Bell-Roberts Art Gallery in Cape Town presents Sue Pam -Grant: Simplicity Miss Petite Size 8mp from March 16 to April 2, 2005.
"Sue Pam-Grant was rummaging through boxes in a charity thrift store when she came across some old dressmaking patterns from the 50s. Opening the dusty packet and unfolding the fragile tissue paper, she read the instructions. She had no intention of making up the pattern, but she was transported by the words – in English, French and Spanish – etched in blue ink on the caramel-coloured tissue paper. She was intrigued by the text which served as a kind of code, filled with mystique, and understood only by those initiated into this world – and connecting her to things that are extinct," writes Andrea Vinassa.
Andrea Vinassa continues, "This became the springboard for a new creative direction for the artist, who has distinguished herself as an actress, playwright, scriptwriter and director in theatre and television.
"South Africans know and love her for her comedic turns as the ditsy lead character in her 1989 play Curl Up And Dye, which won several local and international awards. And no-one can forget her outrageous portrayal of a suburban housewife in the SABC sitcom Suburban Bliss.
"Her career has taken a more introspective turn with a photographic exhibition entitled Simplicity Miss Petite Size 8mp. 'I am obsessed with domestic detail,' says Pam-Grant. 'I love space and objects in space that reflect who I am. I am intrigued by how space changes.'
"Where in her theatre career her materials were script, lighting and actors, she now uses a Sony Cyber-Shot digital camera to capture the minutiae of her life. Composite images are created manually through a “low-tech” process of photography, printing, layering and re-photographing.
Original digital “snap shots” are printed onto small pieces of sewing pattern tissue using an Epson desktop printer, then layered over pattern pieces, wallpaper and fabrics, and re-photographed. These final images are enlarged (or “amplified”) and printed onto artist’s canvas.
"At first Pam-Grant thought she was creating an unusual book of décor photography as she pointed her camera at seemingly mundane objects in her house; an old handbag that belonged to her mother, a red and white tea towel, a stained and rusted hand basin, a bathing suit, washing on a line, an enamel jug, a Chinese dress, a series of flower pots and a karate outfit. But as she started to work with the images, they morphed into a visual essay about the nature of mortality and celebrating the ordinary moments that, when strung together, make up a lifetime.
"A magpie and collector of objects with character, Pam-Grant is moved by the quality of light falling on a piece of clothing on a washing line or the folds of a dress worn by her daughter, Lula. 'If it moves me, I want to share it. I see the detail and give it focus because people don’t see. The works are a reflection of my personal interior space,' she says.
“ 'My photographs are interior portraits of ‘domestic detail’. I look for those tiny moments that are momentous and celebrate their fragility and force.
“ 'I document my present/past environment, creating an ongoing narrative, a history – a map that connects my childhood to my children.'
“ 'Our memories are embedded in an object, a piece of clothing, a texture… I peel away the layers to reveal an essence that is authentic and pure.'
“ 'I layer my images using sewing pattern tissue to capture the visceral nature of that which is fleeting.'
“ 'I cut, segment and divide a living moment to create ‘a past’, and then sew the fragments back together again to create a new present in a new format – a portrait of interiors that have been painted with a lens.'
"Not afraid to access her personal imperfections – 'the rough, worn part of myself' – Pam-Grant is drawn to photograph objects which are strongly connected to history such as a century-old basin into which a drip has gouged a deep scar.
“ 'All these images are very particular to me, but the images resonate with many people because they convey something about the essence of life.'
"The playwright, director and actress who penned Another Kettle Of Fish and Take The Floor (with husband DJ Grant), took on her most challenging role of mother in 1998 and her children Riley and Lula appear often in her works. She is acutely aware of the controversy surrounding the use of children in photography. “I am documenting my environment and they come into the frame for one glorious moment. They are never posing and I don’t use the full image. The images are rather a reincarnation of my childhood.”
"While extremely personal in nature, many of the 38 works on show provide subtle comment on gender politics and the politics of domestic relationships.
"As for the medium of expression she’s exploring so passionately, Pam-Grant says photography has given her a great deal of independence. She is merely expressing herself in a different format, drawing on creative expertise developed in the theatre.
"During the past six years Pam-Grant has moved closer to the world of the visual arts, experimenting in multi-media work at Blue Moon, an industrial theatre and communications company co-owned by her husband. “In theatre people love to box you; I love breaking down the barriers between disciplines.”
"At Blue Moon she pioneered a unique way of moving the 'still image', using 'moving screens' which were manipulated by actors. The public were introduced to these 'moving pictures' at the 2004 FNB Dance Umbrella with a piece entitled Screen Factor 8.
"Claiming to know very little about the technical aspects of photography, Pam-Grant has found that 'it captures what I’m looking for and I am at peace with what I have found.'
"Using the camera and the technique of layering and re-photographing, she sees herself as a painter who is interrogating the detail, moving in closer and closer until she reaches a place of honesty and authenticity."
Sue Pam Grant
From Simplicity Miss Petite Size 8mp
Photo of work by Nathaniel Stern