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Emma Willemse explores memory in dis(place)

by Mandy Conidaris posted on May 24, 2013.

Emma Willemse with her installation titled de(part) at the Lovell Gallery, May 2013.
Photo credit: Tamzin Lovell.

The exhibition dis(place) by Emma Willemse opened on 8 May 2013 at The Lovell Gallery and runs until 12 June 2013. This exhibition represents the culmination of the artist's creative journey of exploration, research and art making spanning several years. The notions of displacement, loss, traces and memory have been key in her work, and stem from the artist's own experiences.

In the 1990s Emma was displaced from a series of homes, and began to look at the impact of displacement of the individual. On hearing that one of these homes was about to be demolished, she drove to the site and managed to rescue the parquet flooring. Emma says, "The floor of a house maps the inside spaces of a home, it defines the spaces where people experience their most intimate moments."

These parquet wooden floor blocks gave her the physical materials for a large installation exhibition in 2011 called How to remember a home. A blown-up image of her own thumb print was laser cut from reassembled floor blocks and the structure was suspended as fragments, allowing the question 'what traces DO we leave on a home?'

Emma Willemse, How to remember a home (traces)
Wall installation. Wooden floor blocks salvaged from a house that I used to live in (2.7m x 1.3m)

Reconstituted parts of this installation are exhibited here now as two smaller works: the wall work How to remember a home: traces and the suspended sculpture How to remember a home: fragment. The original installation was a trace from her old home, a response to her displacement, and now these smaller installations seem to be traces distilled further from that primary response.

In her print series, Emma asks, 'how do you long for a home?' and here the individual titles give an insight into her sense of this: one has to mourn the loss of a home. The images hold visual references again to the parquet floor, but also to the ramshackle nature of a home, the uneven deposits of physical substance, thoughts, emotions - and the instability of a home's foundations. These images are part of a greater project, still in process, an artist's book titled 101 ways to remember a home.

Emma Willemse, Mourn
Mixed media on Fabriano rosapina (70 x 130cm framed)

The installation sculpture, de(part), is a suspended boat structure made from disused parquet flooring blocks, which represents a new phase in Emma's creative work in terms of subject and focus, if not of materials. In the construction phase, she concentrated not only on the building process, but also on the process of sifting through thoughts and memories of old work and old losses, what to leave behind, what to take with her. Emma's boat holds traces of her past in the physical materials, again parquet flooring, but this time sourced from Woodstock, the Cape having become Emma's home, and Woodstock the site of much of her present work.

Emma Willemse, Suspended boat installation titled de(part)
Parquet floor blocks salvaged from Woodstock area (4m long, height and width variable)

This boat is tactile in nature and invites the viewer to explore it with hand as well as eye. The idea of 'boat' is an archetypal image, evoking many connotations: a cocoon, the female body, a home, how in psychology a boat may stand for the idea of the individual floating on the sea of the unconscious, but also of journey. This exhibition also represents the beginning of another exciting journey, an association between The Lovell Gallery and outoftheCUBE. Co-founders Mandy Conidaris and Kevin Sneider launched their pioneering website www.outofthecube.co.za on 14 March 2013 with the intention of creating an online platform to promote contemporary South African art.

The exhibition dis(place) at the Lovell Gallery opened on the same night as Emma's outoftheCUBE web-based solo of the same name, which is shown on the gallery TV screen, creating an interesting play between the 'real' and the virtual. outoftheCUBE provides the ideal platform for video art, and the video work Tracing transitions represents the first step towards the resolved Lovell exhibition.

One of the focuses of outoftheCUBE is process, and so the construction of the boat de(part) by Emma and her team of helpers was recorded over several days with a GoPro camera. The resulting video work is on Emma's outoftheCUBE exhibition - and represents the last step in Emma's process.

This well-resolved exhibition features work that has a strong conceptual underpinning, is contemplative in nature, and supremely well-crafted. As well, the two outoftheCUBE video works add to the viewer's overall appreciation, creating an innovative extension of this artist's work.

Emma Willemse MA (FA) (cum laude) is a Cape Town-based artist who has lectured in The Visual Arts Department at UNISA since 2008. She also facilitates short courses and workshops relating to contemporary art, and has been involved in initiating and managing community art projects as well as curating art shows and adjudicating art competitions.

The Lovell Gallery
139 Albert Road, Woodstock
Tel: 021 447 5918


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