An Interactive Journey; Slow Magazine (December 2016 p33-36)

Text: Julie Graham

“I tell people that art is a bit like a dream. And sometimes the way you should relate to art is the way you would relate to a dream. You wake up in the morning and you remember fragments and you have more clear associations with certain things than with others. But it doesn’t really matter. Because if you think about your dream, you must remember about how it made you feel.”

  • Liza Grobler

Walking into an art gallery or museum can sometimes be a rather daunting experience for a member of the public who is curious about the work inside but who by no means classifies as an art enthusiast or aficionado. It can lead to all sorts of things from sweaty palms to extremely awkward interactions, especially if the nature or meaning of the work is questioned by a stranger who may (or may not) have more  knowledge on the nature of the art on display. It is precisely this that prevents a lot of people from even attempting to step into such establishments in the first place – I would know, I used to be one of those people. I have since learnt that art is not necessarily about what the artist’s intentions where whilst creating a piece, but more (especially once it is out in the public domain) about the viewers response to the work. What it makes them, as individuals, see/think/feel/remember. Meeting Cape Town born internationally acclaimed artist, Liza Grobler, in her studio in Woodstock reaffirmed all this and taught me even more about the beautiful relationship that exists between the artist and the viewer. A creative genius with a warm, open and passionate nature, Grobler chatted to me about why she is so lucky to get to “play” for a living. 

Since she can remember, Liza Grobler, has been “playing” – drawing, painting, making props, working with her hands, experimenting with colour after colour after colour and creating imaginary worlds where anything is possible. This fascination with the fantastical and her innate creative passion that drove her throughout her life resulted in a Masters in Fine Arts (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University where she trained as a painter. She did not, however, stick solely to working with paint on canvas. “I work in a very wide range of mediums. I love the gesture of painting and I love painting as a way to think through ideas. I am always busy with some or other painting on the side but I also like combining the mediums like painting and beading and small sculptural work with more experimental low-cost or mass produced things,” she explains. Her interest in how objects work in space and the relationship between the viewer, the space and the object itself has resulted in the creation of the most magnificent images and installations that have inspired awe in audiences around the world. 

Grobler’s striking artwork – paintings, sculptures and installations alike – are colourful, bold and full of abstract nuances that encourage dialogue within the spaces in which they are displayed and invite audiences to become a part of the experience as a whole as opposed to simply viewing the work. “There’s a lot of bright colour and texture and things you can touch. I always try, especially when I have a solo exhibition, to have components that people can touch or climb into. I always want to touch the things I see, so I give them that chance. I don’t like going somewhere where I am told I can’t touch something. It’s like going into a church in the old days where you are told you can’t talk too loud and have to be quiet,” she says. “The idea is for the viewer to kind of just get lost in this world and relate in whatever way they can through feeling, touching and seeing.” 

A self-confessed process driven artist, her work doesn’t necessarily follow a typical theme or have a signature style or concept but rather, links through her own experiences and inspiration. “I don’t want to have the same conversation everyday,” she says. “The connection in my mind is always very clear but it’s always very hard to explain to people.” Working with a range of craft elements and repetitive actions, from crocheting, knitting and beading to using brightly coloured pipe cleaners to construct huge 3-D installations that audiences can climb into, Grobler’s abstract concepts are interactive and rise above conventional art forms. This can be seen in her 2016 exhibition held in June called “Barbed Wire Paradise” where she used over 40,000 coloured pipe cleaners to construct hanging structures in her studio space that people could explore, interact with and touch. Amongst the pipe cleaner structures were plants, oil paintings, swings hanging from beams and other intricate objects placed around the space for viewers to discover. Audiences were free to explore the space for two days, interacting and playing. This really revealed the the importance of the viewer as the work could only have it’s true meaning and intention divulged when interacted with. “The idea for me really is to create these almost fantastical worlds which shouldn’t exist but they do,” she says. 

Travel, experience and her own interactions throughout her life keep Grobler inspired. Having just returned from a residency in India, Grobler is excited about her latest project which opens on the 1st December at the IZIKO National Gallery in Cape Town where she has been commissioned to create a site specific piece for the atrium as part of the Women’s Work exhibit. Staying true to her playful nature and commitment to nurturing the viewer/artist relationship, Grobler’s creation will again be an interactive body of work allowing the audience to interact with and within the piece giving confidence to human response which, ultimately, lies at the very core of this type of art. Grobler has also been selected for a solo project at Art Unframed for the Cape Town Art Fair 2017. Having been involved in over 14 acclaimed solo exhibitions to date and a number of site-specific and collaborative interventions around South Africa and abroad, she is no stranger to showcasing her incredible work to the public. She does, however, still experience what she refers to as post-exhibition blues. “My supervisor always said, an exhibition is the graveyard of the creative process and I feel that often. By the time the paintings or installations are framed and up its done. It’s not mine. I’m onto the next project. It’s an exchange,” she says. “But it’s all about the viewer and their response to the work and that helps me to cope in moving on, knowing that I have passed on that emotional response to others.” 

Grobler’s commitment to the viewer/artist relationship and her unwavering passion for creating safe spaces for people to play with her, gives me confidence in my own capacity to truly experience art for what it is. “For me, that’s really where the power of art is. To shift perception. To trigger something in your being.” And trigger something she certainly has. Liza Grobler’s art is a true interactive journey that will inspire awe in any viewer that has the privilege to experience it for themselves.