Archive: Issue No. 69, May 2003

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Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman (2000 5760)
Perforated stamp sheets, greens 100% silk twist thread
78 x 96 cm

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
Interpreting Surface Information (view of rear) 1999 5759-5760
Perforated stamp sheets, 100 colours 100% silk twist thread
53 x 65.5cm

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
Blood Relatives 1999 5759-5760
Perforated stamp sheets, red 100% silk twist thread (colour 26)
78 x 96cm

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
Pushing the Envelope, 1996
Home, 1997
Postage media

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
The incredible Chain of Events, 2002 6762
Postage stamp paper, red silk thread
120 x 73.5cm

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
Red, 2001 5762 (detail)
Postage stamp paper, oil paint
63 x 182cm

Kim Lieberman

Kim Lieberman
Pregnant Self Portrait, 2002 - 2003 5762 - 5763
Postage stamp paper, oil paint
120 x 37.5cm

Kim Lieberman
by Sean O'Toole (May, 2003)

The postal weavings of twentieth century mail art are not simply about the literal journeys travelled by paper envelopes. For the artist Kim Lieberman mail art traces pathways, a multitude of unforeseen and emotionally meaningful pathways.

"Looking at the acute nuances of different paths we take, the smallest decision can determine a different life," she has stated. "We cannot always know which decision rendered us here now, or where the multitude of different decisions we didn't make would have taken us. But somehow being conscious that there are a myriad of possibilities we could choose makes our actions seem less casual and more causal."

These observations have informed much of the artist's previous work, a body of work that now ranges from installations made with poste restante envelopes to a series of personalised stamps to silk threads woven through stamp paper grids. According to Colin Richards, a keen observer of Kim Lieberman's work, the artist's output evidences a "passion for the elemental," her pared surfaces and honest declaration of edge, scale and module hinting at a driving passion for meaning.

Working from a highly intuitive emotional base, Kim Lieberman's work is nonetheless possessed with a heightened sense of acuity. Her work is also totally devoid of any maudlin sentimentality.


"The artist's habitual stitching of squares on stamp paper with silk thread ruptures the male modernist grid."
Clive Kellner, from essay 'Blood Relatives' in artist's catalogue Blood Relatives, 2000.

"The barest of works tie together numerical and linguistic systems of promiscuous ingenuity. Everything connects. Everywhere. Across the surface of the work, across the surface of the earth, across the heart of South Africa."
Colin Richards, from essay 'Distance close up' in artist's catalogue Blood Relatives, 2000.

"One senses Kim's respect for a modernist aesthetic evinced in the organisation of figures set off against each other - the play of one silhouette against another; the visual rhythm of blocks of colour and silk threads across the surface, and the integrating feature of the patterns formed by perforated dots. Sometimes the dots function as outline, defining a form..."
Rory Doepel, from essay 'Every Interaction Interrupts the Future' in artist's catalogue of same name, 2003.


"One notes the co-existence of different types of signifiers, such as image, word and, implicitly, number, and also, the co-existence of different media - vastly different in character and 'feel': oiint, silk thread and 'stamp sheets'," remarks Rory Doepel in his essay on Kim Lieberman. It is an insightful summary; Lieberman's work encompasses far more than just postal media. Speaking of her fascination with symbols, Lieberman has said: "I try to embed rhyming numbers like 333 or 999 in the works. More frequently though I use numbers that have a meaning: I establish this meaning through Gematria, a numeric system that is a component of the Kabbalah. From this system I draw on specific numbers that have weight and meaning in a Kabbalistic context and in a personal context.

"For example, I have been aware of the number 26 as it is the date of my birth. It also has significance in the Kabbalistic world as the letters inhashem, YHVH add up to 26. This number is brought into Blood Relatives (2000 5759-5760) coincidentally. The red silk thread used is colour no. 26. I realised this in the Jewish year 5759 (=26) whilst walking down W26th Street in New York."

"I have a fascination with the consequences that follow a single action. I allow myself to dwell in the sheer wonderment of the simplicity of this notion., the reality of effect. Yet, despite this simplicity, it evades our perception. The exact unfolding consequences of an act cannot quite be traced. At most we can make crude associations between our more obvious actions - hardly realising the subtle., yet perpetual, ripple effect that is the result of every action.

"Interactions affect our movement , they take us places. Literally this can mean geographic places, but there are many kinds of pathways. Looking at the acute nuances of different paths we take, the smallest decision can determine a different life. We cannot always know which decision rendered us here now, or where the multitude of different decisions we didn't make would have taken us. But somehow, being conscious that there are a myriad of possibilities we could choose, makes our actions seem less casual and more causal. The contribution of each movement can be pivotal in each life, which in turn will ripple through all lives.

