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Change the world

Event location: Bird Street Gallery, Nelson Mandela University

Event date and time: 08/07/2021 00:00:00

The Department of Visual Art in the School of Visual and Performing Arts invites you to view

Leaving Home

a virtual exhibition by Mary Duker

The afterlife of domesticity

Spectral fragments from the ruins of abandoned homes

An assemblage

View the Virtual Opening Event below

Bird Street Gallery

Bird Street Campus

Nelson Mandela University

Launched online from 8 July as part of the vFringe programme of the National Arts Festival 2021


Artist’s statement

This exhibition, which is structured as a series of visual chapters, is the product of a long period of practice based research. It focuses on the exploration of abandoned homes on two sites, one rural and one urban, in the Eastern Cape. The images and videos and installations of the spectral fragments and found objects that the homemakers left behind them have been installed in a shifting and fluid assemblage that relates to the spaces in the Nelson Mandela University’s Bird Street Gallery. The works can be read as the material evidence of the research process, and as an autoethnographic creative response to the wordless stories that both the abandoned sites and the objects narrate and demand attention to.

For me the research process leading up to the exhibition provided a way to think about the complexities of what home means; home as a dream, as an ever illusive imaginary; as a site of [in]security, of [un]homeliness, of fear, of desire, of contentment. It was a way to reflect on what it means for women to have to leave the refuge of home, to abandon its four walls (whether willingly or unwillingly). Finally, it was a way to think visually about the nuanced, and oftentimes violent, gendered power relations of domesticity, and the women whose lives are impacted on by it.

If you read the signs, if you listen with your eyes and senses, ruined homesteads tell a multiplicity of stories, stories of quiet violence, of aspirations and expectations, of entrapment; stories that conjure up the spectres of racism and patriarchy, of complicity in the wicked histories of the Eastern Cape; revelations of the desires that women are (still) raised to aspire to – the desire to create the ‘perfect home’, to be the perfect housewife, …to bleach and polish and clean away dirt, to fear dirt, to create a home that is permanent, that is filled with impressive possessions, that is a safe haven, a fixity, that is the ‘perfect place’.

The creative arts provide a powerful means to express the gendered experience of being in the home. In her poetry Emily Dickenson asks what it means to be homeless at home (my emphasis). Virginia Woolf muses “I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in”. Search on online lyrics sites and you will find thousands of references to home – you will find ambivalence - phrase like ‘there is no place like home’ and ‘home sweet home,’ lyrics that speak of nostalgia, homesickness, along with those that speak their truths about the gender based violence and the tension and trauma, about the world behind closed doors, behind frosted glass windows…

If you so choose, the abandoned home can be read, not just as an empty space, not just as crumbling walls, not just as a place you drive past unseeing, but rather as an entanglement, as a site, as an archive, and as a highly complex text. As a text, read in relation to written texts, it is as compelling politically as it is philosophically - it is the past and the future in the present. (Freud, 1989, 2003; Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 1987; Rose, 1993, 2012; Cresswell 2015; Raud 2016; Janz 2017). As an archive it is both spectral (Derrida, 1994) and material (Braidotti, 2002, 2012; Van der Tuin, 2012, 2017). As a site it is a place of quiet violence where, with time, as the roof burns, as the doors creak open and glass shatters, the inside spills into the outside and the outside seeps into the inside, the boundaries become permeable (Haraway 2000; Borges, 1964) and light is shone into the darkened rooms.

So this exhibition is about being at home but not at home, about the unhomely that underlies the homely and that reveals itself in the abandoned spaces. It about the spectres and the haunting and the thoughts that spending time in the ruins conjures up, and it is about leaving home and what it means. For me the abandoned home represents a kind of afterlife of domesticity. This is a place of melancholy, but for me it has also been the site of an unfolding, where (in the words of Deleuze and Guattari) the [artist] explorer can become other, can become nomad, can see the world with new eyes, and re-find her creative voice, and express “a becoming of thought [that] cries out” (Deleuze, 1995). Where the woman can become that which Virginia Woolf describes in A Room of One’s Own (2018), as “a vessel in which all sorts of spirits and forces are coursing and flashing perpetually. ”

The works may make no sense at all to someone who has not spent time alone in sites of ruination. At the worst the images might be dismissed as what has Dillon (1994) terms ruin-lust, or (worse) what Steinmetz

(2008) refers to as white ruingazing. At best the audience may construct its own meanings, draw on its own memories, and make new sense of that which it passes by in the everyday, without seeing.





Eastern Cape born Mary Duker has recently returned to full time visual arts practice, after many years during which  she juggled art making with studio teaching and lecturing at Nelson Mandela University, and with various management and administrative roles at department, school and faculty level.  Her main interest lies in the exploration of autoethnographic entanglements and the complex and uneasy relationships between place, practice, history, and theory. She writes (albeit stiltedly), from a materialist feminist standpoint, and she makes (with ever increasing enthusiasm). Currently she is happily preoccupied with making, using a range of media including photography, video, and assemblages of excavated objects, in response to her ongoing and obsessive exploration in and around  the ruins of abandoned homes.