Dis-Location/Re-Location

1997-1998

Aloerosa

9 archival pigment photographic prints.

1st narrative of the Dis-Location/Re-Location exhibition.

Exhibited at 7 major South African museums/galleries.

As the 1st core narrative of Dis-Location/Re-Location, the series lays the foundation for the 2 narratives to follow, introducing the key themes of grafting, hybridity,transformation, psychological/cultural­/political spaces of liminality and the address of the other. For the protagonist (an amalgam of Bertha Marks and myself), the desire to initiate the graft stems from a need to feel more ‘at home’ in an ‘unhomely’ environment. Beginning with a self-initiated incision into the skin, she stitches an indigenous South African aloe into her cut flesh – a process that culminates in a grafting of the ‘African’ aloe and her Anglicised body. Set within the linear timeframe of 12 hours (signified by the protagonist’s actions of taking morning tea, an afternoon nap and a walk into the sunset), the aloes’ growth in her body is accelerated, visually fast-forwarding the cultural fusion processes.

Although the ‘taking’ of the graft, represented by the aloe’s growth, is imaged as physical, metaphorically the insertion of an alien culture and its ‘taking root’ is a traumatic psychological process, representing a forcing of incompatible entities to growtogether in ways that assert the contestation of cultural fusion.The cut that precipitates the graft opens the protagonist to an encounter with otherness; she enters into an in-between space of cross-cultural contact.While it is understood in terms of trauma and conflict, this liminal space is also considered as a generative space for the emergence of new subjectivities and hybridisedor alternate identity formations arising from processes of cultural contact and exchange.

The insertion of an alien, culture into her body transforms the protagonist into something akin to an abject hybrid. Her transmutation is chronologically narrativised though the series. In the final stages of her transmutation, she has ventured far beyond the cultivated confines of her rose garden, wandering into what in the colonial imagination was the ‘wilderness’ of untamed, ‘dangerous’ nature that lay beyond culture and ‘civilisation’.Far removed from the controlled, erect figure taking her morning tea in the 1stimage of the series, in the final images, she is disheveled and barefoot with her corset laces undone and body exposed.Overwhelmed by the catalyst for change, she appears to simultaneously desireand resistit.

1997-1998

Ties that Bind Her

9 archival pigment photographic prints.

2nd narrative of the Dis-Location/Re-Location exhibition.

Exhibited at 7 major South African museums/galleries.

In this series, unpredictable outcomes emerge from the stitched conjoining of the protagonist’s flesh, pearls and African trade beads – signifiers of Europe and Africa – suggesting the creation of new subjectivities and emergent identities that are the product of grafting. The protagonist’s desire to graft newness onto her body is coupled with her need to preserve those Anglo-Saxon values, customs and attitudes that she believes are necessary to maintain the integrity of her identity.

The series is set in the main bedroom of the Sammy Marks Museum. The room functions as a ‘transitional’ space in which the protagonist undergoes rites of passage by performing rituals of self-transformation that enable her transition from one state to another. These comprise a series of physically and psychologically transformative acts that she performs on her body, using the historically gendered activity of needlework as her medium.

The 1stphase of the protagonist’s rite of passage is shown in Preservation, in which she inserts a wax cameo into a cut in her breast. The cameo is a metonym for her Anglo-Saxon values, behaviours and beliefs that she ‘preserves’ by metaphorically transplanting them into her body. The import of this action is overwhelming: in the next image, Debilitation, she faints onto the chaise lounges next to the bed. In the 2nd stage of her transformation – shown in Reparation (detail) – she enters into an interstitial space, hovering at the threshold between her previous Anglo-Saxon self and transformation into a new, hybrid cultural being. The pearl choker now appears to be lodged under her skin, taking on forms that resemble West African cicatrisation and traditional Ndebele beaded rings. White African trade beads held in place by mother-of-pearl buttons replace the strands of pearls below the choker; the strand that cascades onto her breast is subsumed into her body; the graft of skin and cameo has ‘taken’, leaving a raised scar at the place of insertion. In Regeneration, the final phase of her rite of passage is signified by the growth of a flower made of African trade beads that sprouts from the scar of the cameo. The pearls are fully subsumed under the skin and the full effect of cicatrisation is now evident.

1997-1998

A Room of Her Own

3 archival pigment photographic prints; 3 installations; 1 video on dvd: 30 min; 4 videos on dvd: 10 min each.

3rd core narrative of the Dis-Location/Re-Location exhibition

Exhibited at 7 major South African museums/galleries.

