Catalogue Article: Life Giving Forces Just Below The Surface

Life giving forces_Farell

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

Life giving forces_Farell

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.

Looking Back On Acts Of Enchantment

looking back

Lien Botha (for White Termite catalogue)

looking back (2)

On a map you would give Mooiuitsig a miss. It seems too estranged from the sea and the lakes surrounding Betty’s Bay – like an independent outpost at the foot of Voorberg. In your mind’s eye you could imagine the settlement being suspended between the acceleration of Sunday bikers on Clarence drive and the north-east corner of the biosphere. Here, but not here.

It is Thursday the first of March, and an informal meeting has been called by the artist Liza Grobler and her two collaborators Hannah Paton and Swain Hoogervorst in anticipation of the forthcoming Hangklip Art Week and her artventure for this event. Called “from mooi uitsig to Mooiuitsig” it is the seventh stop on the trail for cultural sleuth-hounds. The focus of this juncture being the wishes of children from the pre-primary school called Penguin Kidz, but the entire community needs to be on board – and so this gathering is held in the community hall on a late summer’s afternoon.

Imagine the room: about sixty square meters in size with fake quarry tiles and a knotty pine ceiling which weighs down much too low. Small square windows with burglar bars, through the south facing window you can see the sea: still and blue like a cut-out. From the east the mountain looms in shades of scrubland slowly recovering from a fire that ravaged through the fynbos not yet “due” for its penitent regeneration. In a flame everything goes, creatures great and small with wings pulled in, singeing and popping into metamorphosis. Legend has it that the fire was started by a visiting grandchild from Botriver who was playing with matches. Apparently the grandmother remained in her house for weeks after the shame of the incident.

There are twenty one people present, mostly women in their forties and fifties and two thin men who appear to be ageless. Liza takes to the floor. She epitomizes Paul Klee’s line that never stops walking. For her, art is integrated livelihood and the process paramount, forget about seven days in the artworld. In this termitary, World and Art equals one. Here she conducts chaos into the gracious suspension between a convergence of different networks: jumping on a castle with her son Storm, sharpening pencils for first year architecture students, stitching a crown for the myrmecoleon queen until two in the morning.

Now regard this artistic apparition from Woodstock in front of the attentive crowd of expectant Mooiuitsig inhabitants: she is wearing a floral skirt made from pajama material tied in a whopping bow on her left hip. Her arms and legs are covered in tiny spots of blue paint from an earlier working session. From top to toes: an irregular semi-spiky cut of raven black hair, sea green sneakers. Something about her demeanour once brought Louise Bourgeois to mind, but today she is defying the eccentrically deceased Ms B. The crowd looks and listens: women with head-scarves and open shoes – mostly sandals. Notice the spiritual messages on the walls: God se grootheid omring ons elke dag. The room makes no sense. Somewhere to the right, a makeshift stage with burgundy curtains has been created. In the middle of this thespian delusion, an exceptional amount of wiring seems to be holding a television set intact. Like a paradive gone wrong underneath a low heaven.

Liza introduces Hannah the photographer who will be working with black and white images of the sleeping Penguin kids. Hannah’s vigor equals Liza’s, but Hannah doesn’t do needlepoint. The community is their beat. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, not for them the isolated cultural worker of the Renaissance.

The captivated audience is introduced to the dream. Follow their gaze: the woman who is wearing a spotted head-scarf and pale yellow top without any significant detail on the fabric. It is just material, no buttons, no pockets, no zip. It hangs on her plump shapeless body over a skirt of quizzical red and black patterning. The dress sense in the room is one of the absent cupboard, the hand- me down space of the clothes of the first -born passed onto the second born. The quizzical skirt woman gets up to use the public facility. She walks with a degree of difficulty but when she returns, her walk is straightened out. She has a face made for Pixar. You could pull and twist her cheeks and it would follow the sculpting contours with ease, she has no teeth even though she doesn’t smile, you can see it from the way her mouth is imploding towards the socket. She is slightly cross-eyed. Long before the chainoquas were hunted, and Mooihawens a landing place for hunter gatherers, this woman was already beaten.

