Creating Susurration

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The following is extracts from Corné Venter’s MAVA thesis, entitled ‘Palimpsest as a visual language for engaging with memories of trauma.’

Debris: 2021-1985 is central to my practice, as it reflects the multi-voiced dialogue that makes up the dialogical self of DST. Similar to my creation of the cold porcelain faces, discussed in chapter two, the palimpsest of Debris: 2021-1985 and the act of palimpsesting present in its creation assist me in giving voice to, and understanding of, traumatic events; the hangings offer fragmented phenomenological clues embedded on their surfaces in writing, imagery and physical interventions such as stitching and tearing. To create a personal system for navigating my own phenomenological experiences of trauma, I have divided the hangings into two distinct groups. The first group, presented by the white fabric drops, are populated by diffuse images taken from diaries, personal writings, old and oppressive study/field guides and slogans from my childhood. My choice of fabric bears meaning here. I chose to create my works on nylon voile, the type that is commonly used in suburban houses as window treatments. Commonly referred to as net curtains, these drops of fabric serve a double purpose: they provide privacy to those behind the curtain but simultaneously offer an opportunity for clandestine scrutiny of events and people who pass by the outside of the curtain. When darkness descends and the light source emanates from behind the curtain, the viewing roles are reversed: those behind the curtain become the object of the surreptitious scrutiny. The visual tension created by this false feeling of privacy fascinates me as it denotes a metaphorical shift in power relations — just as the I– position in DST shifts — thus literally creating meaning through movement. I have also embellished some of the drops with tear-like crystals, stitching, and various other meaningful acts of palimpsesting. Some of these drops are made up of phrases in black and orange stencilled writing. All of the writing in my artworks is done either in a stencil font or my own handwriting. I use the bold stencil font to refer to my alienating experience of patriarchy and the political and social hegemony of my youth, of my battle to break free from the restraints placed on me by cultural expectations; the crass, bold orange and black colours and anonymous uniformity of stencilling echo the disaffected manner of power structures I have experienced. This typographic strategy becomes the articulation of my detractors in the heteroglossia of my artistic lexicon.

Stencilled words become unhinged from their prefixes by using the orange and black colour palette, in an attempt to show how the meaning of words shift and can be undone, much like my strategy with the movable type tiles in The future is read backwards. Dichotomously, instances where my own handwriting can be seen indicate personal experiences and opinions. The palimpsestic membrane is the place where I question, annotate, and deliberate in my own handwriting. In this way I can immediately react to, and engage with, the surface, whereas the stencilling is a monotonous affair where one has to delay reaction by moving the letters into place and spraying them on and then restart the whole process anew for the next statement. The juxtaposition of these writing systems describes my conversations with the oppressive norms of my past that I renegotiate in this work.

The palimpsesting of the hangings is meaningful in the way that the hangings relate to the trauma I confront in each specific hanging. With reference to the tear-like crystals, they are applied to a hanging of interwoven drawings of eyes, ears, noses and mouths which represent the sensual experiences of trauma. The teardrop crystals are red in colour and there is red thread that hangs from the membrane. This is an attempt to imbue the hanging with a sense of life and damage. In other hangings the surface is disturbed by holes cut through the material and embroidered with stark orange thread. I do this to show how my dialogue deteriorates and to create literal holes in beliefs that are based on the opinions of others. There are many other instances where I employ physical palimpsesting to gain meaning or dissect self-dialogical conversations.

In the reading of my palimpsestic membranes the colour orange gains a negative connotation. As a child I was inducted in to the voortrekkers, the Afrikaans nationalist version of the boy and girl scouts but with a more sinister agenda. Looking back on it now, I realise that they were in all probability training Afrikaans boys to become conscripted soldiers and Afrikaans girls to be subservient supporters of their husbands and volk. Their reading material and clothing all featured the same crass orange colour which could be found on the old flag too and in the names of places like the Oranje Vrystaat. White Afrikaners are also linked by the colour orange to their Dutch origins and by association their colonial past. The colour orange is a diffused haze that represents so much of my early exposure to toxic politics, nationalism and religion that explaining it concisely and accurately becomes a difficult task. In my palimpsestic process I have used the orange colour to point to the difficult and somewhat conflicted nature of my identity.

I decided on an immersive strategy highlighted by moments and artworks that are open to reading by visitors if they should choose to do so. I also deploy an aural element to this exhibition — that of the susurration of wind through grass and ambient sounds from my studio — in an attempt to immerse visitors and connect them to my dialogical self and create a contemplative space for reflection.