Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind)

Interactive sound sculpture
Various dimensions
Rock, kiaat, resin, copper alloy, speaker, circuit
2016 - 2017

Songsmith is a trade mark of Jenna Burchell
Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind) embeds songsmith1 into ancient, fractured rocks. By combining this golden repair with technology and sound a songsmith will resonate when touched. This allows each rock to sing of the land wherein it has uniquely existed for millennium. Their song is generated from the raw electro-magnetic readings captured from beneath each rock’s original resting place on the Khatlhampi Private Reserve situated within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind2. Each songsmith acts as a time capsule imbued by a place in time, connecting the present with the site’s ancient history. 

The rocks and sound were collected during an expedition like process while on research residency at Nirox Sculpture Park for a collaborative exhibtion, A Place In Time, with Yorkshire Sculpture Park (UK). Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind) was created with specialised assistance from Open Ground (Geophysicists). 

 Read more about this work in my article Switching a Brush for a Motherboard.

Songsmith (The Cradle of Humankind) is one part of a triad series that embeds songsmith into ancient rocks connected to significant prehistoric events that took place in South Africa but had a global impact.  The collections in the series are named after the three geographic locations of the chosen sites namely: The Cradle of Humankind, Vredefort Dome, and The Great Karoo. Connected to life and death, these events changed the course of our history. The Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind) collection consists of ten unique sound sculptures. 


1. Songsmith TM (n.). In Burchell’s practice she has created the noun ‘songsmith’ to refer to a golden object that is embedded with a sound instrument.  In creating a songsmith the artist follows a method based on the Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsukuroi (n.) (v.phr.), which translates as “to repair with gold”. This is the art of repairing pottery with gold lacquer and sense that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken and showing it’s rich history.

2. The Cradle of Humankind was declared a world heritage site in 1999. This unique area spanning 50 000 hectres is situated not far from Johannesburg, South Africa. It has yielded some of the most important fossil finds of ancient human ancestors. These Fossil Hominid Sites are of outstanding global value, yeilding finds such as Mrs Ples, Little Foot, Taung Child Skull, Australopithecus Sediba and recently described Homo Naledi. The Homo Naledi fossil has been dated at an astoundingly precise 1.97 million years before present and therefore offers a fascinating window into our distant past and how we have evolved as a species.