SEEING THROUGH THE BODY
Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 1993
Using an embodied approach to painting practice I attempt to subvert the privileging of vision over touch underpinning western historical painting traditions. The optical emphasis in these genres is, arguably, achieved through privileging of the gaze; totalisation and mastery of medium. The visual language and imagery of the 17th-century Dutch still-life tradition is used as a reference point for its own dissolution. Embodied practice is used as a form of transgressive ‘language’ through which the smooth surfaces and seamlessly constructed verisimilitude of illusionistic painting traditions are ruptured.
Patriarchal conventions are subverted by use of strategies of embodiment associated with feminist modes of production. These include tactile engagement with the medium; blurring of boundaries between figure and ground; indeterminacy between surface and depth; fragmentation; layering; formlessness; repetition and dispersal. They are combined with use of materials historically associated with femininity and excessive detail as well as decoration.
Definitive, singular, stable or totalising readings of the work are discouraged by foregrounding qualities of open-endedness, fluidity, heterogeneity and excess. The smooth surfaces of illusionistically painted Dutch still-life objects are built up to three-dimensions using a profusion of actual natural objects; plastic imitations of these; actual objects and simulacra that ‘spill’ out of the pictorial frame into the viewer’s bodily space. Such violation of spatial boundaries encourages a partial, fragmented form of looking or intimate, bodily engagement with the work. In their assertion of abjection, the paintings traverse boundaries between attraction and repulsion; fascination and disgust.