BUCKETS OF ANGELS, MONUMENTS IN THE UNDERGROWTH, DOWN THE SEA’S THROAT.
Words by Sophie Cope
Images by Charl Dettmer & Olivia Barrell
It’s about…dust. A meteorite column in the gallery. A memorial in the undergrowth with a human lifespan. An acknowledgement of something – the muddiness of things. An acknowledgement of the things still surfacing or sinking below the level of the fog or the mud or the concrete.
‘The world of the things we think we know – the seemingly-solid – is memorialised in pieces. The angels are concrete, the concrete is fog.’
There’s a bucket of concrete angels in Ledelle Moe’s Woodstock studio. More than one bucket of angel-like madonna-like figures, studded with quartz and grit from the Cederberg, half concrete, half mud. And there’s a large steel frame outlining a sleeping body the size of a baby whale, waiting for a concrete skin. And when the skin comes, it will be thin and porous and the light will leak into it and the frame will poke through. Inside it will be hollow. The hollow spaces in all of Moe’s large concrete works are person-sized, or bigger – allowing the artist to climb in and dismantle, or piece them together again with nuts and bolts. Ready to be transported anywhere. Like this, in more than one way, Moe uses concrete to subvert the metaphor of itself. The world of the things we think we know – the seemingly-solid – is memorialised in pieces. The angels are concrete, the concrete is fog.
Ledelle Moe’s Woodstock Studio, Olivia Barrell, 2022
In monuments to the collapse of monuments, and in an ongoing homage to the residues that remain, Moe works between times. Between the 700-million-year-old rocks of the Cederberg and the time it takes for the fog to evaporate from the surface of the Atlantic, feathering over the very ancient and already-vanishing, the bridge we find is concrete. This feels impossible, but also – of course. It is perhaps only through the huge, industrial skin of it that one might glimpse, for a moment, the madonna-figures through the light-leaks of the monument.
‘Between the 700-million-year-old rocks of the Cederberg and the time it takes for the fog to evaporate from the surface of the Atlantic, feathering over the very ancient and already-vanishing, the bridge we find is concrete.’
Concrete stretched to the limits of itself, and the limits of what the artist can reach and hold together – astral parking lot, surface-of-the-moon concrete. Moe’s large hollow figures are so much bigger than human people, and they can never be big enough. The star’s people. The moon’s people. The thing, it seems, is to make something so big it’s impossible to know or encompass all at once. The hollow space inside – a practical necessity – is also somehow everything. These forms appear solid and ancient, but they’re not. They’ll last perhaps as long as a human lifespan, and then they’ll disintegrate. The space in the centre is entirely empty – but the emptiness is everything. Left out in the garden, all kinds of plants and creatures can grow in the gaps.
Jigsaw puzzle, dismantled provisional monument – the concrete is never the same grey. Each mixed batch is different, and so it must be feathered across the sections of the steel frame, blurring the grid. Falling in and out of monumentality – a monument made for dismantling, disintegrating, reintegrating, excavating out of the garden and building back. Rock-climbing inside the head of the thing, lying down in the sarcophagus-like figure, doing and undoing from the inside out – it’s a task dependent on nimbleness, much more than force.
‘Falling in and out of monumentality – a monument made for dismantling, disintegrating, reintegrating, excavating out of the garden and building back.’
The congregations of small creatures are like coordinates on a map and like birds in a murmuration, moving together, forever going home, not needing an endpoint. The artist descibes the hand-held earth-and-concrete figures as findings. Less like a raging, rending prevailing over shattered monuments. They’re solid, and they’re going to last. This is somehow, without esoteric language, a homage, more than anything. A reconciliation of not knowing something. A celebration of the little bird-madonna figures – whoever they are, wherever they come from. Markers on a rosary, ancient residue of the mountain and the city and the fog above the sea.
‘It’s a process of getting very physically close to the actual earth, and the creatures in it, and the sediments, and the millions of years that have made them.’
The process involves digging a hole in the earth, mixing soil with concrete and water, and burying it for half a day. Then digging it up and carving it with any sharp object at hand – it can be a thorn or a nail or butterknife. It’s a process of getting very physically close to the actual earth, and the creatures in it, and the sediments, and the millions of years that have made them. At once transitory and timeless, these figures are also very materially situated in particular landscapes and particular timelines. The history of the soil in each hole in the ground is its own kind of clock.
Ledelle Moe’s Studio (detail) , Woodstock, Charl Dettmer, 2022
And then? What are the soil-clocks telling us? What will become of the skins and the sediments, and what does it mean to make them? For Moe, it could be many things. But mostly, it seems, it is a practice of seeing and leaving traces. A frame for acknowledging what one has seen, and for holding the spaces for the things that remain invisible. An acknowledgement, in this case, might mean giving it a form – a site where, briefly, the material thing is intercepted. Small ripple, dipping into the geological timeline.
‘The feeling of being a visitor everywhere, and asserting small pockets of arrival…’
Ocean to ocean, ashes to ashes – it’s about the muddiness of things, and climbing into the hollows of it. Perhaps. Or the idea of a gravestone place-holder that doesn’t replace the loss, and so it becomes its own place eventually. The feeling of being a visitor everywhere, and asserting small pockets of arrival – a nest-space on the inside of a vast concrete head, a studio, a kayak, concrete constellation – before the next flight.
It’s about belonging, perhaps, as a thing that moves in the shadow just ahead – difficult to catch up to, difficult to memorialise, congregating in buckets in the soil and the studio as if it was there all along.
And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
– TS Eliot, Little Gidding, 1942 (No. 4 of Four Quartets)
Sculptor Ledelle Moe uses earth and concrete to explore the porousness of bodies, monuments and belonging – in ancient, industrial and human-scale timelines. Digging with hands in the earth in the Cederberg, or in earth in the city, the artist’s approach is situated, materially present, very physical – and at once migratory. A frame or a figure is held in place so that the world might move through it. Moe’s figure-structures survive their own dismantling all the time. Concrete facilitates a paradoxical out-breath. Moe studied sculpture at Technikon Natal in the early 90s (now Durban University of Technology), and completed her Masters Degree at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1996. After graduating, the artist stayed in the US for almost two decades – making and exhibiting prolifically, lecturing at various tertiary institutions, thinking about land and belonging. In 2013 Moe returned to Cape Town, where she now lives with her dog Tula, lectures sculpture at Stellenbosch University, makes things with earth and concrete and kayaks on weekends.
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