EROS / THANATOS – a series of mixed-species assemblages in shades of ‘dark’ and ‘light’

Like the human psyche, modern society is dialectical – it has both a ‘dark’ and a ‘light’ side that continuously interpenetrates – and the very neutrality and ambivalence of reason (so central to Western development) facilitates the ability of society to manifest different shades of light and dark ( from Dialectic of Enlightenment, written byMax Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno).

Sigmund Freud’s seminal work Civilization and its Discontents (1930), introduced Eros and Thanatos, which he believed to be responsible for the disquiet, unhappiness, and anxiety humans suffer. These terms refer to the constant struggle between the life drive and the drive for destruction which he held to be at the center of the development of civilization and the struggle for existence.

In Eros / Thanatos, Barbara Wildenboer draws from her own dreams, anxieties and personal narratives and intuitively connects the inner and outer worlds, present, past and future. She uses the medium of collage to create a contemporary Vanitas within the context of the Anthropocene era. The body of collage works is filled with both personal and mythological references. There is a strong emphasis on narrative and how classical and contemporary stories frame our understanding of the relationship between the technologies which are meant to help us and the world that we inhabit.


From the viewpoint of evolutionary ecology, our universe is filled with creative and destructive energies. Nuclear energy, genetic engineering and developing nanotechnologies offer opportunities for growth and expansion but could equally result in cataclysmic outcomes.

Using media images and information selected from various sources, such as science and natural history books, old war magazines and journals of art and culture, Wildenboer constructs alternate realities that intimate an ostensibly apocalyptic future — that of the post-Anthropocene — but one that also suggests adaptation and the forming of new relationships, where all is not lost and humankind ekes out a tentative balance with both each other and with the natural world. The collages are musings on modern human life and the fragility of the symbiotic relationship between humankind and our ecology. A tenuous relationship that is jeopardized by consumerism, wastefulness and a sense of disconnection with each other and with nature.


The works also make reference to the Chthulucene as an alternative to the Anthropocene, describing a world in which there is a flattening of any hierarchy between species (after Pimoa Cthulhu, a species of spider). Delicate webs of non-hierarchical interconnection between species provide a counterpoint to a world where we could be devoured by a gargantuan horror of our own making.

Because “it matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories” (from Staying with the Trouble-Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Donna Haraway (2016).

Do not miss the Eros / Thanatos exhibition.

It opens Thursday 15th November at Everard Read Johannesburg.

The exhibition consists of a combination of large-scale collages, books and a video collage.

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