Liza’s Muck-raking Dishes the Dirt on a Soiled Society

Lloyd Pollak, Cape Times, Feb 22, 2000


On entering the Chelsea Gallery one’s eyes are immediately wrenched out of their sockets
by Grobler’s outrageous showstopper, Betty, a grand piano enveloped in florid, flouncy and furbelowed couture complete with a long train.

This outrageously endimanchée lady immediately prompts a Surrealist frisson of thrilled surprise, and indeed, novelty, bizarrerie, playful whimsy and irony are the keynotes of this delightfully refreshing show which forces us to reexamine the rituals of daily life, and to question the assumptions, values and goals of our Western consumer society founded on arrant greed and waste.

The title The Garbage Men Wear Gloves derives from Camus’s American Journals, and it alludes both to the Everests of detritus created by industry, and “the artist’s personal scrapheap of objects and experiences”. The exhibition seamlessly blends public and private issues.

One of Grobler’s most urgent concerns is with the escalating quantities of useless, discarded packaging that fill our bins, litter our streets, and raise the price of consumer goods. The artist’s goal is to salvage junk and compel us to acknowledge its aesthetic potential and beauty. In Betty she provides this revelation by taking ordinary supermarket plastic bags and laboriously crocheting them – over a period of months – into the gloriously over-the-top gown that clads the piano, and assumes an assertive personality of its own like some delectably vulgar “tannie” with a taste for the tizziest, frilliest and silliest of frocks.

Betty may dissolve you into a quivering jelly of mirth, but underneath the disguise, the lady is an agent provocateur who challenges our value systems. The grand piano is of course associated with High Culture, but Betty’s ostentatious, sartorial splendours enable her to undermine patriarchal values, and inquire why female handiwork is less valued than the male classical musical tradition.

To quote the artist who reinvents her appearance every day, and habitually tarts herself up in bedizened ball gown regalia merely to purchase cigs at the corner store: “The silent piano is reduced to a mere foil to display its crocheted mantle, and thereby accepted values are inverted. The degraded plastic bags are monumentalised, while the grand piano is demoted.” But liewe, uitgeslape ou Betty takes subversion further. In the kultuurbewus Afrikaans home, young ladies learn to play the piano as a feminine accomplishment that veneers them in refined niceties and renders them matrimonially more marketable. The hallowed status of the grand piano as a cultural icon, a nuptial trap and a badge of femininity is ironically celebrated by cladding it in woven mantle so vulgar eyes cannot defile it nor penetrate its mystifications.

Betty’s elaborate attire too alludes to the sacrosanct wedding gown, a labor-intensive, exorbitantly costly, and often exorbitantly styled piece of risible masquerade which is worn just once in blind deference to tradition, as a proclamation of dubious innocence, and then relegated to a cupboard as a souvenir of the bride’s triumphant ensnarement of her man.

Poplap, another feat of ingenuity, consist of a tall, fragile, hanging sculpture crafted out of gauzy, used teabags that – through their shape and contents – allude both to fertility and the female breast. These are sewn together and inscribe with texts. This delicate tannin tinted dame looks drained out, and no wonder, for like most women, she plays multiple roles, as home-maker, hostess, breast-feeder, guardian of the hearth, agent of reproduction, fount of wisdom and sex-object placed on public display.

Ecological concerns dominate Liza’s epically scaled Billboard paintings and her somewhat cryptic drawings. These are executed on cut-up pieces of discarded card board boxes and embellished with torn tissues and paper serviettes which she employs to analyse daily life, thought, memory, daydream and the subconscious through the medium of trivial objects we take for granted, but which can uncover the power structures inherent in our society. Although a source of sheer visual pleasure, the content is often so personal as to prove extremely elusive.

In Grobler’s nimble hands trash exposes all the faultiness that bedevil crass capitalism, the family and rigid, outdated male and female role models.

Without doubt Liza of the stardust and the sequined cheeks, is one helluva gal from who can expect great things.