Archive: Issue No. 57, May 2002

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Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Wax chocolates

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Corpus Delicti
Video still

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Beauty Bar
125 x 125 x 6 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Wax, fabric, found objects, metal and mirror
105 x 55 x 55 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Skin Craft I
49 x 50 x 47 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
11 x 11 x 7 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Possession Seduction Series (Loving Touch)
71 x 106 x 13 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Skinless II
40 x 38 x 30 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Untitled IV
C type print in aluminium frame
87 x 112 x 5 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Wax, fabric, found objects, stainless and mild steel
150 x 75 x 64 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Muse for Media Series II
Mixed media
185 x 125 x 60cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Wedding Dresses
c 1994

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
The Breaking of the Loaves
Mixed media

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Stilled Life with Viscera and Vine
Mixed media
134 x 164 x 30 cm

Leora Farber

Leora Farber
Early painting
Mixed media

Leora Farber
by Kathryn Smith (May, 2002)


From Leora Farber's early painting assemblages that she describes as "enactments of paintings" through to her most recent sculptural performance in front of a live audience in Johannesburg, the body in all its beautiful and abject states has been the core point of focus in her oeuvre. Her method and approach is characteristically her own. She is most well-known for elaborate, labour-intensive sculptural forms in pigmented wax into which she incorporates a range of found objects, usually of the glinting, stainless steel, medical sort or the paraphernalia of haberdashery. In Farber's work, the relationship between form and content is tightly controlled, and her academic pursuits regarding the constructions of female identity and body politics can be traced to such theorists as Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.

Her early 'bulimic' paintings involved excessive collections of cheap, plastic objects, crayfish shells and mirrors that appeared to literally explode from the frame off the wall, as if revealing painting's 'messy underbelly'. Farber's desire to engage with excess gained more powerful edge when she began working in ways that were irrefutably about control. Explosive chaos became tightly locked-in containment as she began to modify corsets, gloves and other women's garments, conflating the distinctions between interior and exterior. Skin becomes the site and marker of control, a fabric that can be altered, tucked, pricked or manipulated to conform and comply. In gravitating towards issues around the body and technology, Farber has begun exploring media such as video and photography that engage with this relationship.


On 'Instrumental' (1997): "I depict the body not as a static shell, but as lived, felt experience. It is a vehicle through which we experience the world as through which that experience is mediated. It is a metaphor for the duality between interior and exterior, nature and culture, private and public. I use it as a means of uncovering the untidy layers beneath the pristine, supposedly seamless images representing women within a western paradigm."

On 'All You Can Be' (2001): "In the discipline of medical science, the body (both male and female, but more particularly female) is regarded as a pathology to be 'cured' and/or 'normalized' and defined as an object for technological reconstruction. In my work, I have highlighted the cosmetic surgeon's role in reshaping and modifying the body, as many cosmetic surgeons consider themselves as 'sculptors' - i. e. 'artists' who fashion human flesh to create a body which mimics 'the perfect human form'. Paralleling my earlier preoccupations with the 'craft' of tailoring a garment to fit a particular body size, the surgeons' 'art' of body-modification becomes an actual means of fabricating external appearance. This appearance invariably conforms to particular cultural and ideological standards - standards of 'normality' and 'beauty' that are based on Western markers of an ideal body. [...] Thus, rather than a 're-creation' of identity, it seems as if it is Westernized traditional and ideological beliefs about gender identity that are realized, as the surgeons' scalpel enacts the physical process of remaking 'difference into sameness'.


Inspired by her remarkable mini-retrospective 'All You Can Be' at last year's Aardklop Arts Festival, 'Corpa Delicata' (currently on at The | PREMISES) extends an idea originally presented in Farber video piece 'Corpus Delecti', in which Farber films the melting and subsequent bubbling brown ooze that was once a collection of wax, handmade 'chocolates'. For 'Corpa Delicata', Farber produced 1000 exquisitely detailed wax chocolates, resembling swatches of flesh or small body parts, of which she melted 750 in front of a live audience with three cameras filming the process and a surveillance camera on the capacity crowd. Mounted behind the aluminium table, a large video projection displayed the final stages of a 'tummy tuck' operation in extreme close up as molten wax was 'excreted' from a copper tube from within the table. On entry, a white-aproned waiter served real Belgian chocolates to audience members. As Farber says: "It is the physical enactment of a 'viscous circle'", inferring chocolate's ambivalent identity as source of real and substituted pleasure, as well as it's associations with control, temptation and excess in the search for the perfect figure.

