The 'flower theme' is supported by a number of works engaging the importance of bees to the ecology of the planet that is intended to draw the viewer’s attention to the importance of noticing or witnessing small details. Similarly Jeremy Wafer's Tropic of Capricorn calls viewers to scrutinise the ground directly under the artist’s feet as he photographs 100m of the line that defines 'southness'. 'Grounding' is a central theme in the exhibition.

A pivotal work on the exhibition that directly engages our need for greater sustainability in terms of power is Thomas Mulcaire's Constant. A solar powered square metre of over 1000kw of light that represents the 'solar constant' – the average amount of radiation from the sun that hits our planet’s surface - the work exemplifies the potential of solar power. However, equally evident is the discrepancy between the size and number of solar panels necessary to power the work and the metre square work within the gallery. Clearly indicating the technological 'lag' between what is available directly from the sun and what can currently be recouped for our own usage, the work makes visible the potential of sustainable power.

Other well-known South African artists such as Lien Botha, Lyndi Sales, Lucas Thobejane and James Webb contributed to the exhibition. In addition, work by younger and emerging artists such as Claire Jorgenson, Nina Liebenberg and Daniella Mooney, as well as from current students from Michaelis, are also included.

Apart from a collaboration with James Webb, three new works were commissioned from Jorgenson, Liebenberg and Mooney. In addition two new projects also formed part of the newly commissioned works for the exhibition.

Brendhan Dickerson's fire performance and Chris van Eeden's public art piece.

A fire performance by Brendhan Dickerson opened the exhibition and, such was its successful reception that it was restaged for the opening of the GIPCA 'Hot Water' Festival. Dickerson, known for his work with fiery mobile sculptural constructions, engaged climate change in a piece entitled 'Complicit'. In it he acknowledges our contribution to the changes that we are currently experiencing in climate patterns due to our use of non-sustainable fossil fuels.

Top student in the curatorial elective Chris van Eeden was engaged to conceptualise/ curate a public art piece which occurred on September 24, National Heritage Day in South Africa. This date was the date chosen to open 'Threshold' not only because an often overlooked part of our heritage is the environment, but also because it serendipitously coincided with World Moving Planet Day. Initially conceptualized by leading climate change environmentalist Bill McKibben, Moving Planet is a global event organised when artists and concerned citizens across the globe put demands for climate change literally into motion — marching, biking, skating — calling for the world to go beyond fossil fuels. Van Eeden worked with the Green Initative at UCT and with other agencies interested in environmental change in the city of Cape Town including Treading Lightly. He and a group of students immobilized a bakkie (cars being prime producers of carbon emissions) with red fabric in front of Parliament and then spent the rest of the day pushing it around Cape Town to illustrate the weight vehicles put on our environment.

This latter project is innovative in that it takes student engagement from the local onto the global stage. By doing this it renders artistic practice both ethical and active in the world, allows for collaboration and community engagement and potentially provides a platform for artistic agency in the larger social framework. The learning in this situation was considerable and challenging.

The exhibition thus calls upon a range of proximities to be considered by the viewer – both far and near. Some works on the show demand intimate viewing, held close to the individual while others activate a much larger space beyond the personal, both conceptually and perceptually. The Moving Planet event expands the boundaries of the exhibition beyond the gallery walls and links, by dint of public participation, with a global event of activism and creativity, while, it might be argued, Mulcaire's piece connects us to the centre of our solar system.

The 2011 TED winner, graffiti artist JR, perhaps put it well when he noted that 'In some way art can change the world, I mean art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions … art can change the way we see the world, art can create an energy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussion and then enables it to change the world.' 'Threshold' hopes that it engaged this possibility. The range of its concerns will be extended by the publication of a book under the same title that presents a much wider selection of environmentally engaged work produced by artists in Southern Africa. Published by Fourthwall Books the book is due to come out in 2012.

Threshold was curated by Michaelis senior-lecturer Virginia MacKenny as part of her 2011 Donald Gordon Creative Arts Award.

Download the catalogue here.