By Sarah Rose de Villiers
Ten million graphite soldiers line up on the page. Grey scaffolding is erected across empty space. The clutch pencil traces a tightrope, meticulous and measured, and the tamed imagination balances on the line.
And for her next act, the artist steps out of the arena and watches Chance breathe yellow pools and black puddles onto the page. The grey soldiers are washed over by a flood of bitter yellow and dark spots float through the scene. This is Vertigo.
Lindi Lombard’s Masters exhibition, Vertigo, opened last Friday at the Albany History Museum and it was a night worth remembering. The foyer was a space of laughter and wine, and upstairs Lombard’s works held the attention of an excited crowd. People clustered in gallery halls and considered reflections of skyscrapers in the floor. The light boxes that line the wall frame the affair between control and chance. Each artwork is ambiguously architectural, and meaning is constructed on many levels.
At its foundations, Lombard’s style is the product of her experiences of personal, social and physical constructions. Artist Tanya Katherine Poole, who is also Lombard’s primary supervisor, explained the influences behind Lombard’s concept of Vertigo in the exhibition’s opening speech.
“Lindi was five years old when South Africa had the first democratic elections, and one can perhaps say that the social construct of apartheid officially ended then. She was 12 years old when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon unfolded in front of us on the TV. Between the positivity of this first event and the negativity of the second, both of which completely shifted world history, Lindi played in the garden and visited her dad’s building sites”.
The influences of these experiences are evident throughout the exhibition. Lombard’s concept and style is clearly shaped by her understanding that “architecture is impermanent and unfixed; that what can be put together, can be taken apart”. She also demonstrates her knowledge of architectural practices and plans in her chosen mediums and measurements. In the passage of the Standard Bank gallery, each canvas is the exact size of a building plan; patterned with designs and dimensions that hover in perfect proportions over a haze of paint. In the main gallery, one wall is dominated by a 3 x 4 m painting that is the size of a facade of a small house. The opposite wall is lined with a series of brick-sized frames. From choice of paper to exact proportions, the entire display is homage to the art of architecture. A moment must be taken to appreciate the significance of proportions in Lombard’s art, particularly because Vertigo explores the relationship between natural and man-made architecture. As well as referencing standard architectural dimensions, the exhibition refers to measurements of the human body. In the opening speech, Poole went to lengths to explain why “the buildings that we build are in relation to our bodies and the spaces we inhabit are circumscribed by our proportions to our bodies”.
“An inch, by measurement of the old days, was the length of the king’s thumb joint,” explained Poole, “A yard was the distance between King Henry’s nose and his middle finger when it was outstretched. Land was parceled out to prospective farmer’s in the amount of land that a man can walk around in a day – provided that he returns to a starting point before sunset.”
This longstanding relationship between basic measurements and the human body both underscores the entire exhibition and motivates Poole’s claim that “it’s not a great leap of the imagination required to see the analogy between the building and the self”.
But how does Lombard do it? How does she create something that draws on her understanding of architecture, captures the perfection of natural proportions and questions the space of the self? How can she control chance?
In the first stage of creation, Lombard clings to control and dresses the white page in perfect patterns. She maps grids and nets and tables and penciled cages. And then her control waves a white flag – she surrenders to the Laws of Chance.
Lombard sets her art free by using small drops of liquid to stain the page and dilute the hard structure of the drawings. Once the pages are mounted in light boxes that are the size of bricks, the result is the opposite of what architecture is valued for – it is by no means solid. Instead, it is clear that chance has painted the pages with yellow shadows and shades of stains. The line drawings swim in transparent patches of paper. It is accidental architecture. It is Vertigo. But can the concept be taken to greater heights? Will Lombard’s drawings take on new dimensions and can she build beyond the painted canvas? She promises that it will.