Heliostat: Wim Botha brings together key works in the South African artist’s career spanning two decades and is organised around the idea of refraction. Refraction, as understood in optics, is the transformation of light, the increasing or decreasing of its wavelengths, as it passes through a material, such as glass or a prism. We perceive this change in wavelengths as either the splitting of light into its visible spectrum, a rainbow, or the bending or distortion of an object, as in a glass of water.
The principle of refraction is used by Botha both literally, by applying dichroic filters to glass surfaces throughout the exhibition, and metaphorically, for the transformation of canonical artworks and symbols of Afrikaans identity. A keen pupil of the history of European art, Botha has wrestled with the legacy of seminal art objects from antiquity, the Italian Renaissance and the Baroque throughout his career, searching for their relevance within a contemporary South African context. Simultaneously, he has taken symbols associated with his Afrikaans identity and shifted their meanings in subtle yet powerful ways.
This process of transformation has made symbols and icons that are familiar, uncanny, and is suggestive of the artist’s ambivalence towards European and Afrikaans culture, at once deeply invested and attracted by it, but also critical of South Africa’s colonial and Apartheid histories. Within this ambivalence, Botha’s continues to search for a visual language that articulates the contradictory, complex nature of being human.