Disquieting domesticities, vestiges of violence (or, the ghost in the house) is the second in a series of installations in which Prof Leora Farber engages intensively with biomaterials, specifically bacteria, as an art-making medium. Known as ‘bioart’, this medium engages critically with bioscientific research – where ‘bioartists’ mix artistic and scientific processes, using live tissues, bacteria, living organisms and life processes as media.
In Disquieting domesticities, vestiges of violence (or, the ghost in the house), 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 Glucanacetobacter xylinus bacteria 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.
The impressions created by this biofilm reference various design styles of domestic objects – 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 have become domestic ‘classics’ in many post-settler colonies. The impressions thus resonate as spectral traces of colonial and apartheid legacies that haunt domestic interiors and broader individual and collective imaginations in post-colonial South Africa. They carry hauntological resonances of British and Dutch Imperialism and colonialism – the very mechanisms that drove the enculturation of capital. If read against this historical backdrop of dispossession, exploitation, displacement and precarity, Farber’s impressions may recall uncanny spectres of disquietude; vestiges of violence that continue to inhabit domestic spaces.
Throughout the installation, these impressions hover in a liminal space of constant flux and becoming. Slipping in-between visibility and invisibility, materiality and immateriality, human and non-human, actuality and imagination, being and non-being, presence and absence – they oscillate in a state of in-betweenness. Materially corporeal yet ethereal and spectral, the impressions inhabit varying states of atrophy and transformation, acting as affective carriers of memory, possibly evoking remembrances of familiarity, intimacy, comfort, strangeness, dis-ease, vulnerability, trauma, complicity and loss.