The multiple strands of the 3 personae’s life-experiences from their respective space-time continuums culminate in the interwoven, multifaceted components of the 3rd core narrative of the Dis-Location/Re-Location exhibition. Titled A Room of Her Own,the narrative is an extension of the live performance of the same title (2006). The primary video, comprising edited footage from the 5 cameras used to film the performance and a revised version of the original soundtrack, is a major artwork in its own right. In it, densely layered imagery, cross-fades, different viewpoints and close-up details of the melting roses combine to form a rich visual and sonic tapestry.

The narrative of the prints picks up from where the performance and video ends. Seated in the stage-set from the performance amongst mounds of melted wax roses, the protagonist’s lifted skirt reveals that a new, succulent hybrid plant has emerged from the aloe leaves that she stitched into her flesh. The red embroidery cotton has grown into her leg, forming a system of roots and veins in her calf.

In the installation component of the series, theoriginal stage-set of the performance is separated into 3 individually reworked, freestanding units.Cast-wax aloes, suggestive of new growth, nestle amongst the melted roses; cultivars ‘grow’ out of the upholstery of the chair the protagonist sat in during the performance and two large cultivars sprout from the floorboards.Videos showing close-up views of the melting roses play on tiny LCD screens mounted on the walls of 2 sets; others play on 32’’ plasma screens mounted on the sides of the 3rd set. At the base of each set, photographic prints of ‘red African’ soil and roots create the illusion of being able to see underground into the foundations of the room. Prints of Victorian brickwork, in which young aloe seedlings protrude from the plaster, form side panels of the sets.

Theseadditions create the sense that the room has shifted from being a transitional space for performingself-transformative rituals to a site of transformation itself;it is in an arrested, yet constant, process of becoming.Asthe ‘African’ aloe has germinated in the protagonist’s body, so indigenous plant growth pervades the colonial room; both hover in a state of in-betweenness.

1997-1998

Cultivars and Genera series

12 sculptures and 12 photographic prints.

Exhibited on the Dis-Location/Re-Location exhibition,7 major South African museums/galleries.

In this series, themes of grafting, hybridity and use of botanical imagery as a metaphor for human displacements are articulated. The sculptural ‘plants’ are hybrids in which rose varieties are grafted onto those of aloes,to form new species. Theyare constructed by grafting materials of different natures: synthetic, natural, fabric and plastic. I slice up plastic replicas of aloes and plastic or fabric replicas of roses and using fragments of actual plant materials (rose-thorns, dried roses and cactus spikes), conjoin these into strange, alien-looking configurations. The cultivars resemble products of bizarre botanical experiments that I, as pseudo-scientist-artist, conduct by simulating conjoinings that take place in horticulture. Each plant is housed in a perspex vitrine. By presenting the sculptures ‘othered objects’, I play with the idea of the cultivar as botanical specimen, offered as a spectacle for the scientific gaze.

References to hybridity along the lines of cross-pollination, transplanting, grafting and the generation of new species hint at the role botanical culture played in shaping the colonial imaginary and the violence embedded therein. The cut edge is the point of physical contact and implies cultural fusion, and, as in the Aloerosa and Ties that Bind Her series, the graft is suggestive of violence through actions of cutting, slicing and severing.

The accompanying series of photographs,Genera I-XII,reference historical botanical illustrations and albumen and gelatin silver print photographs of plants from the mid1800s to early1920s. The image of the cultivar is suspended against a white ground, with its nomenclature printed in a script-like font beneath. These mimic Linnaean botanical taxonomies but,in a play with linguistic hybridity, the cultivar’s name is an anagram of the name of the actual aloe and rose it resembles (e.g. the aloe named Echincactusgrusonii conjoined with the rose called Perception gives rise to the anagram Perrusonii); the family is classified as the family the rose and aloe belong to (e.g. Rosaceae x Cactaceae); and the genus is an amalgam of the genera of the two plants (e.g. Echinocactus and Rosa form Echinocacturosa).

Dis-Location/Re-Location installation views:

The Albany History Museum, Grahamstown
28 June — 27 July 2007
The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth
7 August — 9 September 2007
The South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town
30 September — 15 November 2007
The US Art Gallery, Stellenbosch
16 October — 17 November 2007
The Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein
4 December 2007 — 27 January 2008
The Johannesburg Art Gallery
10 February — 13 April 2008
The Durban Art Gallery
15 May — 27 July 2008