If You Go Down To The Woods Today

If you go down to the woods today, a mixed media exhibition by Liza Grobler at the Everard Read Gallery until April 22Lucinda Jolly reviews.

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The exhibition “If you go down to the woods today” by mixed media artist Liza Grobler is introduced by three tall beaded panels on the stairway to the exhibition space. It’s as if thousands of moths or butterflies sipped a variety of coloured nectars and were encouraged to lay their perfect seed eggs in designated areas to create these blossom motif panels.

You could be forgiven for being lulled into the sweet Japonisme of the panels which could be found in boutique hotels or upmarket homes. But they are a quirky anomaly to what lies in the main room. For you are as the song goes in for if not a big surprise certainly a surprise. For a very different kind of creature has birthed the offspring within.
You’ll meet the beaded surfaces again  in the jumbled worded paper fragments “Kastige Classic” and “Midddagslapie” but the ordered pristineness of the blossom panels gives way to the sticky, messy waywardness of process. When Grobler was busy with her Master’s degree her supervisor made the statement that “exhibitions are the graveyards of the creative process”. His declaration caught hold, and Grobler’s approach to exhibition pieces can be read as an antidote to the anti- climactic graveyard of final product. This exhibition focuses on revealing process- allowing the viewer to experience something of what the artist experiences in the making of the work for it’s very important to Grobler that her work is “experienced rather than explained.” It’s got, as the artist says, “ a bit of a behind the scenes feel” to it.

In spite of the exhibitions title, these particular woods have little in common with cute teddy bears having a benign tea party other than requiring a suspension of disbelief. The drips and tears, scratches, stitchings, insertions , scores and scorches , watchful red eyes and blades have more in common with dark films such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”or “Pretty Little Liars” which feature the teddy bears picnic song . It’s more like the ancient forests favoured by the Brothers Grimm where( as with process) the child’s polymorphous nature and fluid boundaries are severely challenged and tested. Sometimes with fatal results.

Two years ago Grobler exhibited “White Termite”at Brundyn + Gallery referencing Eugene Marais author of “The Soul of the White Ant“. These creatures who never cease working and serve as both builders and destroyers became metaphors with which to explore “art as a compound animal” by weaving an interactive, intensely blue world around 5 small porta-pool wishing wells. The work “Black Termite” and Grobler’s newest video “21st Century Family Portrait” both continue her interest in the parallel between the human being and the termite which operate as both individuals and a social group. The simply shot video is both a record of the celebration of Grobler’s 40th year and a simulation of an exhibition opening “seemingly informal but also quite uncomfortable”. It shows a group of black clad guests wearing bright orange pipe cleaner headpieces who are piped by a pied piper playing a saxophone across a field to a central tub of champagne. Grobler provided her guests with additional pipe cleaners should they wish to “build” or “connect” with each other .She cites the importance of “21st Century Family Portrait”as a pulling together of a lot of things she has been working on for some time.
Grobler refers to herself as a colour junky, in love with every colour –except brown. Last years Blindfolded Line , Dancing in Time exhibition at the Bloemfontein Oliewenhuis Art Museum drew inspiration from the Paul Klee quote that drawing is taking a dot for a walk . In that exhibition she worked with red, pink and black whereas in “If you go down to the woods today” black is the dominant pigment. Grobler talks about injecting colour into black.
We are drawn to the dark plush velvet of “Little Black Number With Offspring” a monumental skirt-one which should be worn with stilts- which is just this side of threatening. We want to peak under its voluminous folds, curious as to what can be found in that mysterious space just as the child desires to creep under the skirts of the mothers ball gown. Yet we are wary of the knowing red eyes-attached and cautious of the 7 “cutting edge” hairy soft sculptures complete with exposed kitchen knife blades spawned by the little black number which lie like sharp ankle-biters in our path. The return to childhood is impossible but it can be evoked with all its intensity, vulnerability and insatiable curiosity.

This darkness extends to a predominantly black 5 part panel piece titled “It’s a Quiet Thing”. In this exhibition she explores the colour black referring to it as “the colour that swallowed the rainbow”. The tarry sheen of black pigment is embedded with pipe cleaners, birth slashes of shocking pink pigment and sections of hula hoops and pipe cleaners.

It’s important for Grobler that the viewer has fun. Otherwise why make art in the first place? Be amused by Grobler’s sculptural interpretation of pause and full stop two squat indefinable creatures and the forest populated by one pink mohair tree and a number of delicate skeletal trees made of black pipe cleaners .
Checkout the exhibition and become a participant in the artist’s creative process. Contact 021 418 4527.