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    Talya Lubinsky, If we burn, there is ash, Installationsansicht Wits Anthropology Museum, Johannesburg, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist.


Talya Lubinsky 2019/20

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About Talya

Talya Lubinsky’s research based practice employs elemental materials to function as open signifiers for poetic meaning, that give form to specific contexts and histories. In her exhibition, If we burn, there is ash, Johannesburg, 2016, ash and cement are used as materials to investigate the potential aftermaths of fire and burning in relation to colonial collections of material culture. In Floating Bodies, Bayreuth, 2017, an anecdote from a family archive mobilises the use of sandbags as a metaphor for the human imperative to create barriers against the natural power of a flood, which is imagined here as a force of history.

Her current project considers the cemetery as a site in which to explore themes of decay and decomposition, in a landscape that is dedicated to memorialisation and memory.

Talya is an artist from Johannesburg. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, based at the Centre for Humanities Research.

Exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin: 17.1. - 9.2.2020, Opening: 16.1.2020.


Marble Dust is both solid and ephemeral, as are our bones: Lubinsky's work contemplates the material relationship between permanence and disintegration embodied in memorial sites and the landscapes of cemeteries. It is at these places where the ostensibly permanent comes into contact with the ephemerality of the disintegrating body. From this inherent tension the artist poses questions about loss and return, absence and presence.

Research on cemeteries in South Africa led Lubinsky to a cemetery in the Mamelodi township, North of Pretoria. This cemetery is the place of burial of black political prisoners hanged by the Apartheid state in the 1960s. They were buried as paupers, with no gravestones. From 2016 – 2019, the human remains of the murdered activists have been exhumed and returned to the families of the deceased. Almost 60 years after their burial, the bones have disintegrated to the point that they have become dust, indistinguishable particles dispersed within the earth. In some cases, it is piles of earth, dug up from the gravesites that are placed in coffins and returned to the families. In the cemetery offices, pages of old ledger books containing grave numbers, names and dates of burials are strewn across the floor and piled in boxes. The paper is disintegrating and torn.

For her exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Lubinsky has traced the contours of these decomposing pages and carved them out of marble slabs that she arranges in the exhibition space. The fragility of the paper archives is inverted when it is rendered in marble, a stone that is commonly used for headstones. Marble is also a substance made from the calcium of bones and shells of sea creatures, compacted by heat and geological time. Here, taking seriously the inherent material qualities of commemorative forms becomes a productive tool for contemplating their meaning.

For Lubinsky, the process of digging up and returning something that has almost fully disintegrated is a powerful symbol for that which has been lost: the impossibilities of reconstitution and restitution on the one hand, and the profundity of the gesture of return as recognition of injustice on the other.

Talya Lubinsky, born in 1988, is an artist from Johannesburg, South Africa. While on residency in Berlin, which she has been since April 2019, Lubinsky encountered a heap of broken gravestones at the St. Jacobi Cemetery in Neukölln. They had recently been dug up in order to create a community garden. This became an instructive site in the development of her upcoming exhibition.

Lubinsky received an MFA with distinction from Wits University, Johannesburg and is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, based at the Centre for Humanities Research. Solo exhibitions include Floating Bodies, Iwalewahaus, Bayreuth, Germany (2017), If we burn, there is ash, Wits Anthropology Museum, Johannesburg, and Between Mess and Order, The Point of Order, Johannesburg (2015). Selected group exhibitions include Nesting Narratives, GoetheonMain, Johannesburg (2014) and Out of Thin Air, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town (2012). She is currently a KfW Stiftung grant holder in the International Studio Programme at Künstlerhaus Bethanien.  www.talyalubinsky.com


Other KfW Stiftung grant holders taking part in the International Studio Programme for the period 2020/ 2021 include Gladys Kalichini (Zambia), Hamlet Lavastida (Cuba) and Daniel Lie (Brazil).


Video by Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue (english).