Catalogue Article: A Conversation

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A Conversation
Liza Grobler (LG) and Barbara Wildenboer (BW)

LG: For me, the physical qualities of the materials are very important. So, I might find a kind of rope that I like – it just catches my eye in the space within which it operates – I’ll see a specific colour rope, and think: “Ahh that’s pretty, can one make something out of this?”

BW: Maybe our work isn’t really that different, because I remember when I was working towards my master’s degree, I simply worked with materials, motifs, colours – things that I found appealing. I did not really consider why I chose the different things. But, in retrospect it all made sense. You showed me images of that artist who-

LG: Oh, Judith Scott.

BW: It made a big impression on me. I put eggs in nests and wrapped them in nets, I made boats filled with rocks to weigh them down, but I didn’t think why I was doing this. In hindsight, when one looks at the body of work as a whole, there is a certain state of mind-

LG: But also the nests seem to be something we both come back to-

BW: Nests and drops.

LG: I don’t know how you feel about this, but one of the things that truly annoys me: I hate it when people want to start conversations about the feminist angle in my work. It irritates me immensely.

BW: Somewhere there will be a feminist angle in our work, because we are female, but it’s not-

LG: That’s the whole point: I’m also a certain age, and from a certain culture and from a certain… whatever. We are the sum of various different factors, and I hate the idea that it [my work] is always put in a feminist bracket.

BW: All three works in our collaborations have components associated with feminist theory: the concept of craft, the idea of female artists.

LG: We both work with the image of the nest, or the birthing process, we are very visceral in many respects. In my current show, Blindfolded Line, I place red against black – one wants to make a direct comparison with the womb and the umbilical cord. It’s not that I want to cut it out completely, but that is not the essence of my work. I think it’s integral to what I make, but it is not the focus of what I make. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?

BW: They are archetypical symbols – whether you’re a woman or a man – it has more to do with our humanity.

LG: I don’t deny the fact that I am a woman, or that there are links with the womb and motherhood and the creative process of giving birth.

LG: An exhibition is a bit like giving birth – whether you are male or female. To have an exhibition is a bit like having a child, who then develops its own identity – in spite of our intentions or preconceived ideals. Although you still have a connection with it, the exhibition becomes independent of you. Once my work is being exhibited my role is fulfilled. That is why I always try to have collaborative components and performative aspects in my shows, otherwise I feel completely alienated.

BW: It’s a bit like sharing the burden of parenthood with someone [both laugh heartily].

LG: Yes! I remember Timo Smuts, my supervisor, called exhibitions “the graveyards of the creative process”. When the work is up, and so carefully displayed, it’s a bit like tombstones. You’ve worked through a process, you’ve come to some insight (or not), you’ve resolved or consolidated your process to whatever product or outcome and now it is there for people to see, or to interpret – but you as the creator are redundant. That is part of the reason why people always get such intense post-exhibition blues.

BW: Your work has more parallels with people such as Carolee Schneemann and Marina Abramovic – in terms of the performative aspects that are often evident in your work, and the visceral qualities of your materials and how you engage with the work. But in terms of the message and the theme-

LG: What is my message? That’s what I often wonder. Is there a message?

BW: Yes. There is. Your message is-

LG: [Laughs] Please tell me!

BW: Your message is the same as your wardrobe and your clothing style – your work is monumentally spectacular. It is dramatic. Your work is like a visit to the fair. It’s like candy floss and entertainment and sometimes puke that comes with fairs.

Compared to how neat and tight and controlled my work is, yours is totally the opposite, and that was mostly the challenge: I mean, we’ve known each other for very long and, for the first time with the Hong Kong show, we decided to collaborate.

LG: I have to admit, I was actually quite surprised at how well it worked.

BW: You made me look a bit messier, I made you appear a bit neater and it jelled very well. You often collaborated with Jeanne Hoffman and I always thought it made a lot of sense. I thought it wouldn’t make sense if you and I collaborated. Our collaboration was very haphazard, and it came about in a very haphazard way.

