Bianca Bondi in the Dallas Contemporary
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Bianca Bondi, a multidisciplinary South African artist, always touches on the past of the place in which her work is displayed. Her exhibit, which is an immersive installation, evokes a natural environment with a mystical and dystopian twist. Bondi’s faux habitats are known for their use of salt. When the salt comes into contact with other materials, it causes a variety of chemical reactions. Her practice is a massive science experiment.
Bondi’s first solo show in the United States, titled A Preservation MethodThe Dallas Contemporary is currently hosting a special exhibition. The exhibition examines Texas’s history of environmentalism, which led her to study the Highway Beautification Act (HBA), passed in 1965 by president and Texas native, Lyndon B. Johnson. First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, was known for her passion for environmental conservation and the HBA, also known as “Lady Bird’s Bill”. It was one of the most comprehensive laws to address outdoor advertising along the nation’s developing highway system. The billboard ban was designed to protect native wildlife and preserve the American landscape. Bondi’s exhibition at the Dallas Contemporary pays homage to the HBA nearly sixty years later.
Entering the gallery, before I see the work, I smell it—the glaring tang of salt and vinegar, like a pickle jar. Huge piles of white salt create a layered topography, complete with small vernal pools, which are common to Texas’s terrain, filled with transparent turquoise liquid. These microcosms are also called ephemeral swimming pools. They support life and growth in a short period of time. The pools contain native Texas flora which has been dehydrated using a salt preservation procedure. Delicate salt crystals are adorning the leaves and stems.
In the background, you can see rusty steel beams from a junkyard and scrap metal. The artificial serenity is infused with post-apocalyptic tones, relics left over from an abandoned world. If you are quiet, the exhibition’s subtle audio component will be heard: the hum from the roads, the sounds of cicadas, the steaming water, and the wind blowing. In the center of the gallery is the corpse of what was once a billboard—a direct nod to Lady Bird’s Bill. But this billboard, which is rusted to decay, is a skeleton from the giant floating advertisement once littered across the skyline.
Over time, installation changes. Salt absorbs a liquid, a potassium sulfate mixture, vinegar, food dye, that then oxidizes. The chemicals simultaneously corrode the metal and clean it. The chemicals cause the color to migrate from metal to salt. This results in acidic patches of yellow and blue-green. The dynamic and ephemeral nature of Bondi’s work allows her to relinquish control to her materials.
I can’t help but contemplate how Bondi’s exhibition highlights both the positive and negative realities of environmentalism in Texas. The use of salt addresses the ongoing issue of wastewater contamination in Texas from oil fracking.The salt has a dual meaning. It is both a symbol of healing and preservation, as well an indicator of pollution. The work is a testament to both human destruction and the resilience of nature.
“How the Highway Beautification Act Became a Law” U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/beauty.cfm.
 “Landowners fear injection of fracking waste threatens West Texas aquifers” The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/10/texas-permian-basin-fracking-wastewater-pollution-oil/.