& Pooof !

By Wilma Cruise

Wilma Cruise is an independent artist and writer. She has had thirteen solo exhibitions, curated others and completed a number of public works including the National Monument to the Women of South Africa and the Memorial to the Enslaved in Cape Town (The latter in collaboration with Gavin Younge).


The title of Lijnes latest exhibition &Pooof! provides an apt metaphor for our electronic age. Our experience of the world is mediated by flickering images on television, computer or cell phone screens. The life span of an image is measured by the three-second sound byte, the gauge used by television producers to define the attention span of the average viewer. Things come and go with frenetic rapidity. Now it is here and then it is gone, as if with the wave of a magician’s wand or an advertising executive’s decision. We use and discard images, objects and substances with barely a thought for their after life. Our experience of the things of the world is thus fleeting and inconsequential. The universalising impulse of consumerism, defined by the tendency to brand and to market the same objects and ideas worldwide, further serves to flatten our experiences into packaged similitudes. From Beijing to Maputo our expectations are the same. We are safe in this world as long as there is a MacDonald’s on the corner. These ideas underpin Lijnes' taut 2010 exhibition.

It has been ten years since Lijnes’ last exhibition. But the ideas in &Pooof! were foretold in 2000 when in the exhibition Cross cut – Criss cross (with Gwen Miller) she used the humble plastic bag as her medium for embroidery. That such a throwaway object as a plastic bag could be transformed into a work of exquisite embroidery is part of the contradiction that Lijnes chose to explore between the meaning of material and the power of the image. Three beaded bags in &Pooof!, Displaced (2009), Despatched (2009) and the other of the same (2009), (re) present in 2010 her ideas about the transformation of material through disruption of expectation.

One might think that ten years is a long time to prepare for the next exhibition and in the last two years Lijnes has been consumed, one might even say obsessed, with the construction of the elements that make up &Pooof! But time and labour are the essence of her work and are integral to the point that she wishes to make. The two floor installations that form the core of the exhibition, Woman and Gum (2008 – 2010) and Start Up (2009 – 2010) are constructed from over a thousand slipcast clay bottles that replicate the simplest of household objects, a plastic “Jik” bottle.

Jik household bleach is such an everyday substance and its bottle so (apparently) ordinary it barely rises above our consciousness. Bleach is used to erase stains, a process that loops back in meaning to the central core of Lijnes’ thesis encapsulated in her title. See here the blot is and now “Poof” it is gone. In Lijnes’ lexicon this symbolizes the temporality of our experiences. The bottle once emptied of its contents, its task complete, is discarded without thought, forgotten and thrown away almost in the instant of use (i). That bleach, used in the most commonplace of household tasks, the laundry, is an activity associated almost exclusively with women’s work, is not co-incidental to the point. Certain types of work and objects lie low in the hierarchy of importance.

Lijnes has succeeded in bringing the discarded back to the level of awareness. Patiently, methodically and precisely she has replicated the plastic container as a fine porcelain bottle. Porcelain liquid clay is poured into the five part moulds. Once dried the objects are extracted, whittled and then smoothed to a perfect finish. Other than a subtle change in tone from light greys, dark greys, gun metal grey, to black, each bottle is formally identical to the one before and foretells the one that is to follow. The process of casting is slow and labourious in contradistinction to the manufacture of its plastic counterpart. As the porcelain bottles come off Lijnes’ unhurried assembly line they are lined up and their surfaces are painted with oxides and pigments in simulacrums of common branding logos, the kind that have currency in the universal world and which mark us as a globalised society. The icons range from Starbucks and Batman to the Communist Party insignia. They are painted in a limited palette of grays, blacks and yellow. Bled of their original colours they are yet identifiable.

In the floor installation Woman and Gum, 837 high-fired porcelain bottles are laid out in predetermined positions to reveal a portrait of a woman. The portrait can only be perceived as a projection or from above and from a distance. Each part of the image is borne on one bottle, as if it were a single pixel (or a single pore). Lijnes herself at the time of writing is yet to see the work complete. It will only be disclosed in the gallery when once laid out in its designated space, at which stage a camera will project the image onto the wall. Lijnes threatens to lay the work on the paving outside her house and by leaning out of a second floor window she will be able to see the portrait for the first time. The risk is not so much in her precarious position of hanging out the window with camera in hand, (which she never did) but the fact that she is prepared to take the artistic decision to exhibit a work whose face is yet to be literally revealed.

In a similar fashion the arrangement of the 255 black and white bottles in Start Up (2009) depicts the design of the digital ‘start-up’ icon. The icon of the start-up button is an ideograph that has collective currency. In our electronic age it functions as a universal cipher, one that provides a simulacrum of connectedness in an alienating world. The image enlarged on the pixilated bottles draws attention to this small presence in our daily world – one that like the Jik bottle is part of us yet is not. It requires only the merest hint of pressure to activate, an act that Lijnes claims emphasizes the “non-physicality” of technology which she compares to the labour intensive nature of the floor installation. Drawn down to a personal level, Lijnes claims that this work symbolizes her re-entry into the world of exhibiting - a re booting as it were - as well as referencing the daily start up demanded by the task she had set herself. As in Woman and Gum the black bottles are painted with a variety of universally recognized logos: the Playboy Bunny, Michelin Man and Colonel Saunders amongst others.

Delft Figures, Male and Female (2009) consists of a pair of enlarged porcelain figurines painted with cobalt oxide. The sculptures are laid prone on a bed of salt in Perspex boxes. By extension the work refers to the earthy, rural kind of men and women who came to the Cape during the Dutch colonial period. The blue on white porcelain references the Chinoiserie of that time. Significantly the shift in scale from the small figurines normally associated with Delftware and these enlarged figures challenges our perception of the objecthood of things (ii) . Their brut presence and materiality occupy a space that challenges our zone of comfort creating dissonance between expectation and perception.

This sensation of the uncanny is expanded to a greater degree on the porcelain sculpture The Baby (2009 – 2010), which is an enlarged replication of an anatomically correct plastic doll of the kind used by therapists and medical practitioners as an educational tool. Giganticised, the form of the baby is a grotesque depiction of the real evoking a revulsion and horrible fascination. Cognitive dissonance is enhanced by a closer look at the decorative patterning on the surface of the white body. A butterfly has settled on the baby’s face as if to consume her. The child appears startled by the intrusion. On her body the patterning shows itself as a set of intertwining logos as if she too were branded. Central to the pattern is the original Starbucks' logo depicting a twin-tailed mermaid also known as a 'melusine', an image derived from a 15thC Norse woodcut. In 1992 the exposed nipples and navel were considered too risqué so the siren was re-designed (information from the artist). Lijnes says, “I wanted to comment on the impact of consumer culture and to see what happens when I put logos on a baby which is not a baby which is a plastic replica of a baby,” and, she might have added, a clay replica of a plastic replica.

Lijnes ideas are not didactic. In her curiosity she is driven to explore the effect of consumer culture on our experience of the world. She has drawn attention to the things that we use usually only subliminally aware of their significance. She has brought them to our attention and given us pause to wonder just what effect they really do have on our experiences of being in the world. In this respect she acts as a guide, one who points the way in new directions. She leaves us without answers but a greater understanding of the questions we need to ask.

i. Plastic bags take from 500 - 1000 years to decompose, unless oxo-biodegradable. And they make for 25% of all landfill.
ii. The ‘model’ for the male and female forms was the tiny plastic “Preisser" figures used for architectural models.