Oh, we were talking about what the work means-

LG: Oh!?

BW: And now we don’t know at all! [laughter]

LG: It happens to me quite often – I forget my titles, and then I just fabricate new ones.

BW: With Chance Favours The Connected Mind – what I liked about it: We were sitting there with Seth and Karen and the whole lot, and they helped us make the work and it was between wine and chats and discussions that we came up with the title – which just so happened to be based on that Steven Johnson talk that we’re both familiar with. Everyone had their own associations. That is the nice thing about your art: the idea of “play”. You don’t make a form, and apologise for the female reference, you don’t say it’s a uterus or a nest, but it displays qualities of all those things – and different people will see different things. It’s always like that with art, but perhaps even more so in your work, because your works are always somehow like monsters – like hairy monsters!

LG: I must say, I like that description!

BW: Like the works of Louise Bourgeois, who I know you greatly admire, your work is very open to interpretation. It’s like Rorschach inkblots. The spectator really brings her own references.

LG: I think the challenge for me is to be precocious and coherent, it sounds funny [laughter], but to make people feel comfortable enough that they can open up and acknowledge that things are not as coherent as we often pretend. Or alternatively, that they can allow themselves to enjoy the fact that things are not all that coherent.

BW: We talked before about doing something spectacular that costs a lot of money, that can astound many people for a moment; as opposed to making something that costs less to produce and is purchased by a wealthy individual for a private home. Remember when you were conceptualising the balloon project? I was experiencing a kind of dilemma because of the amounts of money people were willing to give to these temporary public things – and then you told me that there can be one kid that looks up into the sky and thinks, “Wow, things are hard, but here is something amazing!” Visually your work often has that aspect of wonder and you have an exceptional feel for colour and colour combinations. You use materials that people see every day. I think the combination of all these aspects is your redeeming quality – it enables people to relate, even if the work is incomprehensible and bizarre.

LG: I find that old people and children can engage freely with my work, and people that are very informed about art always pretend to know, even though you don’t even know what it’s about. Within the context they’ll try to find some connections – whether they criticise it or not; that is another story. I make different types of work depending on the situation. Certain larger projects, that are public and for everyone, are easier on the one hand, because people don’t have specific expectations. The question as to whether or not a work is art often isn’t even voiced because they don’t “read” it as art in that context. I don’t really care either way; for me it is about creating a sense of wonderment.

LG: But I also want to talk about the weird connections that exist between people that know each other – many of us that are creating work at a given time, and within a specific space or context-

BW: Like everyone starting to use the same shade of green. And the drops – the drops, the nests, the stones.

LG: Yes, so I want to talk about ideas. There’s a nice quote in a novel Genesis; where the character states that ideas are parasites – we think we have ideas, but actually ideas have a will of their own and they will always find a vehicle through which to come out.

BW: Steven Johnson’s TED Talk discussion about where good ideas come from and how people got together in coffee houses and chatted and exchanged ideas, and how the Enlightenment then started: In the same way, through collaborations you double your chances of luck! Because if it is not only strategy and skill, through collaborations you can double your chances.

LG: It’s a very interesting way to think about it – I’ve never thought about it in those terms.

BW: We are blindfolded!

LG: Yes! All our actions are actually a stumble.

BW: Stumbling blindfolded – stumbling through time! [laughter] You stumble and when you trip over something, it is “Ahhh!! Eureka!!”

BW: Intuition is just a sixth sense that we do not acknowledge scientifically. I don’t want to talk about my first solo, but in retrospect I was so impressed. I thought, oh stones are pretty, oh nests are nice. I didn’t think, “I choose this, because this means this and that refers to something else”. I just stumbled ahead blindly. I just did things that felt right. It wasn’t as much knowledge, as emotions and experiences. It was absolutely emotional. I intuitively selected things that meant something in the end.

