a name, my name, van den Berg. It translates as 'from the mountain'.
As a child, growing up in a mining town in Zambia, that seemed so strange. I had never seen a mountain. Hills there were, great big anthills in our back yard and on the road to our annual holiday at the coast in South Africa we saw larger hills, but in my imagination mountains seemed to be formations of another place, Europe, a place where the stars orientated differently and the sun moved in an unfamiliar arc, where there were mists, snow, straight, high trees, things of which I knew nothing.
Knowing myself through land has been with me from the time I knew what my name meant. The journey through the generations of my forebears, from mountain people in Europe to myself, the son of a miner in Africa, set the parameters of my geographic imagination.
The irony of my life has been that my identification is not with mountains but with holes, excavations, mines and trenches rather than heights.
In what ways do you hope that your work in "strategies of the surface" will change perceptions of the world around us?
Better answered by the curators.
What is the importance of our relationship with the things we put or find underground?
Three thoughts in response
For those of us who bury our dead the underground is their realm, their remains lying in pockets under our gaze, sometimes marked and ordered, sometimes suggested by a swelling of the earth, or a pile of stones recalling a cairn. An old rose bush, still blooming every spring, marks an old farm cemetery. Thus the presence of our ancestors is about us, sometimes clearly evident, sometimes as a muddled or diffuse vestige. Families, genetic or otherwise can be traced by these markings, augmenting the knowledge we get from images, memories and anecdotes. It is part of a plotting process, whereby we connect ourselves to a timeline, looking back into the past and forward to events as yet unmarked. Over time as we accumulate a sense of our genetic and cultural heritage we understand that land, above and below ground, is a developing narrative, one in which buried ancestors are joined by parents, and then by contemporaries. As I move about I imagine a web of filaments pulling and tugging at my temporary corporeality.
The underground is too the substance of renewal, the soil that feeds us. This relationship between dying and renewal is one of the truisms of life, but it is a satisfying and complex one of transubstantiation.
But it is mines that make the underground accessible, firstly by inverting the underneath. Great piles of earth matter, blasted, crushed, sifted and gleaned are piled up above ground, making a new topography, hills where there were none and of course their inverse, complex voids under the surface, way below graves, penetrating to a time 'when the rocks were soft'.