Kate arrives at a compound of women and children, Bolivian in appearance. All the women have two long, thin plaits hanging over their shoulders. Some are wearing mannish hats, but most of them leave their heads bare.
If a woman’s hair is too short to plait, Kate is told, one gets to choose a ball of hair from a colourful woven basket; many women seem to have chosen the glittering grey ones. The balls of hair look and feel real. Kate immediately feels at home in this strange new place, but also wants to leave. The foreign-looking women all feel familiar to her. Although no-one talks to her, their eyes look relaxed and friendly.
Kate feels no fear, even though she was taken early this morning from her florist shop, while busy selecting flowers for a wedding that afternoon. The basket of lilies and baby’s breath and a purple flower whose name she always forgets fell to the floor as she was pulled outside. She now worries about them; about how they will wilt and die. About the bride’s disappointment.
Mariposa lilies have erect stems and grasslike or fleshy leaves that grow from bulb-like roots.
Just before she was taken, Kate had taken a few bites from the various tartlets the caterer had made for the wedding, and now feels nauseous. The women milling around her are separated from their children – it seems the compound operates as a large collective womb, with the many children the responsibility of everybody.
In the distance, Kate can see a forest, and a deep gully. Purple shadows swoop into its many crevasses. The sight of this other world, beyond the boundary of the compound, makes her afraid.
Yet Kate decides to leave, suddenly anxious to find out if she is a prisoner, or not. She starts to walk towards the gates, then turns around to fetch a ball of hair from the basket – she chooses a salt-and-pepper nest that resembles her own shoulder-length hair. The gate is locked, with spikes on top.
An elderly man approaches her and tells her that it is possible to leave, but that she must give him the reason for her decision.
Kate tells him that her daughter will miss her if she’s not home by nightfall. He nods and opens the gate. It is dark, and the walk is arduous, he warns. She assures him that she feels no fear, and that she is strong.
Palestinian elderly man watches the Israeli soldiers demolishing houses in Alezaryieh village near Jerusalem January 30, 2007. (MaanImages/Fadi Tanas)
Kate starts walking towards the forest, and the mountain range that lies like a sleeping dragon among the giant trees. One path is too dark for her to enter, another is paved with glass shards. The mountain turns out to be frozen lava; sometimes smooth and warm, sometimes cold and razor-sharp. Her feet are bleeding by the time she finally finds the road that seems to lead to the very top of the mountain where she aims to rest, and to find out where she is.
Five Sacred Mountains Huangshan, China
Kate is hurrying along the main road in Kalk Bay, near the harbour, holding her daughter’s hand. A long plait slaps against her back. The weather is wild, with waves splashing onto the pavement. Someone next to them points to the distant horizon and says, “Look, over there …something big is coming!”
The dark wall that seems to rise through the haze of fog has the appearance of rock, not water.
Kate scoops up her child and starts to run home as fast as she can. Home is high on a mountain, and she knows that they will be safe there.
The next morning they leave nervously through their garden gate and walk back to the main road, expecting to see scenes of destruction and devastation.
The Sea of Ice by Caspar David Friederich
“Friederich was a master landscape painter in the first quarter of the 1800s. His works serve as still, calm interpretations of the landscape. This work in particular carries an overwhelming sense of (Kantian) disinterestedness as it traverses the line between something static and dynamic. It merely exists.”
They walk all the way back to the harbour, stunned by the deep silence that surrounds them. The sun is shining high in the sky.
An enormous massif has risen from the ocean during the night; a circular wall that encloses the bay completely, walling it off from the open sea.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the northeastern part of Vietnam in Quảng Ninh province. It is the country’s pride, and Vietnamese consider it the Eight Wonders of the world. Ha Long literally means descending dragons. The bay features thousands of karsts and isles.
The rock is densely embellished with carved faces, like that of Mount Rushmore, except that every citizen of their land is represented. Turquoise water laps at the broad steps that surround the massive tidal pool formed by the newly-birthed mountains. Small groups of people have gathered to gaze in wonder.
Starting Down the Slippery Slope, 1999.
This rather disturbing image of a Japanese medical doll sans uterus and babies speaks to me on several levels. And how strange is it that the newborns are depicted as sculpted busts? – ready to leave the nest to take up their place in the world, or at least a mantlepiece, while the mother lies completely gutted and without defenses next to her discarded belly and pelvis.
The girlish position of her feet also makes me sad.
Whenever I approach the end of a cycle in my work, this is how I feel.
While working, I am inside a womb of my own making. The endless layering is an attempt to never give birth – to myself? And yet, just as it is with a physical pregnancy, at some point the contractions come fast and furious and the baby is born.
The Birth, Willemien de Villiers
detail of Transparent Ovule, Willemien de Villiers
I have little over a week left to complete a series of works for an exhibition and resisting the pull of completion. It feels safe where I am now.
Soon, I will have no choice.
Time to sit still and breathe in and breathe out.