Review written for the Cape Times by Veronica C. Wilkinson

Subverted text as transformed images
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Artist Barbara Wildenboer wields the scalpels she uses to cut paper with the dexterity of a surgeon. Transforming books ranging from encyclopedias to scientific reference works she has revived discarded volumes that had already been used as research sources for anonymous projects. Secondhand and charity bookshops were scouted for books used for Wildenboer’s latest exhibition at the Erdmann Contemporary and Photographer’s Gallery.

Titled Library of the infinitesimally small and the unimaginably large, the show runs until the 21st May. Over 18 works in different mediums including digital animation, sculptures, wall mounted work and paper installations invite the viewer on a visual journey through tentacles and fragments of text the evoke otherworldly subterranean realms and rythms.  By cutting up atlases into animated geometric shapes, shifting tectonic plates are alluded to.  Wildenboer tells me that she has always regarded orchids as funereal and in one of her works ‘Orchidiris Rex’ one interpretation could be as a memorial to the recent tsunami in Japan with the image including the fractal veins of plants and humans.

By folding, cutting and gluing, (this to reinforce fragile paper), she has extended a childhood fascination for the ‘pop-up’ book with remarkable results.  The emphasis is firmly labour intensive and in order to obtain a rough black finish on some of the frames she burned surfaces holding long-handled pliers under a blacksmith’s supervision. The artist speaks of text becoming object in a multi-layered transformation that links us in a curious way with the threat facing print media. Despite the realities of diminishing natural resources essential for electronic media this is a topically relevant concern. Verbal jumbles and coherency often complicated by language are simplified by images and signs around the world as transport systems, once colour-coded, are easily understood. The verbal jumbles we see on this show are round balls of strips of paper, some compact, others unraveling information. Seeing encyclopedias as “a threatened information system”.

Currently head of the department of professional photography at CityVarsity she has lectured at various institutions since earning her masters degree in fine art with distinction form the Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT in 2007. She has won awards, held solo exhibitions, participated in numerous group shows and experienced residencies in Palestine and Jordan.  Her work is included in public collections like Khalid Shoman Foundation in Jordan, Absa, Hollard and Sanlam in South Africa among others. In September this year Wildenboer will be setting off for an awarded residency in Colombia at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogota which has been bestowed by the Programa Red de Residencias Artiscticas Local.

We discuss the three-dimensional objects constructed out of books placed on blocks of wood on the gallery floor in front of the three screen four-minute looped, animated digital sequence. At first sight their compact shapes almost resemble old fashioned wooden cotton reels with colourful vertical book spines facing the viewer.  Inside, they contain balls of verbal jumbles obscured to the viewer but just visible beneath the smoky glass surface with its surface patterning.  The finished objects utilitarian purpose as occasional tables and conversation pieces is obvious because of their interconnectedness and undeniable beauty.

One of the series that exemplifies her need to explore her subject matter thoroughly is I Love Chaos.  In this set of tondos varying in size, the ‘Butterfly Effect’ with its rotating winged insect is intriguing on a background of geometrically precise folds, cut design and pinned elements. The influence of science and an investigation of both her subject matter and motivation are reinforced. The artists talks about the unseen histories that books harbour; from the private breakthroughs and insights usually made by individuals working in isolation that are gleaned from the content to their roles as education mediums and inspiration.

Switching to the recontextualising of the volume’s purpose as art objects which still retain their value, their new roles as transmitters of information changes their function without stripping them of significance.  (The latter arguably on a wider scale than if the text was accessible in book form only.) Although visual signifiers are sometimes culturally specific and can have contrary meanings, more people are likely to attempt an interpretation of a visually accessible artwork than those attempting to decipher the Korean or Cyrillic alphabet.

The artist’s statement informs us that all of her sources for this exhibition are “linked by the subject matter of fractal geometry”.  Barbara Wildenboer’s latest exhibition continues a pursuit for excellence that sets its own standard as her work continues to challenge and change the way we think about objects