Garbage Art Cuts to Core of Society

The Garbage Men Wear Gloves, at Chelsea Gallery, Wynberg.
(Cobus van Bosch, translated from the original Afrikaans review, Die Burger, 23 February 2009)


An attunement to humour, irony and social commentary forms the basis of this exhibition which varies from traditional oil painting to strange, even bizarre, objects made out of discarded material. Grobler borrowed the title from a paragraph in the American Journals by Albert Camus. It indicates that the exhibitions both a “digging through the rubbish of the global consumer society and an investigation of the artists’ personal objects and experiences.”

Two conceptual pieces – Poplap and Bettie – suggest more than any other work, how the artist wish to comment on aspects of society. Within a consumer society, packaging is the deciding factor when a product is purchased, but that same packaging is discarded directly thereafter.

The bittersweet and fascinating Poplap is a suspended work, consisting of an enormous amount of used tea bags (with small inscriptions here and there) that are sewn together into something that remnds one of a gigantic condom. This colourful and textured work is very engaging on a visual level and in spite of its frailty, inviting to the touch – ironic, considering our general handling of used tea bags.

The tea party and needlework are traditional activities for the female home creator to engage in. Consumer culture is well-known to the housewife. After a lifetime as protector, educator, custodian and cleaner time take its toll. Poplap as metaphor is hanging there: used, stained and strained.

Bettie is an outsized “veil” crocheted out of plastic shopping bags and is draped over a baby grand piano. It simultaneously evokes associations of preciousness and worthlessness, uniqueness and ordinariness, protection and vulnerability. It is also an interesting reference to Joseph Beuys’s concept pieces Infiltration-homogen for Grand Piano and Plight Element in which he covered a piano with felt to address issues of inner contemplation and healing.

In contrast to this, is a series titled Robbeneiland bestaan regtig (Robben Island really does exist) which on first glance have nothing to do with the content of the other works, but gains meaning within context. These images of rusted pipes, lights and walls are so unspecific that it can indicate any place.

Robben Island is but a piece of land that is visible above sea level – nothing special about it. It is the incidents that occurred which make the difference. Today, this island with the long and tragic historyis packaged (according to Grobler) as a tourist attraction. The sad history of the island (the content of which is but a faded memory) is the shiny wrapping paper for the tourist industry of today.

Also on show is a group of small works in mixed media in which the artist used “useless” materials such as pieces of string, cardboard, text and small drawings in awkward and unusual associations. The content here is more personal in nature and often almost impossible for the viewer to penetrate, but many of them have a charm, even if this is only situated in the sensitive handling of material.

The couple of big paintings or “billboards” are executed in crude, graffiti-like style which appears to be a fragmented view on the modern lifestyle of consumption and living for the moment. It is however, less striking than the small intimate works.

Grobler completed her MA in fine art last year at Stellenbosch. This is her first solo exhibition.