“And trivially - but also, I suppose, philosophically - we encounter an inability to know with certainty that we are ever truly communicating with another person.”
– Isabella Kuijers
Inspired by the symbolism of the ancient tradition of transcribing tactile knowledge to paper, Isabella Kuijers presents Codex, the artist’s second solo exhibition at 99 Loop.
A codex is a collection of parchment leaves, compiled by hand and stitched together to form an early resemblance to the modern-day book. It served to replace the scroll, and lead to great advancement in the spread of knowledge throughout the world. Kuijers’ diverse show serves as a homage to the intricate details so painstakingly transcribed into the codices of old – the ancient efforts that first ignited the human romance with reading and knowledge. The word codex returns to the Latin for ‘tree trunk’, caudex, a motif that gently entwines Kuijers’ fascination for floral history and its relationship with learning.
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As shown in works such as ‘Encyclopaedia Botanica’ and the triangulated maps of ‘The Search for Eden’, Kuijers revisits the history of European explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries in their quests for the fabled ‘Garden of Eden’. The series of oil paintings ‘I Still Drive Past Your House’ depict street-view screen-grabs of places that were theorized to have been the true site of Eden. The search for an Earthly Paradise lead to the formation of exotic plant collections throughout the West and the first Botanic Gardens, founded as places of academic study and learning. These gardens were like a “book laid out in pages … for reference” and likened to the first ‘encyclopaedias’, the living codices of worldly knowledge.
The rich cultural history of plants as tools of communication and understanding has inspired much of Kuijers’ exhibition. The watercolour work titled ‘Cryptobotany I’ is a nod to the Victorian art of floriography, a method of conveying coded messages in the form of subtle bouquets. Different forms of floriography developed in parallel globally and as such some flowers have multiple meanings. This seemingly sentimental language has broad scope for poetic expression. However, the exclusivity and indecipherability of the code reminds one of the disparity of communication between individuals, and questions our ability to truly understand shared interactions.
The paradisiacal foliage and emotional landscapes depicted in Kuijers’ works are a reminder that, there is still much to understand and discover about ourselves in the in the world at large and in the botanical artefacts we cultivate. We still seek to decode the mystery of our consciousness, and by doing so are often led back to the comfort of the written word on paper. As an artist, Kuijers is enthralled by the intangible world of the internet in juxtaposition to the very physical reality of, for example, a colour-soaked brush gliding across paper. The act of painting is likened to returning to the original paperbound source of learning in an era of information over-saturation.
The handheld book is nearing extinction as we begin to favour online channels of learning, and according to the writer and critic, Will Self, the “era of the codex is coming to an end.” This loss of tactile knowledge is changing the way we communicate and understand the world around us. The artworks featured in Codex are like chapters in a larger narrative, seeking insight into the pitfalls of communication and understanding in the age of Information Technology, and our perilous relationship with that precious historical emblem of expansive learning so revered by the Gutenberg mind: paper.
Isabella Kuijers is an artist, curator and writer who graduated with a BFA from the University of Stellenbosch in 2014. She lives and works in Cape Town, and writes for the publication Art Throb.
View work from Kuijers' previous solo here.