Simulacra: Constructing Narrative in the Studio Tableau

Documentation and commentary on the body of practical work submitted to meet the requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Art, at the University of Cape Town, 2002

Eustacia Riley MFA dissertation

The content and form of the work completed for this degree is intended as a narrative.This narrative is constructed to tell stories of my family, and of myself, in a way that openly stresses the playful, mythical, and fictional nature of such narratives in the family and in history. These narratives are not always easily recognisable, believable, or unified, and are read through an arrangement of details.

Initially, I intended my tableaux to function as ’emblematic’ portraits. In other words, I intended to describe the members of my family by distilling their essential characteristics into a descriptive arrangement of symbolic objects. Although I became aware of the limitations of symbolism, and became more interested in narrative and display, the content of my work has remained personal and descriptive, even though I have emphasised the fictional over the elegiac.

My family is not really one of collectors – my grandmother tore up and burnt many of our family photographs when my grandfather died, before she went into an old-age home. She wanted to ‘travel light’. What we have left are the stories, the anecdotes and the proverbs: an oral history, or a ·postmemory’. These inherited tales are told through the snapshots that did survive, as they are in all families who take pictures. I have retold and reconstructed my own narratives, because this is the nature of the family romance for everyone – it resides in a world of images, incidental details, and surfaces.

The concept of the simulacrum is central to the history of art – particularly art in the European mould, where imitation of the real has occupied an often contentious place in relation to the ‘real’ itself. In the postmodern world, where virtual reality is an accepted concept, it seems that the clearly unreal now occupies a central position in the world of the visual – and beyond. Each of my works is a work of art and artifice, built to exist only on display in the specially formulated world of the art gallery. It is composed of a collage of fabricated, simulated, bought and painted objects, arranged against a descriptive backdrop, lit, photographed and finally digitally printed on canvas as an image: a simulacrum of the ‘real’.

This dissertation is an attempt to locate my practical work within a tradition of artifice, and of the simulacrum in art and display. Apart from making reference to the vocabulary of these languages or models of display by borrowing elements like backdrops and props, my work also depends on a conceptual link with these forms of display. A public display of narrative, no matter how clearly artificial, implies legitimacy and authority. In other words, displays represent ideology and the romances of culture and nature, as well as public and personal history. Thus a narrative display seems a perfect vehicle for constructing, and hence undermining, a similar romantic fiction of the familial.


The Digital Bleek and Lloyd


“This digital publication is part of a Llarec project to digitise, research and publish the Bleek and Lloyd Archive. The Digital Bleek and Lloyd includes scans of every page of the 110 Lucy Lloyd |xam notebooks, 17 Lloyd (mostly) !kun notebooks and 28 Wilhelm Bleek |xam notebooks. It also includes Jemima Bleek’s solitary Korana and !kun notebook and four Lloyd Korana notebooks in the Maingard collection of the Library at the University of South Africa, as well as Dorothea Bleek’s 32 notebooks. All the drawings and watercolours made by |han≠kass’o, Dia!kwain, Tamme, |uma, !nanni and Da are also in the digital collection. The digital archive !includes a 280 000-word searchable index, cross-referenced and including !notes and summaries for each of the stories listed. Notes in italics are !direct quotes from the reports of Bleek and Lloyd in which they detailed !the progress of their research.”

Project team: Pippa Skotnes (director), Eustacia Riley, Thomas Cartwright, Cara van der Westhuizen and Fazlin van der Schyff.

PhD title: “From Matieland to Mother City: Landscape, Identity and Place in Feature Films Set in the Cape Province, 1947-1989.”

E Riley Thesis March 2013


This thesis analyses the representation of landscape, place and identity in films set in the Cape between 1947 and 1989. These films are products of a “white”, largely state-subsidised film industry, although they include a small number of independent, “alternative” films. A critical reading of these cinematic “apartheid landscapes” provides evidence of the historical context, discourses and values informing their production, as well as the construction and transformation of place and identity in apartheid South Africa.

The Cape is an important symbolic landscape, historically associated with the origins of Afrikanerdom and the white South African nation. In film, Cape landscapes (urban and rural) are represented as either picturesque and pastoral or dystopian and anti-pastoral. Over the period discussed, a shift occurs from the former – idealised landscapes, appearing in largely state-subsidised, “apolitical”, escapist films – to the latter: social-realist landscapes, documenting repression, poverty and racial inequality, appearing in more critical, usually independent films that were influenced by the global anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 80s. By analysing film landscapes from the whole period, this thesis demonstrates how the representation of the Cape changed over time, mirroring national social, political and ideological changes. These include changes in the representation of Afrikaner nationalism, Afrikaner identity, the “Cape coloured” and the Cape as place.


Stills taken from thriller “Table Bay” filmed in Cape Town of the 1960s.

This thesis is the first in-depth study of the visual representation of the Cape on film, analysing it in the frameworks of film and landscape studies, film and history, and the aesthetic history of the region. This cross-disciplinary perspective demonstrates the links between popular film and state ideology. It also reveals how cinematic landscape conveys information about ordinary people in apartheid South Africa: their tastes, attitudes, and senses of identity and place.