LG: But sometimes we also choose the wrong things. Generally we default to the right thing as a result of our experiences, but sometimes we default incorrectly. That’s why it’s important to keep the other half alert, to avoid incorrect defaults.

Where were we? Oh, Surrealism. It has to do with the Zeitgeist – ah! How I hate that word (along with “melange”). I think there are shifts that are taking place right now, and now in Paris I noticed it again. Here in South Africa things are still a bit more focused on the socio-political – and that’s not necessarily bad, it’s just how it is. For me it’s always been important that creating an artwork is a bit like making a dream materialise – art is moving closer to the idea of the dream. My dreams aren’t necessarily very exciting, but it’s the idea of making something non-rational visible, that appeals to me. It’s a physical presence of something that should not exist. When I make things, I create objects and they do exist. But they shouldn’t really.

BW: That’s why Thinking Cap is a good work! It’s one of those things that was unfamiliar. I was uncomfortable with that piece. I’m not anymore, because I’ve become used to it.

LG: I think it illustrates rather clearly the connections between people, and the relationship or context between people and the world.

BW: This is the first time that you or I say something that actually explains what it is about. You can make the connections with the World Wide Web, and interpersonal relationships, and us that go on residencies.

LG: What I wanted to say about France, about Paris, was that I really think we are moving back towards Surrealism.

BW: Surrealism has always been there – Hieronymus Bosch.

LG: Yes, where the environment and the social structure are ready to embrace it. I think we are in a new era of Surrealism. All these things like space travelling, and additional dimensions, and new planets and all the other stuff. Ephemeral ideas versus rational thinking processes and the fact that these things are much more closely connected – now there is more scientific proof that starts to acknowledge this.

BW: Parascience!

LG: Yes. That’s a nice word. Does it exist?

BW: Yes, Masaru Emoto – the guy with the water crystals – came up with the term. People said: “What you are doing is pseudoscience” (because it hadn’t been tested according to certain empirical methods). And he said: “It’s not pseudoscience, it’s parascience” – because there are certain scientific things that we can’t explain.

LG: I reckon it’s a second phase of Surrealism: rationality is not the most important thing. Like you said when different minds get together and you don’t necessarily have a clear expectation of what the result will be.

BW: The three main themes of Surrealism were death, sex and violence.

LG: Aren’t those more or less the cornerstones of life anyhow? [laughs]

BW: My work is always dealing with death-

LG: And mine with sex and violence! [laughter] In the end, every show is just another dot on the route of processes. That’s actually a bad thing to realise. This is my eleventh solo.

BW: But you trust your intuition.

LG: And that show is just “that show” and it’s the best you can do at that point. It’s not the best that you can ever do, and hopefully you’ll do better in future, but at that point in your life you’re at that place. That is what I am enjoying about my career now, is the knowledge that “there’s no turning back”.

Picasso And Einstein In The Sky

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ARTISTIC SCIENCE: The launch of South Africa’s first nanosatellite will be commemorated in Khayelitsha.
Diary of a Nanosatellite, a one off public procession in Khayelitsha by artist Liza Grobler with CPUT’s Space
Programme and part of Art Week, is on Saturday at midday. Art Week runs until December 7.
Lucinda Jolly previews:

“IT IS only through science and art that civilisation is of value,” wrote Henri Poincaré, the great 20th century French polymath. Liza Grobler’s performance piece, Diary of a Nanosatellite, forms part of Art Week. Now in its second year, Art Week sees galleries, museums, arts organisations and artists collaborate to create a strong public focus on the art scene in Cape Town. Science and the arts have always been inextricably linked. Stereotypically they may be regarded as having an uneasy relationship, where neither party really trusts or even respects the other. But both rely on creativity and sometimes each other. There are even times they find themselves working on similar problems from different points. Without science, particularly mathematics, there would have been no European Renaissance and the power to create a believable 3D illusion on a flat surface. This approach relied on a single vanishing point to suggest depth so that the viewer felt they could actually enter the artwork.

