- Isabella Kuijers
This exhibition forms part of my enduring fascination with plants and the meaning with which they have been imbued. My intrigue is, in part, due to the pace at which plant life proliferates, forming a backdrop to human endeavour. Rhizomes parry across the soil and roots probe below it, stiff walls of foliage obstruct and obscure, and trunks barrel upwards – a rocket-launch in slow-motion.
Plants put pacing into perspective by providing a foil to human perceptions of time. In addition, they comprise a silent, pensive audience which, like Sylvia Plath’s Mushrooms, I have cast as personal and political. They are a gently resilient force.
The Garden strikes me as a fault-line along which a synergistic truce exists between humans and plants. Beyond this, the relationship between us is frequently adversarial or instrumentalising. In this exhibition, though, I have shied away from a purely ecological message, as I see many of our current social and environmental concerns as compounding rather than directly competing.
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In Ozymandias and Fukushima I and II, I invoke plants’ voiceless enmity. These works register discontent surrounding the topical issues of the Rhodes Must Fall grassroots movement as well as the proposed nuclear power plant build near Cape Town.
The famous Ozymandias poems were inspired by the British Museum’s acquisition of a fragmented statue of the Pharaoh Rameses II. The closing lines of Horace Smith’s version read: “What powerful but unrecorded race / Once dwelt in that annihilated place.” The landmarks in my interpretation are from the grounds of the sprawling estate once owned by Cecil John Rhodes.
Monuments are primary texts that display unjustifiable hubris, valuable as cautionary lessons, reminders that the passions of a time roar and ebb. The Egyptians under Rameses II were appalling slavers, and yet we look back on them with fascination rather than revulsion.
In 2011, multiple reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant (an ironic homonym) exploded, showering the surrounding area with radioactive Caesium. A twenty-kilometre zone was evacuated (as well as some areas up to forty-two kilometres away). The residents were forbidden from ever returning; it takes approximately three hundred years for Caesium’s radioactivity to dissipate. Many buildings and vehicles were hurriedly abandoned. The vegetation quickly reclaimed and engulfed what had been left behind. I drew on imagery of this phenomenon when composing Fukushima I and II. In South Africa, Koeberg, which is twenty-nine kilometres from Cape Town’s CBD, is the proposed site for a new nuclear plant.
Finally, in the construction of this soft-toned water-colour series, I draw on elements of the literary genres of confessional poetry and magical realism. These works aim to encapsulate a moment in a way that naturalism cannot. These quotidian fantasies, daydreams and anxieties are cobbled together from a cluttered mind fed on nightmares, YouTube binges and hours of Pinterest and Tumblr. Altogether they create a language of contemporary symbols or a set of absurd tarot cards; dream-like mash-ups composting gently and terrifyingly.
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
- T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland