Stellenbosch wine farm Spier is now home to Uthomi — a large-scale mosaic conceptualised by Mozambican artist Lizette Chirrime. The ambitious, vividly coloured work produced by the Spier Artisan Studio was installed in a water feature close to Spier’s Vadas Smokehouse & Bakery earlier this month.
Uthomi, which is Chirrime’s first mosaic project, celebrates and showcases her talent for combining colour and abstract form, offering a vibrant playground for the imagination.
“We were keen to work with this talented, thoughtful artist not least because her practice — which is often bright, colourful and seemingly playful — is so appropriate for an installation that we hope will engage and intrigue children and adults alike,” says Mirna Wessels, the director of the Spier Arts Trust which commissioned the work.
The Maputo-born, Cape Town-based Chirrime’s works are held in a number of collections throughout South Africa, Spain, Portugal and Italy. These pieces, often taking the form of detailed fabric collages, reflect her sometimes tumultuous life’s journey. Having grown up on the coast, she often references water and other elements of nature in her work. Informed by a keen awareness of the negative impact humans can have on the environment, she hopes to inspire and evoke positive change through her art.
“This strongly echoes Spier’s commitment to sustainability,” says Spier CEO Andrew Milne. “We are keenly aware that water is a precious and increasingly scarce resource and have drastically reduced consumption over the last few years, through a variety of measures. This includes the 100% recycling of grey and black-water through our eco-friendly treatment plant.”
Making mosaic magic
The artwork forms the floor of the fountain, and its mosaic surface is flush with the surrounding surface, encouraging visitors to engage with the installation and the water. A cement bench built around the fountain in a U-shape within the lower level wall allows guests to linger.
“This has been a special and unique project for us, as it’s involved implementing unusual mosaic installation methods,” Irene Maposa, the Spier Artisan Studio’s Production Manager, says.
Due to the need of a flat base surface for the fountain, the Studio chose to use the reverse (or indirect) mosaic method. This was invented and used for the first time by artist Giandomenico Facchina for the installation of the mosaics at the Paris Opera in the 19th Century. It involves enlarging a mirror image of the original artwork to scale and sectioned into a number of interlinking sheets. The mosaic units (called tesserae) are pasted face down — as opposed to the traditional direct mosaic pasting method — onto the paper, using a special homemade flour glue for this temporary pasting phase. The paper, after installation, will be removed (a water-soluble glue allows for easy removal).
Spier: proud supporter of South African art
“The visual arts are as much part of Spier as good food and fine wine are because we believe they are a powerful tool for transformation – sparking new insights and inspiring us to engage with our world in new and imaginative ways,” says Milne.
“At Spier, we also believe we can make a difference through learning. Among our Growing for Good learning initiatives are various projects that support and stimulate the arts community in South Africa, honouring our African arts heritage and enriching its future,” he adds.
Many of these projects are managed by the Spier Arts Trust. Through curating art portfolios and managing visual arts projects, the trust facilitates collaboration as well as growth opportunities for visual artists and artisans in South Africa. These include the Creative Block programme and the Spier Artisan Studio which facilitates large-scale mosaic commissions and has a rigorous three-year apprenticeship programme in the mediums of ceramic and mosaic.
“Spier is a significant and immensely supportive patron partner to the Spier Arts Trust. We work with Spier in a shared-value partnership, managing the Spier Art Collection on the estate,” explains the Trust’s director, Mirna Wessels. With more than 3,200 works, the collection is one of the largest contemporary art collections in the country. Its sculptures and artworks can be found throughout the farm — a diverse and vibrant showcase of different themes, styles and mediums.
“Our longstanding collaboration with the Spier Arts Trust has resulted in ambitious, inspiring and imaginative works that both delight visitors to the farm while supporting the growth and work of African artisans and artists,” concludes Milne.
Explore further: other outdoor installations at Spier
The Spier estate is a trove of sculpture and ambitious outdoor works. These include:
- The Dying Slave (https://www.spier.co.za/art/the-dying-slave) by Marco Cianfelli situated between the Conference Centre and the Spier Hotel. It features nine 4.1m high columns that together create a completed picture based on Michelangelo’s image of a male slave in the ecstatic throes of dying.
- The Mosaic Kraal (https://www.spier.co.za/art/the-mosaic-kraal): Situated between the Wine Collection Point and the Tasting Room, at the entrance to the Werf, the Spier Mosaic Kraal features the works of 16 contemporary South African artists. It is the South Africa’s first permanent outdoor exhibition of mosaic.
- The Songsmith (Great Karoo)(https://www.spier.co.za/art/the-songsmith): Artist Jenna Burchell has transformed twelve ancient rocks into interactive sound sculptures, which have been installed along the dam near the Tasting Room.
- Emerging Illusionistic Bend: Rodan Kane Hart’s 2015 artwork on the lawns in front of the Spier Hotel forms part of a series of metal sculptures that unpack the shapes and ideologies of contemporary South African cities.
Visitors to Spier estate can also pop into the satellite Stellenbosch space of the Spier Artisan Studio. Situated next to Eight restaurant, the airy, light-filled studio allows guests to see artisans at work as they create pieces in mosaic and beadwork in collaboration with South African fine artists.