But let’s dream. As preface to this project the children were asked what they were dreaming about. One girl said that she dreamt about a big snake, an anaconda that was biting her – hence the marks on her small body. The children dreamt in color. On the wall facing Voorberg you will notice five watercolour paintings on A4 paper, mostly in green and blue and reminiscent of Rorschach tests. They could be of whales or of monster hearts or of fallen trees. Or even of an ant-hill in a veld somewhere. You wonder if the Struwwelpeter grandmother is in the room. In the front row to the far right is a woman who seems detached from everyone else: she is wearing the palest blue sweater and a blue skirt. Her grey hair is tied back and she is knitting a blanket because summer will pass soon.

Liza wants to know what the adults are dreaming about. Literally. Utter silence for a split second, until the sounds of children playing in the dusty road outside rushes through the room like water. No drowning here, no pond in the middle of a gallery floor. Did the artist once equate the white cube to a burial ground? Is White Termite an endeavour to counteract this, to graft the visceral into the vacancy of cultural inertia, submerging it with the idiosyncratic acts of an artist resolute on “enchanting the conceptual landscape?” ₁

A woman in the front row lifts her arm. She introduces herself as Cornelia Solomons and speaks a slow eloquent Afrikaans that urges attention. Her dream is to have a guest-house for visitors. She would also like to serve wine: chardonnay and such. Her friend Eugene Marais can teach the children computer classes. All in one go. The soul of the white ant travels far. Another silence. Then a hum. To the right another voice of a woman who feels that the spiritual life in the community needs to be dealt with. Waiting for God.

It is past seven, long shadows are closing in on the small hall in Dina’s corner, the last road on the left in Mooiuitsig. From here you can imagine that on a clear winter’s day one should be able to see the whales all the way beyond Draadbaai, unweaving their pattern of sound through a field of bluebottles.

Blown Away

blown away_Suzy Bell

Text: Suzy Bell

blown away_Suzy Bell

Motorists driving along the R44 on Clarence Drive outside Rooi-Els have been amused and confused by a mysterious series of 41 solo dancing pink fishing nets enjoying a light Cape summer’s breeze on the slopes of the Klein Hangklip Berge.

“Some motorists who stopped thought it was a strange type of flower,” laughs artist Liza Grobler, who came up with the original concept of her site-specific installations and project titled, Mooi uitsig to Mooiuitsig: An Artventure. “Since the region is renowned for the bio-diversity and wide variety of fynbos, this was a lovely response.”

Grobler relished the idea of taking part in the first HAWK (Hangklip Art Week) held in the Hangklip region of Rooi-Els, Pringle and Betty’s Bay curated by prolific artist Lien Botha who has participated in over 80 SA group exhibitions, 40 international group exhibitions and has held nine solo exhibitions. Botha’s work is represented in pivotal collections throughout South Africa and in key private collections locally and abroad. “Lien Botha came up with the concept of HAWK, she co-ordinated everything, what a challenge. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors and locals and some corporate interest indicate that this will definitely become an annual event,” says Grobler.

“What makes Hawk particularly significant is the fact that it is collaboration between two creative zones, one urban (Cape Town) and one rural (the Hangklip region). The latter being situated just over one hours’ drive from Cape Town within a UNESCO registered biosphere which is home to the most complex biodiversity on our planet and stretching between the Indian Ocean and the Kogelberg mountain range,” explains Botha.
The idea of Hawk took root in early January 2011, when a group of artists and art aficionados gathered at the collector Grizelda Hall’s Rooi-Els home for lunch. “Subsequently the idea gradually evolved in line with similar trends which have become increasingly popular worldwide, such as open Ateliers in Belgium, Ridderkerk in the Netherlands and for instance the Baardskeerdersbos art route near Gansbaai,” says Botha. “Workshops, discussions and pop-up restaurant suppers form part of HAWK. The Harold Porter Botanical Gardens are being used for sculptures and installations and regional artist’s studios. The collaborative drive-by artventure, Mooi uitsig to Mooiuitsig by Liza Grobler, acts as a thread, linking all the events.”

