2nd POST - Anticipated Memory - Solo Exhibition - Art on Paper Gallery - 2007
“You and me were never meant to be part of the future. All we have is now. All we ever had was now.”
The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002
Black Float Trees 2005/6
Detail .. Black Float Trees
The works in this collection have their roots in a previous exhibition, Promised Land, from 2005.
In those works I reflected on Utopia and its role for us in matters of life and death. I aligned myself then with the idea that the true significance of Utopia is not as the fantasy of an ideal place, but rather the manifestation of a wish for a whole and enduring state of being. We are still unable, in the Western world anyway, to live with the idea of the inevitability of our death. Utopia reflects the fear of death and a wish to be reconstituted and live on in place if not in body.
I am interested in Utopia’s connection to the future and its simultaneous resonance with the past in nostalgia. It is often the past to which we refer when designing Utopia.
If Utopia is less a place than a state of being, then perhaps attachment to place – the root of patriotism and homesickness – is similarly narcissistic in the sense that the place in question is simply one where a part of our lives is played out. That is what gives an ordinary place its weight later ... in nostalgia.
There must be a certain distance in time but also a certain degree of distortion in order for lived experience to be pressed into this idealised state. More simply put, we live the experience we want in the unrealistic desires for a yet-to-be-lived future, or in the improvements and edits we make via the imperfections of memory.
As the title of this collection suggests, the drawings and single sculptural work are concerned with my own reflections on the experiences of my past and present in a future time. Buddhist teachings suggest that a person exists in various and contradictory states, simultaneously. Some of these new works toy with the idea of being able to actually live different times of life randomly and at will, rather than simply reflect upon them. In anticipation of my leaving South Africa, I found myself fantasising about what and how I would remember in the future. Missing home manifests as a longing to return and I fantasised about being able to do this at will and spontaneously. To visit in another form, without the weight and limitations of body.
Red Float Waves 2005/6
Tacita Dean, has made works that suggest artificial control of sequential time – a short film of the final moments of a sunset that the viewer can play over and over by pressing a button – or fictional histories – a quasi documentary short film that supposedly records the visit of an old man to the site of a past romance. My drawings are made in a similar spirit of playful subversion.
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward."
The queen in Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass, 1872
Cypress Diptych 2005/6
Double Float Waves 2005/6
Detail - Double Float Waves
Utopian Silhouette 2005/6
Detail - Utopian Silhouette
Heaven II 2007
height approx 80cm, width variable
washboards, enamel paint, oil paint
Vera is showing A photographs. “one has the impression, she said, of something stirring in them, as if one caught small sighs of gémissements de désespoír was her expression, said Austerlitz, as if the pictures had a memory of their own and remembered the roles that we, the survivors, and those no longer among us had played in our former lives.”
´It does not seem to me, Austerlitz added, that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like, and the longer I think about it the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead, that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision.”
... (A is in Paris) “For instance, if I am walking through the city and look into one of those quiet courtyards where nothing has changed for decades, I feel, almost physically, the current of time slowing down in the gravitational field of oblivion. It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak.”
From WG Sebald's Austerlitz, 2001, Random House, Inc. New York.
Red Float Bare 2005/6
Detail .. Red Float Bare 2005/6
(Re non-existence prior to conception) .. “He has never been, throughout the eternity prior to that moment. Never. But this thought, that a whole infinity had to pass before he was rescued from naught, scarcely troubles him. What he is apprehensive about, if not terrified, is death. Most of us are, to some extent. Presumably, our fear arises from the awareness that we are to return to the nothingness whence we came. What troubles us is the going there, not the coming therefrom.”
“Why would it be that non-existence weighs more upon our hearts when regarded as future, than when evoked as past? It can only be because life is unidirectional, and we, who are immersed in its current, feel for what lies ahead only, not for what is left behind. We are creatures of the vital flow, which runs forward without pause, remitment or reversal. Were it not so, we would feel appeased by considering the 2 immensities as equivalent: The infinite time that ran its time before my birth, and the eternity that shall flow after my death. Sad consolation: to try to soothe ourselves of the infinite time after death, with the thought of the infinite time before birth!”