Before 'All You Can Be', which brought together work from 1996 � 2001, Farber's first Cape Town exhibition 'Endless Renovations' (Joao Ferreira, 2000) and the group show 'Two Icons: The Atom, The Body' just prior to that (Johannesburg, 2000), introduced her move towards conceptual and formal concerns with technology. One could argue that 1997's 'Instrumental' exhibition (Thompson Gallery, Johannesburg) and 'Skin-Less' at the Gasworks Gallery (London) established Farber as one of the most potent critical commentators on radical female body politics and objectification.

Delibrately co-opting the 'work' associated with women's domestic crafts, her employment of control as a deliberate formalist strategy was, as she said 'an act of self-preservation' when it seemed as if people simply couldn't deal with the 'excess' of her earlier works. Farber's work was included on the controversial 'Colours' (Berlin, 1996), 'Inside/Outside' (African Johannesburg Biennale, 1995), The Body Politic (2nd Johannesburg Biennale, 1997) and The New Anatomists (London, Wellcome Institute, 1999)


Leora Farber's first solo exhibition was at Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery and was titled 'Seeing Through the Body'. This was the exhibition of 'bulimic' paintings mentioned above. Working from Dutch still life painting as a signifier of patriarchy and tradition, Farber endeavoured to explode the myths of painting in a way congruent with the interests of fellow artist Penny Siopis. While one might be forgiven for finding both artists' early projects very similar, Farber's indicated a penchant for a physicality that would ultimately invade the space of the viewer in a very aggressive way.

About volume rather than dimension and referencing the vanitas tradition, these paintings trod the abject boundaries between excess and putrefaction. Not quite satisfied with their positions between painting, sculpture, prosthetics and representation, Farber began working with the female form as inspired by the 'medical Venus', producing a series of wedding gowns that display the stuff of the biological body and the still life beneath the folds of their skirts.


Farber is also the only South African participating artist on the prestigious exhibition Skin: Surface, Substance and Design taking place at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in New York in May. The video produced at The | PREMISES will be an integral part of her performance at the Designing for the Senses Conference (Rockefeller University, New York) which is linked to the Skin exhibition. Here Farber will be making wax chocolates live in the video installation space in front of a large screen and small monitor, both depicting an endless loop of the chocolates' demise and re-formation. She shows other work on the 'Skin' exhibition.

She is also working towards 'All You Can Be II' at the Spark! Gallery in Johannesburg in August.


Johannesburg-based Leora Farber (b. 1964) completed a BA(FA) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1985, following that with a MA(FA) (Cum Laude) in 1991, also at Wits. Additional postgraduate study includes Media Art 1 (Spring Semester) at the University of Tennessee (with distinction), while she served as adjunct professor in the Fine Art Department. She is currently a full-time lecturer in the Fine Art Department at Technikon Witwatersrand, teaching Conceptual Studies, Video Art, Drawing and Art Theory.


Solo Exhibitions:
All You Can Be II Spark! Gallery, Johannesburg (forthcoming in August)
Corpa Delicata The | Premises, Johannesburg (sculptural performance and video installation
All You Can Be Art Circle � retrospective exhibition as one of three official artists represented at the Aardklop National Arts Festival, Potchefstroom
Corpus Delecti Carinus Art Centre, Standard Bank National Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown
Endless Renovations Joao Ferreria Fine Art, Cape Town (two person show with Mark Hipper)
Instrumental Thompson Gallery in collaboration with Read Contemporary Art, Johannesburg
Skin - Less Gasworks Gallery, London
Seeing through the Body Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
M. A. Exhibition Gertrude Posel Gallery, Johannesburg

