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Walter Oltmann (b 1960)


The double helix, 2007

Anodised wire, dimensions variable

Commissioned by the Board of Control of the Adler Museum of Medicine, August 2007

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and proteins are information-coding molecules that have structural and functional attributes which underscores their role as essential and universal components for all of life. The sculpture depicts the physical interaction between a specific DNA-binding protein, shown as two separate ribboned chains, and DNA, depicted as a section of the DNA double helix in the centre of the sculpture. The nucleotides or 'letters of DNA' are shown as rods along the helix. This interaction between DNA and proteins lies at the foundation of modern Molecular Biology, which aims to understand how an organism uses and interprets the genetic information stored in DNA.

Walter Oltmann was born in Rustenburg, Gauteng in 1960. He holds a BA (Fine Arts), University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg (1981) and a MA (Fine Arts), Witwatersrand (1985). He is a lecturer in the Division of Visual Arts at Wits.

Walter has exhibited his work widely since 1985 and his work is represented in public and private collections in South Africa and abroad. He has been the recipient of many commissions which include Gencor wall sculpture, Johannesburg, 1995; urban Convention Centre: wall sculpture, 1997; MTN wall sculpture, Sandton, Johannesburg, 1998; ABSA North Towers: sculpture, Johannesburg, 1999; 2000 Sandton Convention Centre: wall sculpture 2000; Dimension Data: suspended sculpture, Bryanston, Johannesburg, 2003; Arabella Sheraton Hotel, Cape Town: suspended sculpture, 2003; Constitutional Court, chandeliers and lamp shades, Johannesburg, 2003; SAB wall sculpture, Sandton, Johannesburg, 2004; Wits Origins Centre: world map interpretation, 2005/6.

His main area of creative focus is in sculpture, and more particularly in fabricating woven wire forms which sometimes reference local craft traditions. His drawings are also based on and explore similar references. He has researched and written on the use of wire in African material culture in this region and is deeply interested in the influence of these traditions in contemporary South African art. He uses images of natural phenomena (human, plant and animal) and play with the idea of mutation, hybrids and reconfiguring the familiar. Through dramatically enlarging and/or transposing features of one to the other, he plays with the paradox between vulnerability and the monstrous. Using the language of craft, his artworks are always a product of labour and time.

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