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Performance art is a smoking eco inspiration

THE smoking image of a burned grasshopper into an South African grassland, is displayed as alert firefighters stand by. Last month’s performance art was born from the idea of promoting controlled burning which is beneficial to South Africa’s savannah ecosystems.

Artist Hannelie Coetzee said the 5-hectare (12-acre) artwork was inspired by research scientist Sally Archibald, who was looking into the importance of fire in creating productive grazing areas. Archibald had described a controlled burn as a kind of performance, “and that really triggered it,” Coetzee said. “It gave me the idea that I could take real scientists, real firefighters and weave it into an artwork that is really large-scale, speaking about very important and pressing environmental issues.”

Art curator Tammy Langtry also worked on last month’s performance, which included a 6-kilometer hike to the site for audience members.

“Hannelie’s practice is very unique, and the art objects and work that comes out of that is then again very unique,” Langtry said.

Archibald, a scientist at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, said controlled burns clears space for new plant growth that animals find “very tasty.”

“The animals put their dung there and then they graze some more, and they create what we call a positive feedback,” she said. “So the more animals you have, the nicer the environment is for the animals.”

She’s now looking into the impact of controlled burns on insects — and the idea for last month’s grasshopper image was born.

“In collaborating with Hannelie, who is an artist, we actually decided to turn that burn into an image to make it more exciting, and in so doing we tried to inspire people and make them interested in science,” said Felix Skhosana, a postgraduate student with the project.

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