THE SNAKE WITHIN
These casts of domestic objects such as crockery, cutlery, glassware, tablecloths, placemats, and serviettes are made from a cellulose-fibre cultivated from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast which feeds off a mixture of tea and sugar. The cellulose fibre is a gelatinous biofilm that forms at the liquid-air interface between the tea and the atmosphere; this grows to form a material that, when dehydrated, bears uncanny resemblance to (disembodied) human skin. The kinds of objects cast range in design, period and surface patterning. The objects include items taken from English bone china such as tea cups, saucers and cake plates, referencing styles such Royal Dulton, Royal Albert, and Wedgewood. Some of the casts feature Blue and White Chinese patterns, such as the willow pattern, which the British copied in their production of blue and white 18th century porcelain, and the Dutch reproduced in Delft Blue and White porcelain. I also use the fibres to create replicas of textiles such as Madeira and Dutch lace, and Damask linen. These table cloths and runners are often assembled from biofilm fragments in ways that resemble colonial maps.
The typically English and Dutch styles of china featured refer to a legacy of colonialism which is rooted in South African history and a rich, yet troubled, history of cross-cultural as well as West-East trade and economic exchange. Reproductions of the original designs, and the originals themselves that are still in existence, have become domestic ‘classics’ in many global post-colonies, and often act as markers of gentility or respectability. As such, in both the original and contemporary reproduced form, the objects and their casts resonate as spectral traces of colonial legacies that haunt domestic interiors and broader individual and collective imaginations in post-colonial contexts.
As fragmented, fragile casts of the objects carry deeply affective associations. The empty shells of objects read as if they have been made of layers of shed skin. Eerie, ghostly, and spectral, they appear as if in varying states of disintegration and decay, and as such, may act as carriers of memory, familiarity, complicity, and loss. They speak of the demise of colonial culture, and the ways in which the ghosts of the past continue to haunt the present. As spectral forms, they blur boundaries between visibility—invisibility; past—present; materiality—immateriality; life— death; presence—absence; actuality—imagination, being—non-being.