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You are here

With child and all, she sets off for South Africa to take up the Pro Helvetia artist residency. As if travelling in Corona times were not exciting enough, the region around Johannesburg proves to be particularly rich in history, even beyond the effects of apartheid. Claudia Kübler, the winner of the Manor Kunstpreis Zentralschweiz 2022, goes to the “cradle of humanity”.

Photo: Claudia Kübler making the stone powder.
Photographed by David Knuckey.

A few clicks and the connection is active. This time it is not to a colleague who is in the immediate vicinity in her home office. No, it is actually a long-distance call. Google reveals that there are currently no flights available and recommends a driving route via France and Spain, across Egypt, Niger and Nigeria and on to the southern tip of the African continent. On this route, Johannesburg can be reached via 12,452 kilometres in about 170 hours of driving. “I have been in South Africa for two weeks, in the artist residency”. Claudia Kübler beams at me on the screen, together with her partner, the artist David Knuckey, and daughter Oda Lou.

Photo: “You Are Here”, work in progress in the studio of the NIROX Foundation near Johannesburg.
Photographed by Claudia Kübler.

Kübler owes the trip to South Africa to her intense investigation of space and time. “I am currently working on the concept of deep time,” she explains. It’s about nothing less than the gigantic period of time that stretches from the formation of the earth to the present. During this time, enormous natural changes took place that made our environment what it is today. But these are extremely slow processes. “I ask myself”, says Kübler, “in what time dimensions we are capable of thinking at all”. Indeed, the discovery of deep geological time came as a shock. In the 18th century, the age of the earth was still mostly calculated from information in the Bible: 6000 years, according to the findings. It was not until the early 1950s that the earth’s age of around 4.5 billion years could be scientifically determined.

Photo: Claudia Kübler with her daughter on the road in the Khatlhaphi Reserve.
Photographed by David Knuckey.

But humans would not be humans if they were not primarily interested in their own existence and role in the history of the earth. The region west of Johannesburg is of particular importance in this respect. It is not for nothing that it is called the “Cradle of Humankind” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around two million years ago, at least three hominin genera lived here. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to talk to palaeontologists yet,” Kübler tells me. “Instead, I found a reddish rock that I am currently crushing…” She turns the laptop around, wanders with it through the spacious, light-flooded studio and points the camera at the floor. The “You Are Here” icon of online maps can be seen, formed from powdered stone.

Kübler is planning an “ephemeral, cyclical installation”: the movement of the exhibition visitors will blur the sign and the artist will recreate it in a fixed rhythm. It is the draft of a first work whose symbolic character is far-reaching: it is about the attempt to locate in time and space, for which the “Cradle of Mankind” is virtually exemplary. But the topic also touches on the (self-)interpretation crisis of postmodern societies. How to continue in the Anthropocene? Or what might a non-anthropocentric understanding of time look like? GPS locates us precisely on the globe. Where we stand as “humanity”, however, is a completely different question.