Then along comes Picasso and smashes the thousand-year-old cyclops vision. His painting took into consideration that we have two eyes – that each see slightly differently – and recognises that we inhabit both space and time. Picasso is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century and Einstein the most important scientist. It has been suggested that they were both working on the same problem – a profound way to represent space and time. They never met, but according to Arthur I Miller, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science and author of the Pulitzer nominated book Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty that Causes Havoc, it was Henri Poincaré and his best-selling book Science and Hypothesis that linked Einstein and Picasso. Picasso was particularly impressed by Poincaré’s advice on how to view the fourth dimension, which artists considered another spatial dimension. But Picasso ultimately rejected Poincaré’s suggestion of visually showing the four dimensions separately. Instead he showed them all at once. And the result was Cubism.

Robert van Zyl, director of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology space programme, with his staff, developed South Africa’s first nanosatellite, a tiny 10cm cube, ZACUBE-1.It was launched in Yasny, a small town in the USSR on November 21, and will orbit the earth from pole to pole to measure the weather in space. Van Zyl had no previous experience of conceptual art and had never conceived that art could be used as a form of communication. At a Zero Gravity conference in Beijing he experienced how the US used the work of artist Frank Pietronigro in their presentation.

And so Van Zyl was opened to approaching artist Liza Grobler (who he met at a dinner party) to find a creative way to commemorate the launch of the satellite as so few people would have been able to witness it. He is hoping to draw the South African public’s attention to it, particularly that of South African youth, with whom CPUT has established outreach programmes. Van Zyl suggested a beaded satellite but Grobler, whose work involves craft techniques of stitching, had other ideas. Paul Klee’s idea of “a line is a dot that went for a walk” came to mind. This led to the notion of the trajectory of an orbiting satellite creating an invisible line around the earth and her idea for Diary of a Nanosatellite was conceived.

And so at midday on Saturday, a procession of 40 people made up of the Qubeka (Xhosa for continuation) beaders and engineers in dust suits – symbolic of space suits – carrying 20 large red weather balloons will walk into an open field in Kayelitsha where cows graze and children play soccer. The procession will be accompanied by the sound of a digital metronome – which makes the same pinging sound as a satellite. The group will gather around a drain that looks like a plinth onto which a 3D replica of ZACUBE-1 will be ceremonially placed. The weather balloons will be anchored in the field to mark the position of the satellite. Attached to each balloon is a motherboard and a piece of string. Although they will not be allowed to float free, the balloons will ascend to a certain height and then, prompted by the motherboard, each balloon will release a little blue parachute. Grobler suggests that “the space thus becomes a temporary installation visible from afar”. “Although all physical traces of the event will be removed on that same afternoon,” explains Grobler, “the trajectory of the nanosatellite will live on in the imagination.” Photographs of the performance will be exhibited later at Brundyn Gallery.

Catalogue Article: Unimaginable, Unnameable, Poetic

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Unimaginable, Unnameable, Poetic: The creative force in the work of Liza Grobler
By Amanda Botha

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One eye sees the other feels – Paul Klee
Liza Grobler is an artist who can turn unimaginable concepts into tangible form. She plays with a variety of materials, teasing them into shapes that were never meant to be. Shapes that are sensuous and tactile. One has to appreciate them in their command of space: how they sinew and swoop differently from every angle.

Her exhibition, Blindfolded Line, Dancing Through Time, features large and fascinating works where the viewer can get lost in this spatial interplay of contrasting materials. They are an intriguing delight which restores one’s faith in art that engages and inspires.

At the same time it is witty, bright and rooted in our urban environment. It has elements of fun and also perhaps hidden social commentary. The subject matter indicates a deliberate and highly playful evasion of aesthetic categorisation. It is idiosyncratic, enigmatic art.

Grobler’s vocabulary oscillates freely between the figurative and the nonrepresentational. She communicates through a unique symbolism that is more expressive than descriptive. She creates a magnificent depth and texture to the pieces she designs. The subject is unnameable, the result is poetic. One feels the authenticity of the creative impulse.

