For Cape Town-based, South African fine-artist Geena Wilkinson, this powerful sensory-archive is a subject almost so obvious to explore, that it has remained largely unobserved in art - particularly through a sculptural practice. Geena’s foray into food, with a specific focus on sweets, are masterful visual feasts of the sculptural process and technique; yet the delivery, in its realism, colour and texture, render her subjects such as ‘lollipops’ and ‘love hearts’ as verifiable pop-cultural icons. As Geena explains, “the one thing that is surprisingly left out of the archives of history is food - because it is perishable - but so many of our memories are stored in the taste and smells of food. Food is just a powerful ‘in-between’ space that has existed throughout history. I started looking at food as an activity to figure out if something was missing - and food became clear as something that hadn’t been so focused on from an artistic or archival viewpoint. I also like to say I’m just a really hungry person!”
In asking Geena how food has become a focus in her practice, she says, “the very first moment for me was my obsession with Cherry Lips from Sweets From Heaven - and I thought, hmm, what if I made these into sculptures? I had the special skill of being able to go to Sweets From Heaven and knowing exactly how much a R20.00 bag of sweets would weigh.
“a lot of people connected with the pieces I started to make, and the cool part of that was how strongly peoples memories are connected to sweets or food. The works definitely play off of that and they really demonstrate how our memories are stored in objects - both perishable and non-perishable. This experience led me to returning to studying, going back to UCT to do an honours in curatorship - and I did my thesis on a Marie Biscuit.”
Then, from ‘The Placebo' series, Geena’s 1.5 metre long framed artwork of a variety of gummy sweets like marshmallow sweets, watermelons, cherries, Haribo sweets (with different colours and textures encompassed by gummy and marshmallow texture ) will be on show in the building.
On this piece, Geena says that “it was very inspired by artist Félix Gonsález-Torres and inspired by the way his works function. A lot of subject matter dealt with things that were very stigmatised at the time, and he had to find ways to circumnavigate censorship around them. I think that is a typical thing that sugar does - ‘sugarcoating’ - making these foods more palatable.” Then, there's Love Hearts - the perennial candy associated with lovers and Valentine’s Day, with Geena’s version saying ‘DREAM’ on it, alongside the ‘Big Bear Series’: giant, delicious-looking gummy bears.
I sculpt everything out of clay first, in order to create moulds. When you’re creating moulds, everything is upside down and inverted - so you can imagine it's a lot of sketches, drawings and figuring it out. With resin, the larger the sculpture - the more the resin generates heat. So you have to have a full mask with goggles and it's quite hazardous to work it. You have to cast in layers too; it's a surprisingly calculated process.”
Geena’s ability to evoke nostalgia and elicit personal associations through her works demonstrates her place as a fine-artist, having found an incredibly special focus in her work; one that holds a significance for the textural and sensory experience of being human, of being South African, of being ‘always hungry’. We can think of so many layers of hunger driving South African creativity right now. This year, Geena had a solo-exhibition with Norval at Boschendal, showcased at Turbine Art Fair in Joburg and Battersea Affordable Arts Fair in London, and will “gearing up for some new work next year - I am attempting to make something very ambitious, using things I’ve made and transforming them - but I don’t want to give too much away!” We welcome you to come and see her pieces throughout Lemkus’ Exchange Building, may it make you hungry - in so many ways.
Lastly, to aspiring creative and artists who walk throughout our building, Geena says “the most important thing about trying to be an artist is just that - it's about ‘trying’. Keep on, keeping on. I once heard an ultra-marathon runner be asked what their most difficult run was, and he said ‘the next one’. I think that’s the perfect advice - it's about aiming in a direction and then gooi.”
Geena's pieces are also available to purchase on lemkus.com