F. Gonzales-Crussi On Being Born and Other Difficulties
2004, Overlook Press
Details of works shown ...
Except for Heaven II, the medium is wool dust and archival glue on paper.
Rectangular works : width 1m
Round works : 690mm diameter
The medium of the drawings is wool “dust”, which carries the symbolism of the dust-to-dust and dissipation of our transience. The texture produced in combination with the paper evokes the tactility of nostalgia, of softness and comfort.
For the exhibition in 2007 a pamphlet was published around an essay by, Wilhelm van Rensberg, academic at the University of Johannesburg. Here is his text ...
If cartographers represent space by drawing it in two dimensions on a map, and archaeologists determine the beginnings of historical time by studying human artifacts, should it not also be possible to find a method of referring to our experience of the coalescence of space and time? Artists, such as Bonita Alice, do just that by articulating private utopias and interrupted narratives in which human longings find their space, in which time is suspended, and in which memory is anticipated.
The intersection between time and space is at the heart of Alice’s new work. Hers is a private world made visible, laying bare what Foucault would describe as ‘different’ worlds, or heterotopias. Drawing on the poetic reflections of Bachelard on internal places of day-dreaming and intimacy, Foucault set out to explore external spaces, “the space in which we are living, by which we are drawn outside ourselves, in which, as a matter of fact, the erosion of our life, our time, our history takes place”. In deciphering the complicated and often contradictory structure of various relational emplacements that constitute the outer space of our living experience, Foucault turns his attention to ‘different spaces’, specifically designating two kinds: utopias and heterotopias. Foucault, however, considers utopias unreal, whereas heterotopias, for him, are real places contesting the places in which we live, creating transitional spaces and sheltering subjects in crisis.
Bonita Alice’s heterotopias take on various forms, ranging from freestanding and/or floating organic structures, to exploded views of amorphous objects, and perspectival recessional architectural drawings of cityscapes. She appropriates the language of architectural illustration in diverse ways to make drawings of objects and structures in section (exposing the interior), in plan (viewing the object from above), in elevation (a frontal view), and in perspective (showing perspectival recession). The impetus for her new work resides in six large-scale drawing she made for her previous exhibition, Promised Land (2004). These are metaphorical constructs, or blueprints, for three dimensional sculptural objects, expressing an advanced stage of mental thinking. Her thinking has subsequently become less concrete and more conceptual. Her drawings express processes of thought. And drawing, for Alice, is process.
“There is no way to make a drawing – there is only drawing,” Richard Serra remarked in a well-known interview. “Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing - ideas, metaphors, emotions, language structures - results from the act of doing.” Simply put, for Serra “Drawing is a verb.” For Bonita Alice, however, drawing is not only a verb; it is also a noun. It is ‘projective’, as Yve-Alain Bois defines it, because a drawing may also depict something that has been imagined before it is drawn, as opposed to being found through the process of making. The wool-dust Alice uses as medium with which to draw suggests something tangible in itself. It is, like memory, what is left behind when all else physical, emotional and spiritual has been spent and done. In this regard the wool-dust is akin to the laundered clothes she exhibited previously. She meticulously gathered discarded old clothes from the streets, washed them, and exhibited what was left.
Where does life begin for any subject in a heterotopic world, Alice seems to be asking. In what ways does one belong there? How does one express one's longings in such a world? Aharon Appelfeld argues that “to begin a new life there seemed to require a deliberate effort of forgetting. One learns how to live without memory the way one learns to live without a limb of one’s body, removing the story of my life from the mighty grip of memory and giving it over to the creative laboratory.” Vladimir Nabokov suggests ‘the art of intimation’, “speaking about the most personal and intimate pain and pleasure through a ‘cryptic disguise’.” W.G. Sebald proposes obviating personal time and space: “If I am walking through the city and look into one of those quiet courtyards where nothing has changed for decades, I feel, almost physically, the current of time slowing down in the gravitational field of oblivion. It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time.” Alice relates to this by saying: “At the same time as feeling bonded to Johannesburg where I have lived all my life I feel at home - even more than ‘at home’ – in other places because they accommodate with sympathy a part of myself that I enjoy having confirmed externally.”