Grobler works on her own colour experiments, using blocks of colour with limited overlap, allowing them to become basic building blocks to create a colour harmony. The bold colours come together in vibrating edges that create a sense of pulsating movement, in order to be transformed into a sprawling hyper visual experience; into fantastic and yet deeply meditative works.

Her paintings feature a heightened chromatic palette, complex figure / ground reversals and interlocking forms, as well as a variety of surface textures modified by successive layers of resins, oils and waves.

In this exhibition she explores the notion that all images develop from a single dot. The movement of the dot does not only build an image, it also connects. It shows an intrinsic need to communicate, to share experiences and to be informed by responses. The line strives to dance, but mostly stumbles ahead into unknown territories. As with most explorations, the outcome is often a surprise.

The drawn line reconfigures space; it divides, yet juxtaposes two entities; it connects two distant points; it includes some and excludes others; it marks a boundary between standing for, and standing against.

The notion of a “blindfolded line” leads to the experience of space. It is a search in the dark towards an unknown outcome. The artist allows organic patterns to evolve as independent configurations. The process is one of creating relatively unplanned elements that are arranged in spontaneous compositions, which gradually take shape as the work progresses. It could also be argued that the work exists in an indefinable temporal state: a work-in-progress and therefore, in a sense, incomplete. Both the form and the process inform the content.

Conceptually, the works are open to manifold impressions. In fact, it can be said that the artist depends on the viewer to complete the picture. The exhibition invites viewers to allow their own imaginations to take a ride on the playful and engaging ideas that the artist presents. Grobler engages with mundane materials, giving everyday objects a new life and spreading energy to all who encounter them.

The viewers are integral through their participation. They are invited to become part of the artwork itself. In fact, their interaction with the work allows further organic growth.In the pipe cleaner web the lines sit in space; a maze growing over time, created through audience participation. The artist trusts and allows the work to flow and develop without having final control. Retrieving and letting it unfold, becomes part of the facilitation process of finalising the end product.

By allowing space for the unknown and inviting participation, the artist is creating a social form of art. In the manner of Michel Foucault, Grobler allows art making to unfold like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its own limitations. The aspects that are absent are as important as those that are present.

Liza Grobler’s exhibition, Blindfolded Line, Dancing Through Time is a highly immersive installation. Her work has a gravitas with an ethereal splendour.

Sources

Foucault, Michel: What is an Author? Lecture presented to the Societe Francaise de Philosophies, 22 February 1969. In: The Philosophy of Language. Edited John Searle, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Franciscono, Marcel: Paul Klee – His work and Thought. University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Catalogue Article: Dancing Line, Blindfolded Through Time

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Dancing Line, Blindfolded Through Time: Liza Grobler’s experiments in collaboration
By Andrew Lamprecht

At the end of the day – at the end of the process initiated by conversations with other artists and continued through this series of exhibitions by Liza Grobler – the ultimate collaborator with the artist may well be the viewer. Blindfolded Line, Dancing Through Time is at once playful and deadly serious. We are encouraged to walk, stalk or prance through the situations that have been initiated by Grobler, engage or disengage as we will, and thus respond to what she has presented in this unfurling of her art.

Though anyone familiar with Liza Grobler’s aesthetic will see that this is clearly an exhibition by her, it is important to recognise the central role of collaboration in this body of work. Initiated as a series of discussions through social media such as Facebook (especially in the case of her international collaborators), as well as with face-to-face meetings with her friends, Grobler in each case begins with the point, quite literally, of a dot or a mark that signals the first stage of making a work.

Questions are posed to her partner-in-art; either directly, or by making something that through a to-and-fro leads to the next phase in production – which ultimately results in the work on display. Though not quite ultimately; since built into her process is the freedom to change works from exhibition to exhibition – continuing the dance, if you like.

