I’ve been following the career of Cape Town artist Belinda Blignaut since I discovered her Stealing the Words installation at Young Blackman Gallery in the summer of last year.
I’ll write a future post on some of her other inspired works, but today I’d like to focus on Stealing the Words.
Stealing the Words
22 July – 22 August 2010
Young Blackman Gallery
69 Roeland Street
Cape Town 8001
As you see in the images, Blignaut blew 800 – 1,000 bubble gum bubbles and stuck them on the windows and walls of Young Blackman Gallery. Stealing the Words is a remarkable installation in both its power and simplicity.
What words are stolen?
Bubble Gum does speak volumes in terms of the carefree and / or troubled adolescent words that are blown into a bubble. The specific words are lost in the residue of the gum even as those indecipherable words are preserved in the formation of the gum to this precise shape. The presence of that gum-chewing slacker teen is not the presence we generally associate with the refined palate of wine-sipping art gallery patrons. Meanwhile the ephemeral nature of gum stuck on the cultural institution itself also resists the traditional commodification of the art market. You can’t really sell a gallery covered in gum as an art object to a collector, and the gum itself seems to say “fuck you for trying.”
From a distance Blignaut’s wall compositions are reminiscent of Jackson Pollock splatter paintings as colorized by Andy Warhol. And speaking of abstract expressionism, Stealing the Words seems to rescue female anatomy from the clutches of Willem de Kooning. Sure the gum is a sort of Rorschach test that can be seen as almost anything you like, just as so many have defended de Kooning’s tortured women as not-misogynist-at-all but exploring other formal ideas and/or being a sort of early feminist critique of the illusion of beauty culture.
To this eye de Kooning’s still a misogynist bastard and Blignaut’s bubbles still conjure female anatomy. Yes, that magical door that pleasure walks into and life crawls out of.
My mother studied with Alan Kaprow for a year, actually she studied with him when she was the age that I am now, and she’s always loved to tell the story of how he came a little late to the abstract expressionist party and after trying to be one of them for a while, eventually took his art off the wall, first literally taking his canvasses / panels off the wall in the 1957 piece Rearrangeable Panels and ultimately by inventing the Happening with his 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts.
A half-century later, it’s palpable the way in which Blignaut’s gum resonates with happenings and the long span of performance art. In many installation works, while you can decipher some of the actions that produced the work, the installation tends, or tries, to exist now. With performance art, if a gallery exhibits static materials, it tends to be not “the art” itself but documentation of a previously existing, temporal, performance whose ephemeral nature has now expired and what remains is this documentation.
Blignaut’s Stealing the Words feels somehow different. Neither exactly process to create a living installation, nor performance-past living on in documentation, rather this installation feels like a trace. While we see the installation, see the gallery walls with their objectfulness before us, what we feel is a trace, a trace of a living person inhabiting this space and obsessively creating this work.
Curiously this reminds me a little bit of the experience of celebrity. When someone sees a film or a television programme they are captivated by, they sometimes become enamored with the actor. Even if they’re able to meet the actor however, the actor is not the character they loved. The fan can see the actor’s other films or read the writer’s other works, but that singular presence they were so engaged by is as if trapped in amber. They can rexperience this “drug” in the same way any time, but they can never get a fresh batch of it.
And paradoxically, if one were to stand with Blignaut in the completed exhibition, one would have the pleasure of sharing corporeal space with the artist, you could sip wine and discuss the work or art or politics or the weather, but you couldn’t really share that performative interval in which her focused being obsessively, repetitively, seemed almost demonically compelled to accrete the myriad tiny bubbles that compose this large work.
Paradoxically then, I think that standing alone in the gallery, just you and the trace that oozes forth from this installation, is to be more with Blignaut and her creation experience, than physically meeting her at any post facto soiree.
This is a work that is brite.
This is a work that is dark.
This is a work that smells.
This is a work that is remarkably simple.
This is a work that is relentlessly obsessive.
This is a work that makes me laugh.
This is a work that makes me cry.
Belinda Blignaut’s Stealing the Words is a beautiful work.
Click any thumbnail image below to enter “slide show” mode and then use your arrow keys to scroll through the installation images.