Selected Group Exhibitions:
Skin: Surface, Substance and Design Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, New York City (Catalogue)
Designing for the Senses (Conference linked to Skin Exhibition), performance/installation, Rockefeller University, New York City
Art 2001 Contemporary Art Fair Business and Design Centre, London
Breken Borders Stellenbosch University Chapel Gallery, Stellenbosch
Two Icons: The Atom, The Body Exhibition in conjunction with Urban Futures Conference MuseuMAfricA, Johannesburg
Contemporary South African Video Art DownTOWN MTN/Urban Futures Video focus: Exhibition in conjunction with Urban Futures 2000 Conference Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
Body As Commodity Nexus Contemporary Art, Atlanta
Emergence Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Albany History Museum Grahamstown ; King George VI Gallery Port Elizabeth; Durban Art Gallery; Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg
Aftermath: Women in Postwar Reconstruction Exhibition in conjunction with conference, Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg
Art 99 Contemporary Art Fair Business and Design Centre, London
The New Anatomists Gallery 1010 The Wellcome Institute, London (Catalogue)
The Exquisite Corpse Jibby Beane Contemporary, London
Adorn Jibby Beane Contemporary, London
Three Artists: Three Continents: Artists in Residence at UTK
Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture, Knoxville Tennessee
Art 98 Contemporary Art Fair Business and Design Centre, London
Art 97 Contemporary Art Fair Business and Design Centre, London
The Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City
A Little Big Thing The Thompson Gallery, Johannesburg
Colours: Contemporary Art From South Africa Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (Catalogue)
FNB Vita Art Now Johannesburg Art Gallery (Catalogue)
The Body Politic (Core Exhibition) Johannesburg Biennale, Gertrude Posel Galleries
Inside - Outside (Core Exhibition) Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg Art Gallery
Speedy Bag Factory Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
FNB Vita Art Now Johannesburg Art Gallery (Catalogue)
ABSA Bank Atelier Art Award ICA Gallery, Johannesburg (Catalogue)
ICA Celebrates Johannesburg Artists Institute of Contemporary Art Johannesburg
The Neglected Sex Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg
Summer Exhibition Daljosaphat Arts Foundation, Paarl
Wits Postgraduate Exhibition Gerturde Posel Gallery, Johannesburg
Volkskas Bank Atelier Art Award S. A. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Volkskas Bank Atelier Art Award S. A. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Cape Town Triennale Major National Museums (Catalogue)
Wits Postgraduate Exhibition Rembrandt Gallery, Johannesburg
New Visions Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg
Martienssen Prize and Student Exhibitions Gertrude Posel Gallery, Johannesburg

Published Conference Papers:
'Popular Art within a South African Framework'
The South African Association of Art Historians First Conference 1-3 July 1985
Department of Art History University of the Witwatersrand

Public Collections:
Rose Museum, Brandeis University, Boston 2001
Four Minor Renovations (revamp, refurbish, retouch, refine) 2000 NTSC video 00:28:00

Sanlam Corporate Collection, Cape Town 2001
Beauty Bar 1998 wax, fabric, found objects, metal, wood, acrylic sheeting 125 x 125 x 65cm

Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg 2001
Incise 1998 wax, fabric, found objects, metal, wood, acrylic sheeting 180 x 75 x 65cm

MTN Art Institute Digital Art Collection, Johannesburg 2000
Ephemera 2000 VHS PAL video 00:09:17

Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg 1997
Possession/Seduction Series (Cutting Edge) 1996 wax, fabric, found objects, wood, glass, mirrors 75 x 101 x 10cm

Gertrude Posel Art Gallery, Johannesburg 1997
Skin-Craft IV 1997 wax, fabric, found objects, stainless and mild steel 49 x 50 x 47 cm

Technikon Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 1997
Possession/Seduction Series (Loving Touch) 1996 wax, fabric, found objects, wood, glass, stainless steel, mirror 75 x 101 x 10cm

Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria 1997
Her Mastering Touch I 1995-6 wax, fabric, found objects, glass, stainless steel 90 x 60 x 35cm

Oliewenhuis Gallery, Bloemfontein 1997
Self-Contained I 1996 wax, fabric, found objects, wood, glass, aluminium, stainless and mild steel 124 x 113 x 31 cm

Pretoria Technikon, Pretoria 1990
Caked in Visceral Terrain 1989 oil on canvas 129 x 159cm

Private Collections:
Robert Loder Collection of International Art, London 1997
Skin-Less VII 1996-7 wax, fabric, found objects, metal dimensions variable
London, Boston, Israel, Johannesburg, Cape Town


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)