(or, the snake within)
A walk-about with Leora Farber at the FADA gallery at University of Johannesburg.
First, in the pitch black cavernous space the stark light underneath the sculptures shines starkly illuminating the vessels. Farber has created a magical space where my sight slowly adapts to the void and I have to tread carefully but see bright shining squares on which the pieces are displayed openly and not in glass cases removing the museum display concept. This creates an accessible every-day object view.
My first questions are “HOW, WHAT”? This is why a walk-about is so special. The description of the process, rationale and where it is going is fascinating.
Farber has worked for nearly 3 years on this project. She uses a bacteria and yeast culture in a tea and sugar base in buckets kept at 27 degrees. The skin that forms on the surface is then peeled off and draped over her mothers’ dinner service and other surfaces. Ashraf Jamal writes about the exhibition and likens it with a quote by Gaston Bachelard “like passionate and rebellious flesh”. Farber describes how the forms then morph, change, take on a sepia tinge especially on the edges, how they flatten in dry weather and react to moist atmosphere and remain living organisms. They are living and caused Farber to step back and allow them to become organic performances sometimes defying manipulation. Described by Jamal as “the growths are viscous, visceral, slimy when wet, their texture akin to flesh”.
“Things that are barely things”Leora Farber
They are barely holding their shape, torn, fragile, ghostly, a faint memory of our colonial inheritance. Some are coated in varnish and others in food colouring or watercolour paint and also paper napkins. The colours are sometimes vivid and at others hardly visible. Faint hints of Chinese porcelain designs, appropriated by the Dutch and English that are now so familiar in our memories of proudly displayed dinner services in our grandmothers cupboards and brought out for use as a reminder of achievements.
Barely recognisable are the butter dish, the teapot, goblets, utensils, and cloths. The paper napkin designs have been teased out and fragmented. Ashraf Jamal describes them as “husks of crockery…Crockery as sacral as well as ordinary, consoling and violent”.
The impression of the “Royal Doulton” pattern is only just recognizable in some of the vessels.
In others a topographical ghostly translucent image…
Edible food colourant…
Hints of “Willow pattern” and Delft ware.
Fragments of an archaeological dig or pieces found on the beach washed up from shipwrecks.
Luscious crimson and purple ephemeral filigree.
Ashraf Jamal writes that “they are rooted in the organic. Here hers is grafted to nature” and “they glint and hover, a benign bacterial haunting”.