I would be surprised if this continuation does not include the audience. Grobler remarked with patent glee at the response of children to her exhibition at Oliewenhuis, a museum that always seems to be bursting at the seams with kids, and I suspect that their engagement filtered into what was shown afterwards in the KZN Gallery and JAG.

Accompanying the exhibition is a small “parcel” of square cards that pose questions such as: “This exhibition consists of artworks made from many different materials. Which of the materials [listed] is NOT used in the exhibition?” Flipping them around, the cards can be put together, jigsaw-like, to make a picture, which, if one chose to, one could add to. Essentially this education pack has become a part of Grobler’s process, the results of which she will not see. This ability to “let go”, to allow others to “mess with your stuff”, is rare and usually very difficult for a creative person, but here Grobler has made it her raison d’être – and the results speak for themselves.

Craft has always been central to Liza Grobler’s artistic language and there is a strong engagement with craft-based practice in Blindfolded Line, Dancing Through Time. The litany of artists who claim crafters as “collaborators”, when in fact the crafters merely carry out a set of instructions presented to them as fait accompli, is very long indeed. But this is not the case here, nor has it ever been for Grobler. And you can be sure that the women of Qubeka Bead Studio are as present in engaging with their work as Grobler herself is.

The collaborative act is inherent in the title of the exhibition, but I also see these lines breaking the boundaries of pictorial space and even, perhaps magically, starting conversations with works made by artists who have never before spoken to each other. Time, as much as line, is blindfolded in this exhibition: Just as one may find that what seemed like a few minutes on the dance floor was in fact a few hours, so too here the temporal has folded in on itself.

Once these exhibitions are ended, the works will be dispersed and join others by different artists in private and public collections. I can see them now, nudging a shy etching or slick and sexy lambda print next to them, egging them on to the dance floor.

These works are flirtatious and demand to be engaged with, like the best and most satisfying dance partners. Liza Grobler is the MC at the helm perhaps, shouting out the numbers as if at a square dance. But the performance that takes place in the gallery is a magical transmutation and tribute to what can happen, if one allows someone else to be responsive, and gives one’s work freely, as a gift.

Catalogue Article: Life Giving Forces Just Below The Surface

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Life Giving Forces Live Just Below the Surface: The Work of Liza Grobler By Laurie Ann Farrell

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Liza Grobler’s newest solo exhibition White Termite coalesces her many creative modes of expression into a unified experience-based installation. Descending the stairs into the subterranean gallery visitors encounter an immersive environment with blue walls, networks of blue crocheted fibrous forms linking a series of portable, monumental beaded panel paintings, drawings and a series of objects that all hint to the exhibition’s namesake – termites.

While working on a project exploring the formal and biological qualities of hair, Grobler read Eugène Marais’ The Soul of the White Ant , a book that serendipitously had resurfaced in numerous conversations throughout many years. Struck by the complex interconnected workings of the termitary, along with the significance of water as a life-giving force, Marais’ findings proved inspirational to the artist. The paradoxical relationship of construction and destruction in termite culture, coupled with their sensory mode of living (the blind termites rely heavily upon other senses to build their intricate nests), and the nest’s dependence on the welfare of the queen termite, informed much of the structure and content for Grobler’s site-specific installation.

From hand-made sculptures to illustrated fantasy scapes, performance to immersive installations with hints of Louise Bourgeois and Annette Messager, along with a visual vocabulary that resonates ever so slightly with the work of Penny Siopis, Grobler’s installation also features video footage from a previous performance, Crochet, Gym and Tonic (2011), along with a series of planned new performances that will unfold through the duration of the exhibition. Water, which is omnipresent in this installation, also bears personal significance for Grobler. The artist recalls a reoccurring childhood nightmare in which she sees an approaching tsunami as she stands frozen in place, unable to flee, or seek cover. This ominous premonition manifests in some of the large beaded panels that were realized over the period of the last year in collaboration with the Qubeka Bead Studio. The luminous swirls of beads loop and crest like waves of water against a dark, foreboding background.

