Hi MOM 2010-2014 Polypropylene Sandbags, Sand 6" H 100' W 20' D
My mother, born Elizabeth Van Heerden, is an Afrikaner that grew up on Witfontein, a vast farmland just outside Pretoria. In 1964 at the age of 21 she emigrated to the US has never returned to South Africa.
This half of my heritage has always been minimized, ignored, and hidden. What I knew of the farm, I knew through my Mother’s stories and very few photos. The only visceral connections have come through the sturdy furniture that she inherited upon my Grandmother’s death. I would sit in my Grandfather’s chair and try to feel and imagine who he was.
In 2005 I asked my mother to help me find Witfontein via satellite map on Google Earth. In a highly emotionally charged moment, she exclaimed, “Stop!.....That’s it! That’s the farm!” and her memories came flooding out. The aerial view of her original home gave real images and spatial relationships to my life-long imaginings. The farmhouse, the chicken coop, the reservoir that my grandfather built with the help of a diviner, the poplar forest that terrified her as a child, the family plot where my grandparents and great grandparents are buried, even their graves were stunningly visible. I archived and labeled most everything on the map and transcribed many of the stories. Now only the labels remain as the original places have disappeared.
Shortly after that time farm was sold to real estate developers. I monitored via Google Earth, the demolition of Witfontein and the construction of the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estates. The golf course was designed by Jack Nicklaus with clusters of residential areas that span across 800 hectares surrounded by high voltage walls.
In 2010, I received a grant from Art matters to travel to South Africa for the first time and visit the estates before the development was complete. Because Google Earth was so integral to my experience of the farm, I created an intervention that could be seen by satellite and hopefully integrated into the Google Earth photographic timeline. I constructed the image out of 10 metric tons of sandbags arranged into a message approximately the same size as an average property line in Brooklyn.
Two years after my trip to South Africa, Hi MOM did finally appear on the Google Earth historical timeline as well as the Google Maps. As you scroll through the years one can see “Hi MOM” appear vividly at first, then gradually fade away over the course of the next 4 years.