Grobler, who together with Jonathan Garnham co-founded the fantastic art gallery, Blank Projects in Woodstock (a space celebrated as a key project space for investigational art by African and international artists), is known for her imaginative site-specific interventions in South Africa and abroad, and for she having to date enjoyed eight acclaimed solo exhibitions. “My site-specific interventions punctuate the landscape and attempted to draw motorists’ attention to the vastness of the natural surroundings and also to instigate interaction with various locals. A local called Anthony James sells braai wood 300metres further down from my pink fishing net installation on the opposite side of the road. I painted some of his wood a day-glow pink with eyes. The idea was motorists would slow down after seeing the pink nets and stop at Anthony’s to buy his wood or buy the pink wood for R2 a piece (double the price of the unpainted wood). I had originally during my research of this area bumped into Anthony at various local pubs, and he became totally involved in the whole event, discussing the interaction and reactions of various people and rearranging the pink wood piles daily.”

The pink fishing net installation is on the road between Rooi-Els and Pringle Bay. “The fishing nets were like little outer space beings in keeping with this alien on the other side of the road. Within this vast landscape the little nets are miniscule and hardly likely to catch anything at all! The absurdity of our attempts is perhaps underlined not by what we do, but by the context within which we worked, hence the tongue-in-cheek, somewhat ironic line we came up with which was ‘Fishing for compliments’.”

Botha expresses that she chose the area of Hangklip as this region is rich with history and stoepstories (tales). “Evidence from the early San and Khoekhoe, dating back 100 000 years BP with middens and rock traps still visible in the area. During the 1600’s the VOC traded with the Chainogua for sheep and cattle in the region. Hangklip would not be the same without its own shipwreck tales of stormy seas and high winds such as the two Dutch ships De Grendel and Ternate which came to an end off Cape Hangklip in 1673 and 1680.”

Artists for HAWK were invited by Botha and Grizelda Hall. They selected 12 local artists (who have national and international acclaim), and 12 artists from Cape Town. “The idea was to create a dialogue between the rural and city based artists. I was invited to create ‘a thread that runs through the whole project’, an intervention that could ‘join the dots’,” explains Grobler. “I made 99 pink arrows that marked the route and pointed out random things in the landscape from views, plants and interesting spaces and I also indicated alternative stops. The HAWK route (in blue) and my pink route runs parallel to each other, it overlapped at times, but my route sometimes took little detours on gravel roads. Swain Hoogervorst assisted me with the installation and I am eternally grateful for all his help from production to inception,” says Grobler.

The artists spent a great deal of time meeting and discussing the project with locals. The highlight was the workshop which Hannah Paton conducted with the Penguin Kidz which Swain and Grobler assisted. Hannah’s, My Droom vir Mooiuitsig (My Dream for Mooiuitsig) appealed to children (aged 2-6) asked to ‘build a bed’ (collage) and make drawings of their dreams. “Hannah photographed the children asleep and we installed the life-sized prints on the floor of the school together with an audio clip of the children singing lullabies. The collages were displayed around the windows,” says Grobler.
Paton is an award-winning artist who works primarily with photography as a medium. Her unusual implementation of photography as multi-sensory experience, and has led to her involvement in various interactive and mixed-media projects with a strong social underpinning.
The community has responded most warmly to the photographs and Paton has invited them to write their own dreams and aspirations on small pieces of pink paper which are then installed on the front wall of the school. “Some people visit numerous times. The children are constantly visiting and interacting with us and Hannah, and the wonderful teacher Zaan Cilliers spend days discussing the school and the project with visitors. In this way, many people became aware of this incredible haven and the wonderful work that is done here,” says Grobler.

• HANGLIP ART WEEK (HAWK) is set to be an annual art event that takes place in the Hangklip region of Rooi-Els, Pringle and Betty’s Bay. Some of the artists participating in the first Hawk event include: Helmut Starcke, Nomthunzi Mashalaba, Brendhan Dickerson, Petra Keinhorst, Lien Botha, Anton Karstel, Evette Weyers, Peter Clarke, Liza Grobler, Colbert Mashile, Cobus van Bosch, Willie Bester, John Kramer, Clementina van der Walt and the Qubeka beadwork studio.