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'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons

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sculpting this earth: capturing land art in south hemisphere


Sculpting This Earth follows internationally acclaimed artist Strijdom van der Merwe over four consecutive seasons as he travels to remote locations in South Africa to create land art in a striking range of spectacular natural settings. Featuring 25 fleeting artworks, the film shows van der Merwe in tune with the landscape and sharing his thoughts as he finds his canvases in verdant valleys and forests, on the shore of a lagoon, in the arid semi-desert. With stunning cinematography and an extraordinary soundtrack, including eleven pieces of music composed for the film, Sculpting This Earth is meditative, powerful, and moving. Shot over more than a year, from December 2020 to April 2022 by award-winning director Victor van Aswegen, it the world’s first feature documentary about land art from the Southern Hemisphere. The film was premiered on 26 August 2022 and released internationally in 2023.

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
all images: stills from Sculpting this earth film, courtesy Strijdom van der Merwe



Land art has been around since the 1960s and is practiced worldwide today. It was pioneered mainly in North America with the seminal works of Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Michael Heizer, and two of its best-known current exponents are the British artists Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. Worldwide, only a handful of documentary feature films tackle land art, all dealing with artists’ work in the Northern Hemisphere. Sculpting This Earth is the latest contribution to this sparsely populated genre and the first feature-length film about land art from the southern hemisphere, led by van der Merwe

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
the film features 25 fleeting artworks



the fragile, fleeting artworks of Strijdom van der Merwe


Strijdom van der Merwe’s land art alludes to sensitivity and humility in the face of the scales and cycles of nature – the fragile, fleeting artworks reflecting the impermanence of human markings on the land and presenting the viewer with an opportunity to contemplate human existence on the planet. Sculpting This Earth offers a sense of reconnection to the natural world in an age when many people globally feel cut off from it. There is a widespread and growing realization that the natural world is under threat and, in many places, in rapid and terminal decline.

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
some locations include artid semi-deserts



Sculpting This Earth follows the primordial cycle of the seasons, with new materials and fresh opportunities for land artworks in each. The film starts in midsummer, when Stellenbosch’s hot wind-blown days dissolve into lingering warm evenings, then modulates into autumn with its abundance of colors in the many forests on the hills and the valleys on the outskirts of the town. Winter brings the rains in this Mediterranean climate, but only cold to the cloudless skies over the arid Karoo. With the arrival of spring and the return of summer at the end of the film, the film sees the artist at work in nature during all four seasons over a year – sharing a body of art produced in the year he turned sixty.

sculpting this earth 2
shot across all four seasons



Starting with works made in and around his home base in the university town of Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands, the artist travels to increasingly remote locations to work in the harsh, uninhabited landscapes and vast open spaces of the Southern African interior. In fertile valleys and verdant forests, on pristine lagoon beaches, in the semi-desert of the Karoo, the film shows Strijdom working with materials he finds on the sites to make ephemeral artworks in natural settings over four consecutive seasons, from summer to summer.

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
moving on to verdant forests



shooting across four seasons, over two years


Principal photography began in December 2020 in the Jonkershoek valley outside Stellenbosch. Shooting continued through the summer and autumn months of January to May 2021 in and around Stellenbosch and Churchhaven on the Langebaan lagoon in the West Coast National Park. Filming during winter, spring, and the return of summer, from June to November 2021, took place in the greater Stellenbosch area, including the beaches of nearby Gordon’s Bay, and in the distant Tankwa Karoo – completing the cycle of the making of artworks throughout the four seasons. From December 2021 to April 2022, filming continued for footage of the artist talking and walking in the landscape, and additional recordings of ambient sounds and foley were completed in May.

sculpting this earth 3
the land art is characterized by sensitivity and humility in the face of the scales and cycles



Director Victor van Aswegen led on the cinematography for Sculpting This Earth, dbraving the weather and the elements with the artist for a journey through all seasons and various far-flung landscapes to get the images and record the sounds needed. Working with the Skyhook aerial cinematography team of Timothee Ferreira and Joshua Branquinho, he directed the drone shooting in the film, which was necessary for a sense of scale in the vast open landscape of the Tankwa Karoo. He was also responsible for post-production, colour-grading, and editing.




The soundscape was designed by director Victor van Aswegen and filled with the sounds of nature and Strijdom’s voice he recorded and music tracks he selected, including an extract from Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and a Paganini Caprice for violin masterfully performed by the young Korean virtuoso Inmo Yang. But the soundtrack is lifted to a different level by eleven pieces of music written by composer Kristi Boonzaaier for the film. Forged over many months of close collaboration between director and composer to match the edited sequences, these expressive and atmospheric tracks contribute powerfully to the emotional impact of the film.

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Strijdom van der Merwe at work



Sculpting This Earth spotlights our relation to nature


Sculpting This Earth is meditative and moving. The artist’s works, voice and thoughts, the passage of the seasons, the range of landscapes traversed, the arc traced by the sequence of artworks, and the emotional journey through unforgettable pieces of music all combine to create a space where the viewer can sit with their thoughts and emotions for 95 minutes. ‘It is like most of the artworks and the way they are presented in the film that they are minimal, suggesting rather than imposing interpretation, leaving the decision as to meaning mainly to the viewer. But for those willing and able to bring their thoughts, interpretations, and feelings to the works, Sculpting This Earth can speak powerfully about our relation to the natural world, the cycles of nature and life, the transience of our lives, growth, decline, creation, destruction, beauty, death – and much more besides,’ writes the team. 

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
Sculpting This Earth is meditative and moving

'sculpting this earth' captures land art by strijdom van der merwe over four seasons
the film premiered internationally in 2023

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