The queen termite of Grobler’s realm is represented by the presence of her crown resting on a royal blue velvet pillow. A delicate light blue crocheted column rises from the crown adorned with a blue inset jewel. The queen termite is all in Marais’ account: all life emanates from her cell where she can produce up to 50,000 eggs in a 24-hour period. If the queen perishes all activity and life in her nest ceases, or her clan of termites dedicate themselves to a neighbouring queen. A series of small biomorphic nest-like sculptures rendered in copper with a blue patina with semi-precious stones rest on pedestals as artefacts, or relics taken from the nest near Grobler’s crown.

Moving further into the installation five portable pools filled with water and coins are joined by fibre constructions that will become further connected as fibre constructions continue to amass between them. During the run of the show projections of performers crocheting pieces to add onto the web-like labyrinth between the pools will be cast onto the water. Grobler, who states that she has always been fascinated by repetitive actions, began incorporating fibre works into her oeuvre in the mid 1990s. From Oos Wes Tuis Bes (1999), where she worked collectively with a community to cover a series of wooden house structures with polychromatic crochet patterns, through to the suggestion of crochet costumes and elements in Tjorts!/Cheers! (2012), the artist has employed this labour intensive medium that straddles the high/low art continuum consistently throughout her career.

The repetitive use of the colour blue, water and a series of interconnected objects and references suggest that each artwork is a small organism within Grobler’s bigger system. And while each item is linked to the next, Grobler is cognizant that the installation will disintegrate as works are sold. The artist hopes that viewers will have intuitive responses to the installation that go beyond the assertion of nature in their midst. For Grobler, as with Marais, the structure of the life of the termite is comparable to the human experience. And while some viewers may seek to unearth a political message in the White Termite title, they would do so at the expense of missing the larger themes and connections offered by Grobler’s installation. Grobler is a child of a musician and a scientist, and understands that both music and science rely on systems. “Those who excel in these areas know how to honour the system, but make regular leaps of faith,” says Grobler. Perhaps viewers to White Termite will take this leap and journey beyond the artist’s interest in the natural world into the realm of imagination where anything is possible.

Laurie Ann Farrell is an art historian, curator and executive director of exhibitions for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). In this role she directs the exhibition program for all SCAD galleries in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia; Lacoste, France; Hong Kong; and at the SCAD Museum of Art.

A South African writer, lawyer, naturalist and poet, Eugène Marais first published The Soul of the White Ant in Afrikaans under the title Die Siel van die Mier in 1937. Originally called the Qalo Bead Studio, the collective was founded by Jeanetta Blignaut.  Grobler has collaborated with this beading collective on many occasions for the past 8 years.
E-mail communication with the artist, April 15, 2012.

Home will never be the same again

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Fabbrizio Von Grebner, Cape Times 09/04/1999

Home will never be the same again.
Artists’ installations at Oudtshoorn show there’s no place to hide.

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The sakkie-sakkie music welled forth, the street was a-jive with tipsy jollers and the atmosphere was one of boisterous revelry at 9:30pm on Baron van Reede Street in Oudtshoorn. Lize Hugo and Mark Coetzee, the curators of Oos, Wes, Tuis Bes, had opened the exhibition of installations plumb in the middle of the festivities in order to “disrupt” and “challenge” conventional notions of art and initiate a dialogue between the artists and the public.

Did their strategy work? Boy, oh boy, did it ever!

A gaggle of excited black kids stood transfixed before Andre Putter’s installation which, like almost all the 13 others, took the form of wood and corrugated iron Wendy house, which, now that the festival is over, will go to the community as an Arts Centre. On gazing through its windows I shared the euphoria. Putter had littered his space with the detritus of daily living – cereal packs, toilet rolls, plastic cups, newspapers, leaflets, refuse bags – lit by fluorescent lighting which tinted the space and all it contained a glowing blue, and – as in a disco – made all the whites spring into shimmering, incandescent life. One of the streetkids panted breathlessly to me: “It’s a ma-a-a-asterpiece! It’s magic, magic, magic! It’s so beau-u-u-u-tiful because it’s just junk you throw away, but the light makes it beautiful.” “It makes a lump in your throat,” his mate added, “because the dingus makes a friend of you, it says hello and talks to you.”