Bonita Alice attempts to come to terms with her invidious world. She has lived in Johannesburg her whole life. Her roots are here. But part of her has left the city: her family emigrated to Australia. Alice herself is about to emigrate to the United Kingdom. Her narrative here is being interrupted. Her current world will soon be relegated to memory; her new world, a utopia of the future. She seems to be letting go of something familiar in order to find something perhaps more important. Svetlana Boym calls this state, together with a romance with one’s own fantasy about that loss and that displacement, a state of nostalgia. She goes on to say that although nostalgia is at first glance a longing for place, it is actually more about a yearning for another time. Nostalgia is as much a retrospective issue as a prospective one. In Boym’s terms Alice articulates a form of reflective nostalgia in her art. She envisages memory and anticipates the future, focusing on the longing itself. This longing, however, is ambivalent, because it calls absolute truth into doubt, exploring ways of inhabiting many places at once and imagining different, temporally discontinuous time zones. As a result, Johannesburg as city becomes the embodiment of her nostalgia. She captures the city as the site of her memories, drawing perspectival scenes of the Gasworks in Milpark, the War Memorial in Saxonwold, and the streets of Braamfontein.
She takes a bird’s eye view or ‘tour’ of the city of her memories and of her future (nostalgia) in a cloud-like, hollowed-out shape that hovers above this world. These shapes are ambivalent: amorphous, like a cloud, or like flowing water; and solid, like a hole in the ground, or a grave dug into the earth. Accessing what lies beneath the surface of the earth, what Camille Paglia calls the chthonian, Alice presents another ‘view’ or aspect of memory in the form of what seems to be the shape of a cypress tree. This shape can equally strongly be read visually as similar to the slashes Lucio Fontana made on his canvases in the 1960s. They simultaneously represent artistic process, revealed in the dynamic gesture, the onslaught of the material that dominates and at the same time liberates it, and they create a sense of an external genital orifice.
Many of the shapes in her new work are made of, or drawn with dust, with the implication that we are dust, and our memories are as insubstantial as dust, and will return to it after our deaths. Bonita Alice seems to have shattered the dust of the experience of a lifetime in a city and this dust has fallen into a specific form, giving shape to her memories and her anticipated nostalgia. She seems to have ascended as a floating form, or descended beyond the surface of the earth, to visit, to witness, to remember, to imagine, and above all, to anticipate both her past, present and future narratives.
In a previous articulation of the ‘floating’ concept in her work, Bonita Alice used corrugated iron and washboards to intimate the intimate ebb and flow of life. She suggests the impermanence, the transience of time and space, contemplating whether living in a temporary shelter, like a corrugated shack, prepares one more, makes it easier, to die. In the end, Alice defies that fear, that return to the nothingness that existed before birth, and that awaits us again after death, as Gonzales-Crussi would have it. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, as Alice ‘processes’ her drawings. “In these works,” she says, “I reflect on utopia and its role for us in life and death. I align myself with the idea that the true significance of utopia is not as the fantasy of an ideal place, but rather the manifestation of a wish for a whole and enduring state of being. I am concerned with our inability (in the Western world, anyway) to live with the idea of the inevitability of death. Utopia reflects the fear of death and a wish to be reconstituted and live on in place, and time, if not in body.” Bonita Alice anticipates memory by providing temporal spaces that shelter subjects in crisis.
Wilhelm van Rensburg
Foucault, M 1970 The Order of Things London: Vintage
Richard Serra, quoted in Lizzie Borden, 1977 “About Drawing: An Interview”, in Richard Serra: Writings, Interviews Chicago University Press.
Bois, Y-A 1990 “Matisse and Arche-Drawing”, in Painting as model Cambridge: MIT Press
Aharon Appelfeld, quoted by J.M. Coetzee, 2002 Stranger Shores: Essays 1986-1999. New York: Vintage.
Vladimir Nabokov, quoted by Svetlana Boym, 2001 The future of nostalgia. New York: Basic Book Publishers
Sebald, WG 2001 Austerlitz. London: Penguin Books, p. 258
Boym, S. 2001 The future of nostalgia New York: Basic Book Publishers
Paglia, C. 1990 Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Gonzáles-Crussi, F. 2004 On Being Born and Other Difficulties. New York: Peter Meyer Publishers