kali van der merwe

necromantic vivariums
taxidermy sculpture


Bell Jar Sculpture


Sculpture is my first love, it is what I chose to study formally.  I term my bell jar sculptures 'Necromantic Vivariums', and they emerged post the process of creating my photographic images. I photograph at night using a process of long exposures and a moveable light source. The darkness of night becomes my photographic dark room. I spend an intense time photographing plants, dead insects and animals, searching for something elusive I call the “soul of form”. To do so, I need to fall in love with every aspect of the subject I am photographing.


Post my photographic process, I tend to hang onto each dead insect and dried plant, storing them in boxes. Examining the forms a year or two later, I find they have often been reduced to powder by mites that have consumed them. I decided to turn my beloved subject matter into sculptures as a means of preservation and to display my actual original subject matter alongside my photographic interpretation. I devised a way to preserve them while at the same time enabling them to be easily fused into hybrids to create staged scenes. They are housed under glass because of a certain fragility which in addition gives them an other-worldly, domed space to come alive within.


Sleeping the Cloud of Knowing and Forgetting

I found a bird skeleton in the roof of my house. The feathers and flesh had all fallen off and all that was left was a perfectly whitened skeleton. I wondered what had happened to the bird, how it had come to be in the roof, what was the cause of its death? I photographed the bird skeleton in a seated position and it looked so contained yet so forlorn, I called the photograph 'Nil Omne' – a latin phrase meaning “everything is nothing”.


Wanting to honour the actual skeleton of the bird, I put it in the centre of a dried artichoke flower emerging from a piece of coral that particularly reminded me of a cloud. I called the piece “Sleeping in the Cloud of Knowing and Forgetting” a liminal space, yet a gentle resting place of peace. A fitting honour for the bird skeleton that had left me with so many unanswered questions. The continuous cycling of life and death can be regarded as a knowing and a forgetting of that knowing.


Top Dog

This is a piece about the rapacious greed of human domination. It stems from a desire for certainty for when we are on top, we think we have the power and are in control. Ironically it is this very domination that causes the collapse of the whole system and ultimately our own demise.


The base of the sculpture is made from cow dung. Once I found the right shaped “shit” I covered it in bones, the bones an avaricious human civilisation leaves behind. Domination brings downfall as shown time and time again through the history of empires.


Dancing Existence atop the Florid Megalith

I enjoy challenging peoples sense of reality. Once the boxes of the left brain are confused, the right brain has more room to explore. Can a frog fly? In my world it can and belongs to the pantheon of magical creatures in my imagination. The totem pole of flowers provides the perfect launch pad for the flying frog.


I present this sculpture as an imaginative relic for an alternative evolution, running parallel to the one we know so far. We are constantly 'discovering' new forms of life that defy the realms of imagination in their creative adaptations to particular conditions in their environment .


Phenomenal / Noumenal

The term phenomenon refers to anything that can be apprehended through the senses and has actual existence in this world. Noumenon contrastingly refers to "the object of an act of thought", coming via German from Greek, literally ‘(something) conceived’, from noein ‘conceive’. This sculpture hovers between these two definitions.


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