Jeannette Unite has focussed her artwork on earth matters, mining and minerals since the 1990s when she lived on African West Coast alluvial diamond mines. In a method that speaks truth to power her artworks reference systems that regulate, measure and map the diagrams and images that enhance humans understanding of subterranean resources. Unite incorporates geological notes and legal texts; title deeds, mineral rights and regulations that determine how wealth and access are allocated.
She has collected residual material from nearly 30 countries, photo-recording whilst exhibiting in Biennale’s in Beijing, Tashkent (Uzbekhistan) and Lyon, France or presenting at conferences in Austria, Spain, Ireland and the UK. Her site-specific material, metal oxides, pigments, detritus from industry and mine site tailings are incorporated into large chalk-based pastels and drawings, glass artworks, paintings and print installations. She uses an ever expanding grid installation of 15000 plus images and her periodic tables of mined material as evidence of the economic cycle of extraction, consumption and waste in human’s compulsive drive for metal harvesting.
Unite’s artwork is represented on five continents including public art museums, Anglo American, Fairbridge’s, Clifford Chance and Vodacom collections and numerous Universities collections. As a recipient of scholarship and awards from Kellogg’s foundation and CCA, Centre Curating the Archive, UCT, Universidade Autonoma, Madrid, Art Moves Africa, CSIR public art making research experiences to remote post- industrial locations possible.
COMPLICIT GEOGRAPHIES, a 400 page monograph edited by Ivor Powell on Jeannette Unite’s recent Masters [with distinction] follows TERRA (2012) edited by Ivor Powell and Andrew Lamprecht with contributions by important writer’s including Kim Gurney, geo-scientist Professor Marian Tredoux and Ashraf Jamal.
Jeannette Unite is currently working on a 30 meter long geo-seam painting with the support of Oxford Earth Sciences and the Oxford Museum. The painting, made with British sediments collected during nearly 10 000 miles of road travel in England and Wales, is a response to her research on the work of pioneer geologist William ‘STRATA’ Smith. Smith identified that each successive layer of minerals was accompanied by particular extinct fossil remains. Smith’s knowledge of the subterranean meant that the levels of coal could be predicted when mining through strata. Coal fuelled Britain’s industrial Revolution as much as South Africa’s mineral revolution relied on nearby Witbank coal reserves that made smelting and extraction of Johannesburg’s gold possible.
Geologist, canal and civil engineer, hydrologist, surveyor William Smith published the first geological map of an entire country in 1815 regarded as the ‘Map that Changed the World’, the title of best-selling book by Simon Winchester. Smith’s work influenced Charles Lyell who published three volumes of The Principals of Geology between 1830- 1833 which in turn influenced Charles Darwin’s revolutionary evolution theories in the Origin of the Species(1859).
Unite will exhibit the William Strata Smith bi-centenary geological STRATA paintings at the University of Orange Free State Art Gallery in July, in Zeist, Holland in September and October and at Exeter University in October, 2015. Then in 2016 February the show will travel to Ostwall Art Museum, Dortmund, Germany and be mirrored in Franschhoek at IsART Gallery in a joint exhibition with sculptor Isabel Mertz who shares Jeannette Unite’s interest in material and earth matters. Then later in 2016 in Canada and North America. But first the geo-seam painting can be previewed in September in Mboneng, Johannesburg, South Africa.