The Girl who Loved Insects

Lithops Dialogues in Diaspora

I realise insects have held a strong, if shifting, narrative all the way through my life. As a child I loved all forms of animal life. I had a rabbit as a best friend. I felt deeply hurt in incensed when I witnessed my brother burning ants with a focussed ray of sunlight through a magnifying glass and saw my mother casually crush snails underfoot because they were eating her plants. Teenager-hood shifted that empathy. I became ‘fearful’ of insects not out of a deeply held terror but more out of an adopted gendered response. I thought it appropriately feminine to yell for a family member to come and kill the insect I encountered in my suburban setting (now I was the killer). I am pleased to say, my family never took my urgent requests seriously, even to the point of laughing at me.

Choosing to study fine arts after leaving school, my degree show was all about the relationship between humans, insects and the city and I created hybrid, monster insect-city, insect-human fusions. I chose this subject matter partly because the particular cockroaches in my city centre existence were truly terrifyingly large, odious and suitably apocalyptic symbols. Those were dark days in the 80s. In depicting and sculpting cockroaches, I was partly trying to find a way to come to terms with living with them and also attempting to loose my fear of insects I had developed. The endeavour was partially successful, I love all insects except city cockroaches.

Hunt my Tongue

Intense focus on insects passed out of my life until seven years ago, when I found myself living a rural life engaged in an intense series of mythological, archetypal, photographic, naked self-portraits. I was unable to work during the cold winter months and developed a keen interest in the flowers of the fynbos growing all around me. I photographed every single species of fynbos flower that emerged painting with light in the dark of night, the same technique I was using for the self-portraits.

I became interested not only in the fresh flower in bloom but also how its form changed in the process of dessication and death. I noticed when the flower was dying, it was the most fertile time for the plant as the seeds are growing in the expanding ovaries. As my knowledge of flowers deepened, so did my powers of observation. I became aware of the close relationship between plants and insects and I began to image insects. Because my photographic process requires long exposures and working in the dark with a moveable light source, it necessitated the insect be still for many minutes at a time. An impossibility for any living creature. Death, a necessity for my technique, is also a theme extending through all of my work.

Mysterium Fascinans

Ever since I re-named myself Kali, at age 30 while living in Berlin, after the Indian Goddess of creation and destruction. Death, decay, waste and the darker more hidden aspects of life became threads weaving through all my creativity. At the age of 39, I witnessed the death of my mother due to cancer. I experienced that close to imperceptible moment when she just never took another breath. A moment so quiet, yet a moment that changed everything. (Before the undertakers arrived, I redressed her cold stiff rigor mortis body.)

I am interested in the impact death has on physical form. The death pose providing hints as to the final moments of life, whether they were traumatic, defensive, unexpected or peaceful. My real interest lies in bringing some life back into the inert form in a way that is honouring of the existence that particular being led. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, identified creativity as “the God-power in this world”. Finding ways to re-animate the dead through photographs can provide some hubristic power although I definitely put myself in the category of a fumbling demigod.

I hold all of life as sacred and never kill any form of life in my creative endeavours. They are all finds, gifts from friends, or in the case of larger animals, birds and snakes, tragic victims of roadkill. Roadkill is a sign of constant human encroachment on wild territory and spaces so there is less and less habitat for wild animals to survive. It is with such mixed feelings that I receive any animal killed on the road and it becomes an imperative for me to pay tribute to their lives. I do so through photography, re-animation into perpetual motion films and an alternative form of taxidermy that doesn’t involve any cutting.

Call of the Void

Providing a setting for my re-animated life forms, is where my work enters the theatrical. In this part of the creative process, I become the director of a play, staging a scene by placing the various “actors” (insects, plants, animals) in relationship with one another. Relationships that are more revealing of my own state of mind than any realistic reflection of what takes place in nature. The backdrop to my photographic theatre is our greater home, a view out into the universe, courtesy of the high resolution, Hubble Telescope, public domain astronomy photographs.

With more and more sophisticated technology, we are able to look deeper and deeper into matter and at the same time deeper and deeper into outer space. I find these opposing viewpoints we are able to expand into completely fascinating. In some small measure, it parallels my own bionic vision. I have one eye that focusses near with the other focussing in the distance. I had my eyesight medically restored from severe cataracts I developed in my mid forties. It was both comforting and frightening living in a misty, blurry world and my extreme attention to detail in all my photographs is testament to my continuing delight with my now sharp vision.

Ultimately I feel my work speaks to interconnectedness of all of life. the incredible balance and mutual interdependence of everything. I see a proliferating metamorphosing oneness that throws up infinite different reflections of itself. At the same there is a delicate balance between eveything which can be easily shifted. Humans are presently seriously upsetting this balance in their lifestyle choices which strip, poison and decimate natural resources in constant expansion and consumption. I see myself as a visual advocate on behalf of wild animals, plants and insects who are not able to communicate directly by themselves and so I hope that my images in some way touch people to appreciate the incredible beauty of fynbos flora, to find the smaller six or eight legged creatures fascinating, to see that wild animals have as much right to survival as we do as humans. In fact the mass extinction of other species will ultimately mean our own extinction as well.

Probing Fissures in Time and Reason


The Girl who Loved Insects

Escaping the city and Dark Light


I escaped city living through a temporary house swop, a friend who had built her dream home away 3 hours outside of cape town needed to return to the city for work and medical treatment, I wanted out of city life. It was a wonderfully mutually beneficial arrangement that lasted for two and a half years before we managed to extricate ourselves from each other’s houses. It enabled me to without major financial commitment establish a life away from a city dependence.

