Panel Discussion: intimate presences/affective absences (or, the snake within)

You are cordially invited to an online conversation between Leora Farber (Director, VIAD), Ashraf Jamal (VIAD Research Associate) and Lize van Robbroeck (Professor: Visual Art, Stellenbosch University) around Farber’s installation, titled intimate presences/affective absences (or, the snake within). The conversation will be facilitated by Pieter Jacobs (Head, UJ Arts & Culture).

Zoom Details
Meeting ID: 874 1522 6103
Passcode: 512754

The ‘impressions’ of domestic objects which comprise Leora Farber’s installation, intimate presences/affective absences (or, the snake within), hover in a liminal space of constant becoming. Slipping in-between life and death; visibility and invisibility; materiality and immateriality; human and non-human; actuality and imagination; being and non-being; (semi)living and non-living, they oscillate in a state of in-betweenness. While the impressions create a semblance of presence, of immediacy, of touch, their delineation of absence ironically defines what they are. Materially corporeal yet ethereal and spectral, they appear to inhabit varying states of atrophy. As such, they may act as affective carriers of memory, evoking re-remembrances of familiarity, strangeness, comfort, dis-ease, intimacy, distance, vulnerability, trauma, complicity and loss.

For the past three years, Farber has engaged intensively with bioart – an umbrella term for a range of art forms that critically engage with biology and bioscientific research. ‘Bioartists’ mix artistic and scientific processes, often using live tissues, bacteria, living organisms and life processes as media.

In this installation – the first of a series to follow in 2021 and 2022 – Farber presents a highly innovative use of biomaterials, in which impressions are made from a cellulose-fibre that is produced by the symbiotic action of the bacteria and Gluconacetobacter xylinus and yeast. This symbiotic culture, which feeds off a mixture of tea and sugar, forms a biofilm at the interface between the liquid nutrient and air. The biofilm grows to form a cellulose fibre that when dehydrated, bears uncanny resemblance to traces of human skin – sloughed off, shed, discarded.

Farber’s impressions reference various design styles, periods and surface patterning. They include items taken from Chinese porcelain and English bone china; some feature blue and white patterns of Chinese origin, such as the willow pattern, which the British copied in their production of 18th-century porcelain, and the Dutch reproduced in their ‘Delft blue’ porcelain. These designs, which are still being produced, or reproductions thereof, have become domestic ‘classics’ in many post-colonies. Farber’s impressions of these objects thus resonate as spectral traces of colonial legacies that haunt domestic interiors and broader individual and collective imaginations in post-colonial South Africa. As Verne Harris (2015:20) notes in relation to the archive, “the fragments in their custody comprise matter out of place. And the whispers of dislocation can be heard. Ghostly voices of other places, of lineages, of origins. … What is present speaks loudly of absences, and what is absent presents itself insistently. Presence and absence unfolding out of one another. The experience of being haunted”.[i]

Farber’s impressions carry hauntological resonances of British and Dutch Imperialism and colonialism as mechanisms that drove the enculturation of capital. Sugar, tea and porcelain were commodities of colonial commerce that were shipped alongside enslaved peoples, themselves considered fungible objects of trade. Read against this historical backdrop of dispossession, exploitation, displacement and precarity, and through the lens of Dutch and British settler colonialism and apartheid, Farber’s impressions may recall uncanny spectres of disquietude and violence that continue to inhabit the future-present.

[i] Harris, V. 2015. Hauntology, archivy and banditry: an engagement with Derrida and Zapiro. Critical Arts 29(1): 20; 13.

The exhibition is presented by VIAD and the FADA Gallery, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg.

8 October – 28 November 2020

FADA Gallery University of Johannesburg Bunting Road Campus

Gallery hours:

Tues to Fri: 9:00 – 16:00
Sat: 9:00 – 13:00

Viewing is by appointment/campus access permits will be supplied. To make an appointment, please contact: Eugene Hön (FADA Gallery Director) 084 8402691 |

About Lize van Robbroeck

Lize van Robbroeck is Professor in Visual Studies at Stellenbosch. Her research focuses on postcoloniality and settler subjectivities in South African visual arts. Her research interests include psychoanalytic theories of subjectivity and race, and she works at the intersection of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Feminist New Materialism.

About Ashraf Jamal

Ashraf Jamal is a Research Associate in the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg. He is the co-author of Art in South Africa: The Future Present (David Phillip, 1996). He co-edited of Indian Ocean Studies (Routledge, 2010). Jamal is also the author of Predicaments of Culture in South Africa (UNISA Press, 2005); Love Themes for the Wilderness (Kwela Books, 1996); The Shades (Brevitas, 2002); In the World: Essays on Contemporary South African Art (Skira 2018); and Strange Cargo (forthcoming).

Audience Responses
This panel discussion worked very well, also inclusion of the video of the exhibition items gave us a good idea of what the exhibition looked like. It might have been interesting for Leora Faber to show us a photo of what the Kambucha ‘skin’ looked like before it became her art objects, i..e when it was still a skin floating in her bath. Sue Taylor

Susan Jean • Attended Oct. 23, 2020, 2 p.m.
The best parts were Prof. Garber talking about her own work. She was wonderful, and thought- provoking. I was less impressed with the other speakers’ grasp of South African history, art and society, especially on something like the social relations within early apartheid white homes, or how race and colonialism are indelible traces throughout. A possible alternative moderator or set of commentators? Women archivists in the Cape Town archives, black women scholars of slavery in the Cape who work on that very “domesticity,” and scholars more familiar with all the meanings and connotations of nyoka (the snake) in Central and Southern Africa. And historians of ceramics and household goods in Afrikaner and English homes in South Africa ( there is a great one in Cape Town working with Iziko). An African art historian who has fresher interpretations of African art and all the new modalities, and centers African aesthetics in his/her/their work, in all its multiple myriad streams and approaches. Someone who could juxtapose and discuss the work with other artists using living materials—fungi, bacteria, etc.— as media. Leora’s work deserves that.

Geri • Attended Oct. 23, 2020, 2 p.m.
Thank you!

Ruth • Attended Oct. 23, 2020, 2 p.m.
Thank you. It was well presented, and the subject extraordinary and powerful.

Elana • Attended Oct. 23, 2020, 2 p.m.
Thank you. It was well presented, and the subject extraordinary and powerful.

Elana • Attended Oct. 23, 2020, 2 p.m.