Anja Marais: Exploring balance
Southern Florida artist’s work displayed in Northern Colorado gallery
By Trevor Reid
On October 4, 2015

Mark Harro | The Mirror
“The Ballast” installation, a project that uses different pieces to encompass the story of a woman’s struggle to find balance.

When thinking of mythology, most people picture ancient writers. Anja Marais, a South African artist now featured at the Mariani Gallery in Guggenheim Hall, is breaking that stereotype.

Building a mythos through her exhibit “The Ballast,” Marais constructs a tale of the human struggle to find balance. Using photographs from her short film “Cathedral,” Marais ties together the works in her exhibit to present various aspects of this myth to viewers.

The story of a woman struggling to find both stability on the waters of time and freedom from the rocks of her past, “The Ballast” invites viewers to explore this constant struggle faced by humanity.

Q: What inspired this exhibit?

A: My life. (Marais laughs) The title of this exhibit is called “The Ballast” and when I worked on this project, I was thinking about how I will maintain my own balance in life. And when I work in my studio, I don’t just make one painting. I usually work on a whole project.So the whole project is based on questions I have about my life because I found the more personal my work becomes, the more universal it is as well. The ballast is when you have a ship, and you want to keep it buoyant – when it’s empty, you have to fill up the new cargo ships of the day with water and it keeps its equilibrium with the water level. Whereas the old school, they fill it up with rocks. And that way, it stays steady. So as they try to stay steady, they have to empty out rocks or put in more rocks, or take out water or add more water.

As I made this project, I started asking the question, “How do you stay in balance? And when do you know when to empty yourself? And when is it time to fill yourself to stay stable?” This is my way of working through those questions. I also believe the reason why I make art is not necessarily the interpretation I feel people should have for the work. I want them to come with their own ideas and read their own thing in it.

Q: I noticed a similarity in all of the works. Did you start on one of these pieces and expand it into the exhibit?

A: I started with the film, which is called a pixilation animation. That’s when you do a stop-animation without dolls, so you use live humans and an actual environment. For this film, which is about seven minutes, I took between 8,000 and 9,000 photographs. And then I time-lapsed it, and then you have a stop animation. So I have 8,000 to 9,000 photographs that I then recycled back into photographic mixed media collages, and then you have this coherency about it so the works have a similar dialogue towards each other.

Q: How long have you been creating art?

A: Since I could think. Since I could remember, I was making art, and I always wanted to be an artist. My poor dad, who was a science and biology teacher, tried everything in his power for me not to become an artist, but I was adamant.

He always said, “No, it’s something you can do as a hobby.” But that’s all I wanted to be and here I am, I’m still doing it, and it’s the only thing I ever want to do.

Q: Is there a piece in this exhibit that you enjoyed making most?

A: Because it’s one project, and because I make all the work roughly at the same time, there’s a thread that goes through all of them and I enjoy the thread that goes in all of them, not necessarily a specific work. It’s like a little family. So it’s like saying, “The nephew is nicer than the cousin, but they all have the same genes.”

Q: Who are your top three inspirations when creating art?

A: I’m weird in the sense that I’m not as influenced by other artists as I’m influenced by writers. I have a deep love for Russian writers and poets. One of my favorite poets is Anna Akhmatova. And writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I have this thing going on for Russia, and I am so enamored with Andrei Tarkovsky–he’s a filmmaker–but he also wrote beautiful poetry. He always said that his film was just poetry, so that’s really what inspired me. And, of course, I’m inspired by a lot of South African writers.

Q: If you could bring back one thing from Colorado to Florida, what would it be?

A: I would bring back my lungs, so I could breathe again. I’m struggling a little bit with the air.

I really enjoy the people. They have been so gracious and so hospitable and kind. I found the students to be very stable and very intelligent.