From 1 March 2022 University of Johannesburg (UJ) Arts & Culture and the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) Gallery will host bioart artist Leora Farber’s new innovative video installation ghosted matter/phantom hurt (and other chimera) with the initial launch on the UJ Arts & Culture digital platform Moving Cube and physical launch at the FADA Gallery on 25 February where it will be exhibited until 22 March.
ghosted matter/phantom hurt (and other chimera) comprises five major video works that feature digital interpretations of physical artworks that fall under the term ‘creative bio-research’ or ‘bioart’ – an umbrella term for art forms that entail the fusion of biology, biotechnology, life sciences and visual art. Bioart involves practices that deal with hands-on application of the life sciences or biotechnologies in an artmaking context, using living and non-living matter as media.
The five installations featured in ghosted matter/phantom hurt (and other chimera) were developed during Farber’s residency at the SymbioticA Centre of Excellence for Biological Arts, University of Western Australia (September 2019 – January 2020). The impressions were produced in a microbiology laboratory at the QEII Medical Centre in Perth, in collaboration with Dr Kate Hammer, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director Graduate Programs in Infectious Diseases, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Western Australia. This is the third of a series of installations that began in 2020 and will continue into 2023.
Working at the interface between art and the life sciences
Johannesburg-based Farber is the Associate Professor at UJ FADA, and Director of the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre in FADA, she dons multiple roles as an artist, academic, writer, curator and editor. Farber’s oeuvre is extensive, and her work has been exhibited in all of South Africa’s major public museums. She has presented solo exhibitions in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Perth; and has participated in group shows in London, New York, Taipei, Latvia and Atlanta. Over the last five years, she has worked at the interface between art and the life sciences, engaging critically, theoretically, affectively and poetically with ‘creative bio-research’, using bacteria and yeasts as her primary media.
In ghosted matter/phantom hurt (and other chimera) Farber produces material ‘impressions’ of domestic objects such as tea-cups and saucers, plates and bowls working with an experimental combination of biomaterials and microbes, either with a cellulose fibre produced by the symbiotic action of the bacteria and yeast or from a mixture of agar and bacterial nutrient onto which pigmented bacteria are painted. The ‘impressions’ of these domestic objects have then been extended into the digital realm.
Farber explains that in their initial forms as material matter, ‘the impressions already inhabit an ever-changing state of in-betweenness, slipping in-between life and death; visibility and invisibility; human and other-than-human; actuality and imagination; being and non-being; (semi)living and non-living’. She describes them as the ‘visceral and the ephemeral, tactile and the translucent’ and when translated into video they ‘appear and disappear across the screen as ghostly, weightless, ephemeral, ethereal, transient forms (which often dissolve into formlessness).
‘Through these precarious images of ‘things’ that are barely things, the viewer-participant is invited to try and grasp the ungraspable – fugitive, fragmented remembrances of familiarity, strangeness, comfort, dis-ease, intimacy, distance, vulnerability, trauma, complicity and loss.’Leora Farber
The original objects from which the impressions are taken come from a range of design, period, and surface patterning. They include items taken from English bone china and reference traditional English styling and patterning. Some of them feature the blue and white patterns of Chinese origin which the British copied in their production of blue and white 18th century porcelain, and the Dutch reproduced in their ‘Delft blue’ porcelain. These designs, which are still being produced by the original companies, or reproductions thereof, have become domestic ‘classics’ in post-colonies such as South Africa.
In their reference to the troubled history of West-East cross-cultural and economic exchange, the objects resonate as spectral traces of the violent colonial legacies that haunt post-colonial domestic interiors. As hauntologies of British and Dutch Imperialism and colonialism – the very mechanisms that drove the enculturation of capital, set against an historical backdrop of dispossession, exploitation, genocide, displacement and precarity – the filmic impressions evoke uncanny spectres of disquietude that continue to inhabit the present and haunt the future.