My new-found friends had hit the epistemological nail bang on the head. Putter’s piece was a feat of magic. He had changed junk into refulgent glory. Fluttering paper and cardboard suspended in mid-air by nigh invisible nylon fishing line gave his installation a palpitating surreal vitality, as if these discarded objects possessed a life of their own, and levitated to protest against their own degraded status and imminent immolation. Putter’s work embodied all the strengths of Oos, Wes, Tuis Bes. It expressed his ecological concerns, his compassion for poverty, his contempt for obscene capitalist glut with a soul-piercing high-frequency on everyone’s wave-length. There were two other starturns which struck a cord in the collective breast and fulfilled the curator’s ambition of contesting “the ethnic political agenda and prescriptive Afrikaner identity imposed by the festival”.

Matthew Haresnape’s House of God took the form of a skeletal iron church and steeple with a soaring, monumental sculptural beauty that had everyone gasping in admiration. Haresnape had tarred and feathered it to indicate the Dutch Reformed Church of a double betrayel: it had colluded with apartheid and betrayed the most fundamental Christian principles for decades, and then – as the final form of a weathervane so clearly intimates – the church suddenly turned tail, and thus betrayed the very volk who had always placed their faith in it. The absent walls “expose” the church and allow you to “see through it” and the sight is a condemnation as resounding as the pounding of a judge’s gavel, for this House of God was never graced by his presence and the space of the high altar is usurped by glass simulacra of the new and the old South African flags that are emblem to a nation divided by clerical apostasy.

The floor, paved with shattered mirror, dissolves the church, as history will, and lays God’s true abode, the blue eternities of heaven, at our feet. By reflecting the image of the viewer, these shards also transform the church from sanctuary to interrogation cell and compel him to gauge his degree of complicity in the guilt and shame that is our legacy. Another piece that broke ground was Liza Grobler’s astonishing mammoth doily which inverts traditional hierarchies by taking the feminine craft of crochet, normally relegated to the creation of small domestic items, and magnifying it to epic scale, enveloping an entire house in it and thereby giving women’s handicraft a grandeur and centrality that has always been denied it.

This feminist milestone subverted the whole elitist process of mounting an arts festival. It enlisted people who are almost never involved in conventional art-making, the aged and disabled, and got them to employ their traditional craft to create a collective work informed by a strong sense of social purpose. This range from the psychological benefits that accrued to the marginalised participants who felt empowered by their contribution, to the fate of the doily which has now been cut up, made into blankets and distributed to the homeless, to recycling, for the piece was made from wool unraveled from outworn garments. That the very materials already possess a history is entirely apposite, as the entire work forms an oblique feminist biography of three generations of women – the grannies who crocheted the rectangles that form the doily, and their grandchildren who contributed portraits of their mothers which adorn its base like a traditional border of beading. Although the work pays homage to these nameless women, it also formulates a critique of the traditional role played by mothers who create a safe space, a cossetted, pampering haven for their offspring, but this cosy domestic idyll – like the gigantic doily which denies the viewer entry to the hose, and conceals the structures it covers – only survives through excluding the outside world and concealing the intimacies of family life. The extreme exclusion, foreclosure and denial insinuated itself into almost all installations, forcibly reminding the visitor of the National Party’s refusal to grant land to its citizens.

The very title Oos, Wes, Tuis Bes is mordantly ironic and the exhibition, instead of celebrating Afrikaner identity, placed it in the dock and roundly condemned it for all the poverty, homelessness and economical and educational imbalances it created and which we are still struggling to redress.