The garden, bedroom, mirror and body as heterotopias

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Hybridity … consists of a bizarre binate operation, in which each impulse is qualified against the other, forcing momentary forms of dislocation and displacement into complex economies of agonistic reticulation (Young 1995:26, 27).


With reference to the Aloerosa and Cultivar series, I begin my discussion by exploring themes of grafting, leading to hybridity and psychological/cultural-political spaces of liminality that underpin the works on Dis-Location. From a formal description of the Aloerosa series, I move to an explication of Bakhtin’s linguistic model of hybridity and Bhabha’s rereading thereof. These understandings form the lynchpin for the concept of hybridity as it is deployed in the creative work and applied throughout the theoretical discussion of the artwork.52 For clarity, I separate my discussion of how the concepts of grafting and hybridity are explored in the artwork from their theoretical explication.
For the protagonist, the desire to initiate the graft stems from a sense of disenchantment in her new location, signifying a need to adapt or feel more ‘at home’ in an ‘unhomelike’ environment. My discussion focuses on hybridity and the Third Space as they feature in the artwork and in relation to the protagonist. In the artwork, grafting, attenuated by hybridity, is positioned as paradoxically conflicted yet productive: it gives rise to cultural contest and is evocative of psychological trauma, yet also functions as a mechanism for enabling a juncture that is fecund with possibilities arising from cultural exchange. Although codependence, intermingling, borrowing and cohabitation effected through processes of cross-cultural fusion, such as hybridity, creolisation and entanglement, can be productive in the formation of new identities, these processes are not devoid of conflict. In this regard, García Canclini’s (1995:xxxi) positioning of transcultural practices as exchanges — in which the productivity of “fusion, cohesion, osmosis” is dependent on and arises out of “confrontation and dialogue” — resonates with the ambivalent nature of cross-cultural exchanges that occur through grafting in Dis-Location.
I touch on aspects of colonial and Victorian discourse that pertain to Bertha Marks’s lifeworld and play out in the artwork. A point that is critical to an understanding of the inner conflict her entry into hybridity generates is that, for her, the productivity of the graft is limited, or at least regulated, by the extent to which she is willing to transgress the deeply internalised colonial doctrine of exclusion. The entrenchment of differentiating boundaries, power structures and social hierarchies, subordination of peoples and constructions of Self/ Other founded on the racial sciences53 developed from Social Darwinism were key tenets of the colonial politics of exclusion. These politics were intended to create a utopian society based on separatism and distance from the Other. In order to uphold the politics of exclusion, strict maintenance of boundaries was paramount; transgression, particularly in the form of hybridity, figured as a form of degeneration (Papastergiadis 1995:10). Contextualising ways in which the politics of exclusion was operationalised in the colonies, I explore how Bertha Marks’s physical and psychological entry into the space of the Other (literally, the veld54 surrounding Zwartkoppies), as depicted in the Aloerosa series, could be considered socially, culturally, politically, spatially and morally transgressive and suggest that, through her fraught entry into this space, she disrupts the core ideological construction of Self/Other upon which colonial discourse is predicated.
By comparison, my experience of hybridity is ambiguous; the space of the other is a manifestation of that which was once familiar and established in the mind, but has become estranged from the self. Despite its seeming ‘newness’ to the subject, the stranger-within-the-self is disturbingly foreign or strange precisely because it is no longer known and familiar. Its re-emergence through the uncanny allows for spaces of interchange, a fluid conversation wherein the fixity of subject and object relations is disrupted.
In conclusion, I analyse the physical grafting of plant materials in the sculptures that make up the Cultivar series. The image of the garden as metaphor for processes of transcultural interchange, as an icon of imperial power and as a signifier of diaspora and exile is touched upon, as is the use of the grafted flower as metaphor for human violence.

The Aloerosa series

[W]e might think that the aura of the start, the genesis of the graft, might have been something like an utterance or invocation, something such as: ‘Find the vein’. Such an imperative might be found in a productive interruption, a rupture that brings forth, incision as insight (Bishop 2008:112).
The Aloerosa series consists of nine photographic prints in which the sense of the protagonist as overwhelmed by the Other or the stranger-within, combined with her desire for and resistance to mutation and adaptation, plays out. Throughout the series, as Venn (2010:326) observes the tropes of “stasis and metamorphosis, of fixity and movement, of order and dissolution are engaged with in” in an attempt to convey the inner turmoil that emerges from traumatic disruptions of identity under conditions of displacement. As conveyed in the subtitles of the images, invasive processes of planting, propagation and maturation are performed on the body that functions as a corporeal surface upon which to inscribe Bertha Marks’s confrontation with the Other, and the uncanny strangeness of my coming to terms with, and embracing, the foreigner-within. In the series the protagonist’s transmutation is narrativised, so that a “hybrid, in-between life-form” appears to emerge in a “transitional place and space” (Venn 2010:327). Set within the linear timeframe of a day (signified by the protagonist’s actions of taking morning tea, a mid-afternoon nap and a walk into the sunset in the respective images, as well as the accompanying light changes), the aloes’ growth in the series is accelerated, visually fast-forwarding the implied acculturation processes. The indication of time’s passage within a 12-hour framework temporally links Bertha Marks’s colonial lifeworld to my postcolonial experience. The artwork thus functions as a chronotype in which the transposition of Bertha Marks’s and my bodies might be read as an attempt to recast the past into the present (Venn 2010:327).55
In the first image of the series, titled Induction, the protagonist, dressed in a voluminous white skirt and a tightly laced vegetan leather corset56 similar in tone to her pale, white skin, is shown seated upright in the formal Victorian English rose garden that still exists at the Sammy Marks Museum. Stiff and impenetrable, like a sheath of armour around her upper body, the corset acts as a signifier of her constricting Victorian and colonial values. The surrounding roses are signifiers of her English heritage inasmuch as she herself represents the ‘quintessential English rose’. She is engaged in needlework, but such traditional ‘women’s work’ is violently turned inwards onto the self; through the use of cinematic special effects (make-up techniques), it appears as if she is cutting her skin with embroidery scissors. The horror of self-violation undermines not only the gentility of needlecraft but also the overtly sweet, sentimental aesthetic sensibility that pervades the image.57 In a Victorian context, this sensibility is linked to femininity. Following the Victorian codes of respectability and surrounded by the pleasantnesses of colonial living such as the morning tea-table with silverware and cream scones, she sews, but not the conventional forms of embroidery or tapestry, traditionally expected of a Victorian lady.58 Rather, from the initial cut, she inserts a seedling aloe into her flesh, delicately ‘planting’ the indigenous South African succulent into her forearm. This action represents a physical grafting of an alien59 botanical life form into the “lily-white corpus of Europe” (Ord 2008:106).


1.1 Introduction to the study.
1.2 Research question
1.3 Context of the study..
1.4 Aims and objectives.
1.5 Research method.
1.6 Theoretical framework of the research
1.7 Literature review
1.8 Overview of chapters
2.1 Introduction .
2.2 The Aloerosa series
2.3 Hybridity.
2.4 Grafting
2.5 Transgressing boundaries between Self/Other.
2.6 Welcoming the strange/r-within.
2.7 Entering liminality.
2.8 The Cultivar series.
2.9 Conclusion.
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The garden, bedroom, mirror and body as heterotopias
3.3 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Bertha Marks
4.3 Freda Farber
4.4 Personal displacement
4.5 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction.
5.2 A room of her own.
5.3 Animating the archive.
5.4 Inner/interior politics and proximities.
5.5 A voice of her own
5.6 Conclusion.

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