I have not looked back and seven years later, I still live a rural life. My reason for leaving the city were many but the driving force was that I was changing careers from a documentary filmmaker back to my first love, art. I studied fine art formally at university but found that other interests and adventures pulled me in directions I had never anticipated. Studying art is both a blessing and a curse. It enables you to situate yourself within an art history context expanding your visual and cultural references and for this I am grateful. But it also stifles spontaneity and for me it severed my trust with my instinctual creativity because, so I was taught, there was a “”right and wrong” way of going about things according to lecturers biases. It took me five years of an chaotic, anarchist, experimental life in Berlin to undo my formal art education. And by that time I was more interested in filmmaking.

Filmmaking led to photography and that was a big reason why I left the city. I began an intense series of transformative self portraits using a photographic technique called “light painting”. The technique enabled me to transcend the solid flesh of my body and capture elemental energy forms. In all the portraits I am completely naked. Clothing felt too restrictive and identifying. I became immersed in discovering ancient, inner, mythological archetypes which were re-interpreted through my 21st century perspective. In order to access these much deeper layers, I needed intense focus, a lot of wild space, and quiet, exploration I found impossible in the pressure, noise and congestion of the city.

The mythological self portrait series I termed ‘Dark Light’ for I felt I was making the unknown visible, through (my own) embodied form in a way that could be captured on camera. It was immensely liberating as I felt I was finally freeing myself from a voyeuristic male gaze I had inadvertently internalised my whole life and was. It turned out to be a full time three year project, discovering and presenting myself through my own eyes.

During this time, I was taking long walks through exquisite fynbos which I was fortunate enough to be living in the midst of. It felt very organic that I transferred the same light painting technique and intense vision into exploring flowers. In fact one Dark Light sub series is the mergence of my female form with various proteas. So began my fascination with flowers, plants, expanding to insects and animals.

Escaping the city and Dark Light


Aisha Salem such a profound woman. I listened to her talk again on Buddha at the Gas Pump with Rick Archer last night and I managed to reach a new level of understanding of what she is pointing to. She can sound like a madwoman if one has not attempted to reach the depths of exploration of where she goes. Last night she made so much sense to me.

Prior to god is the void

the void is beyond  self realisation

passing into the darkness

meeting with nothing

the revelation of the primordial


doesn’t leave an experiencer

nothing not nothingness

disappearing beyond existence

letting go beyond existence and life will (hopefully) reappear again

The void is the blackness between the cells – the black light in the body


“Burn god in the backyard”, she rallied

She is so radical – I love the depths to which she uncompromisingly goes and then reports back from these almost unknowable, unfathomable places in her direct way.

She only deals with students who are 100 percent committed to allowing her to annihilate them.

Not sure if i am ready

I still cling onto the creative process – it holds so much depth and fascination for me – it might be a slower path than radical head cutting by Aisha – but its the path for me and right now I feel at the peak of my creative powers, its just all pouring out and everything I have ever wanted to express is flowing out freely and easily, can’t stop now…

My realisation last night was that if I totally surrender – there is no need for accidents. Accidents are a way for totality to burst in through conscious control. Take away the conscious control and “accidents” happen all the time in a continuous flow. Creativity then becomes effortless as there is nothing to hold onto, only a letting go…

Aisha, bless her profound soul, talked about Chinnamasta – a Hindu goddess very few people know about. She is my favourite. Chinnamasta goes beyond Kali. Kali cuts other people’s heads off (the head symbolising ego) but Chinnamasta cuts off her own head.

Here is my version of Chinnamasta from a series I created called DarkLight.



Grande Provence Exhibition

A friend studying psychology asked me to write ten sentences in diary form for her to do a text analysis on.

I found that I really enjoyed writing the text, I wrote about my creative process. I am in the thick middle of an intense creative process preparing for a solo show that has to fill an enormous wonderful space of 22m long by 8m wide at Grande Provence.

That bit of writing made me think, why not write further about your creative process, in fact why not write a daily ten sentences. And so this thread on my blog was begun, by serendipity at first and now continuing by choice.

Modern technology is just incredibly fabulous in the instant way it allows one to do this and have the possible whole world as an audience. Before I would have felt nervous about exposing myself. These days in my fifties, my attitude is what do I have to loose? I might bore a few people, but i will have a wonderful record of creative exploration as it was taking day by day.

My friend analysed my text Transcend-dent and this is the text analysis result

I have done a content analysis of your text. The results of KALI’S WORLD are: is…1. On an Events level, prominent events are of an INTRAPERSONAL nature, ie matters concerning you the individual and your thoughts and feelings; 2 on a Regulation Processing Level, you regulate intrapersonal matters with PHILOSOPHICAL regulation, ie abstract ideas the truth of which can not be fully determined; and 3 your Mind Process level is COGNITIVE, Ie you mind process is through perception and thought predominantly. So basically it means in your world according to that text, events are intrapersonal and processed through philosophical perceptions and thoughts.
Key terms are: monstrous (6), creating/ivity (3),my work (2), demon/ic (2), transcendent(2),  Nick Cave, inner space,films, consciousness,  aberrant,deviant, hideous, distasteful,civilization,politicians, political systems, inequality, world,relationship,art,genetic manipulation,climate,storms, droughts,hurricanes, floods empathy,suffering,beauty, frog, shark,slights, people, satisfaction,Frankenstein’s, nuclear radiation, living tissue,hideous images, internet, mind,unconscious, depth, feeling, superficiality, dent.
Or put another way, you regulate your intrapersonal events by abstract ideas, the truth of which can’t be proven, and you do this cognitively through perception and thought.
I always did enjoy philosophy and do treat my creativity as a tangible, visible philosophical exploration. But I am through with belief or expounding heady, abstract thoughts. Buddhism makes a lot of sense to me in the way it asks you to test its premises and teachings through your own sensate experience.
Grande Provence Exhibition