99 Loop is delighted to be showing the solo exhibition EN CIPHER by Cape Town-based artist, Isabella Kuijers.
Cipher comes from the arabic word sifr, meaning zero.
To encipher is to encrypt - to convert meaning into code which, without its key, appears to mean nothing.
In EN CIPHER Kuijers compiles knowledge and then presents it in such a way that much of the original meaning or intent is obscured - or where it is only selectively revealed.
In her series Subtext, she consulted with volunteers who confided in her on their own terms. From these one-on-one interviews she and her subject together decided on phrases that felt the most salient in describing them or their experience and Kuijers took short films of them saying that phrase, focussing on their lips. She then painted stills from the film. Some of the quotes are insults, some insecurities, some idioms, some eulogies.
“The process of painting someone’s lips feels intrusive. It’s as if you have no business looking so closely at someone unless you are their lover. And in a way looking closely sets you up to love the person because you notice their characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Painting from life is an exercise in realizing and enjoying how different reality is from archetypes”.
Kuijers also notes how the act of painting someone is a way of listening and observing that provides an additional reading of their language and yields an additional interpretation of their words.
Another series about language and expression is the Ishihara colour blindness test series (each is titled according to the definition of the words contained therein). The original working title was The Miracle / Mystery of Learning New Words.
In these works Kuijers uses the the metaphor of the colour blindness test to signal the absurdity of being able to learn a language which is ultimately a kind of code where the key is also encoded. During the course of reading the P. D. James series of Inspector Dalgliesh crime mysteries, Kuijers encountered many new words and began to view puzzling through the book as a form of meta mystery reading.
Drawing on Derrida’s concept of Différance, which holds that meaning is a tissue of uncashed cheques, these works marvel at the absurdity of our inherent grammar and the should-be impossibility of comprehension at all.
The experience of conducting a long-distance romantic relationship informed works within the series Elsewhere. These acrylic and glass landscapes are an exploration of the hopeless impracticality of conveying a sense of being in places, through photographs. The way we model and remember spaces is linked to so much sensory and emotional information that the act of painting the photographs at least imbues them with interpretation.
All the figures are erased from the landscapes and the colours have been deliberately dialed down to impart the artist’s own sense of curiosity or disinterest. Referencing the nostalgically simplified paintings of Fairfield Porter - these works convey the aspirations and melancholy Kuijers associates with travel. Relating to new experiences through familiarity and differences with home.
Home, a painting of the artist’s grandparents, done while undertaking a watercolor course at the Putney School of Art and Design this year, shows a yearning for the unfussy domesticity of home. As does Monster / Speciman, a set of cyanotypes of Renosterveldt (a threatened form of fynbos found near the artist’s parents’ home in Greyton), and Natural Language, texts written using found sticks and branches. These works offer a closer examination of the precious details of the quotidian.
Working at the intersection of writing and image-creation, Kuijers encodes and decodes the information around her, ultimately marvelling at the by-products of such attempts.