Looking Back On Acts Of Enchantment

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.