Annelize Mulder / The Spare Room 2015 / Cardboard and wood / 235cm x 205cm x 180cm
Words by Miranda Hine
The coming from and the moving towards has left me stranded in the middle. I am forever a composition of two cultures, merged into a single entity that will take a lifetime to unravel.
When developing the theme of displacement for In Residence’s first exhibition, we were naturally drawn to the work of Annelize Mulder. Mulder recently graduated from the Queensland College of Art (QCA), majoring in sculpture with a focus on installation, digital and sound works. For Mulder, the decision to begin art school after having a child and a career was about finding a way to make sense of – and communicate – the recent upheaval in her life.
In 2007, Mulder relocated with her husband, young daughter and mother from South Africa, to escape its increasing instability and violence. She was immediately met with the difficulties of reestablishing her identity in the unfamiliar surrounds. Brisbane was similar but not quite the same, and certainly not yet home. Little aspects of her everyday life and culture no longer existed.
The maturity of emotional communication within Mulder’s art could be attributed to her earnest desire to understand her own place in the world. As much as her work functions to re-establish her own identity, however, it also communicates the difficulties of cultural and geographical displacement for audiences of all backgrounds. The success with which Mulder elicits empathy from her audience, through her highly refined aesthetic and emotional sensibilities, is exceptional.
Mulder often uses visual, aural and material references to the domestic environment as a reminder of belonging, the familiar, and emotional safety. Her 2015 work 15 Rooms was a series of tiny cardboard dioramas, painstakingly created to resemble a room in her grandparents’ home in South Africa. Memory was Mulder’s only source for reconstructing the familiar room, but the harder she tried to remember it, the further the details slipped from her grasp. As the series progressed, the rooms became overrun with piles of tiny cardboard chairs, cracks in the floor and spheres exploding from the cupboards. It had become an abstracted memory she could not reattain.
The follow up to this project was The Spare Room (2015), for which Mulder recreated the same room, but almost life size. Constructed from her family’s own packing boxes – still boasting scrawled Afrikaans labels for ‘fragile’ or ‘cutlery’ – the bedroom was vaguely familiar to every viewer, yet the not-quite-right proportions and flimsy construction materials made it unfamiliar. The result was a symbolic but sophisticated embodiment of the fear of losing one’s memories, culture, identity, and sense of home.
Of her recurring references to the domestic, Mulder says that ‘creating monuments of personal spaces is a form of preserving the past while making sense of the future.’ Besides the home, Mulder has also used references to food, language and sounds as signifiers of cultural identity. Her video Pap (2014) shows a staple South African food being dropped repetitively on the floor. Accompanied by an unsettling screeching, the video is played in reverse so the porridge-like substance shoots back up towards the camera. The success of many of Mulder’s works, Pap included, is the unexpected and unfamiliar treatment of mundane symbols of cultural identity. Other symbolic mediums Mulder has manipulated in her work include family photographs, furniture, and jewellery.
Despite the highly personal themes of Mulder’s work, she has a vivid awareness of the contemporary art world. A major theoretical influence of her work is Nikos Papastagiades’ Spatial Aesthetics, and she draws upon the work of artists like Sebastian di Mauro and Nam June Paik, all of whom deal with cultural dislocation and symbols of belonging. Highly aware of global experiences beyond her own, Mulder has an interest in exploring diverse cultural experiences around the world. In this vein, she has collaborated with Indonesian artist Jumaadi for the exhibition Walking Shadows (2015), and with Zimbabwean artist Cielle Van Vuuren for Four Walls (2015). Both projects explored the similarities in experiences of people from different backgrounds, in relation to belonging and lost cultural identity.
For Shift 1 in 2016, Mulder will make a site-specific sculptural piece, which may feature elements of sound and video. The domestic setting of the show – the underneath of a residential Queenslander – will provide Mulder with an unprecedented opportunity to integrate the themes of her work with its setting.
Consistently, Annelize Mulder’s work is impactful and accessible. Where there could be danger of emotional self-indulgence, there is only an earnest desire to communicate with her audience. The tension between loss and gain creates a sensible nostalgia. It is clear that Mulder yearns for the facets of her identity she has left behind, yet she is always aware that the loss has facilitated a better future. It is anticipated that Mulder will add a certain poetic element to Shift 1, and will profoundly contribute to the audience experience of the show.
For more information on Mulder’s work, visit: http://annelizemulder.com/