"As long as there has existed a chain of events, each of these events has been pivotal in creating our lives as they are today. We are patterned together from the past and generate patterns that lead into the future."


'Every Interaction Interrupts the Future', the artist's first solo outing at the prestigious Goodman Gallery, presents a range of new works executed in Lieberman's distinctive postal genre style. Striking maternal reds predominate throughout many of these works, apt given the birth of her firstborn recently. But where woven silk tapestries predominated in her previous solo show, in 2000, here Lieberman has opted to use blank perforated postage stamp paper as a canvass on which to paint silhouetted images. Perforation residue is also used as a material in its own right.

The result is a new body of work characterised by its restrained use of colour, with tonality and texture a key attribute. This is particularly evident in new works, such as The Incredible Chain of Events, as well as Uninterrupted Chaos and Thread Postbox (Jerusalem Postbox). As with her previous output in this genre, Lieberman overlays her own narrative images onto an officious source material. This creates a persisting and unresolved tension in her work in this genre, between the private and the public.


Kim Lieberman has participated on numerous group shows over her career, one of the more recent being 'Clean', Retha Erasmus's curatorial attempt to evoke a post-apartheid art de-saturated of context. Focussing on tiny perforation residue, the millions of throw-away dots disposed of after a sheet of stamps is printed, Lieberman's Residue presented viewers with the useless aftermath that give all stamps their authenticity and legitimacy. It is a reminder of the absent other, the seemingly meaningless detritus that allowed the artist to produce her refined silk threaded pieces, from her definitive Blood Relatives series.

Slightly different in execution, Measure was another attempt to creating a visually clean work. Here each envelope was stamped with a cancellation stamp neatly positioned in the top right hand corner of the envelope. When the artist visited the post office and asked if she could use the rubber stamp, she did so without adding the usual postage stamps or address. The conceptual gravity of this work is determined by the dynamic interplay between clean and unclean her work references. As the artist explains: "When you cross another's path, you pick up atmospheric influences. These influences are either going to move you into being more 'refined' or cleansed, or they are going to complicate your workings."


'Blood Relatives', Lieberman's show at Clive Kellner's short-lived Camouflage gallery is an important milestone in the artist's career. It allowed audiences an extended opportunity to view Lieberman's then recent work, which comprised a rather remarkable collection of silk tapestries that used perforated stamped sheets as their template. As in her current work, titling was an important element of the works. A large 78 x 96 cm silk woven rectangle, strikingly executed in a vast range of green hues, was titled

Commenting on the work, Clive Kellner spoke of the seduction of its topographical view, "of a well matured landscape with its cross hatchings of ploughed fields, dense shrubs and tall trees set against a field of digital pixels that are made up of silken green squares. On closer inspection, the threads that make up the matrix of greens take on the appearance of fibre optic cables, transferring nodes of information." It remains an alternatively optimistic/ na�ve evocation of the power of the internet.

A show of impressive depth, it is interesting to learn that the idea for these woven tapestries came to the artist while in New York, as an Ampersand Foundation fellow. A button had come off her leather jacket and she bought some silk thread from a haberdashery to sew it back on. When she finished her stitching, Lieberman put the black thread down on a sheet of blank stamp paper she was using to make collage stamp works. Weaving the thread through the perforations seemed obvious.


Lieberman's true moment of enlightenment, however, came in the sweaty, shuffling tourist pack, standing in front of a Bellini painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, writes Anthea Bristowe in an informative biographical essay (that has informed parts of this writing). "It was time, she decided, to go back home and study art. The new beginning started with Lieberman registering at Wits Technikon in Johannesburg where her lecturers were artists marc Edwards, Willem Boshoff and Alan Alborough, a triumvirate of the most potent teachers in the country."

Lieberman started her first postal work in 1996, an installation called Pushing the Envelope. The initial inspiration was to make contact with every place she had had ever slept over or had a memorable experience. Lieberman backtracked to all the places she had travelled to as a child - immigration to Israel for three years, another year spent touring North America with her parents and brothers, her South American odyssey , European trips and various places in between.

She posted about 170 letters in red and blue airmail envelopes to 28 countries. This work was exhibited on Clive Kellner's 'HitchHiker' show, later at the Marc Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet in Cape Town. Continuing the exploration, her second installation was Home, a work in which Lieberman sent a letter to every country in the world., every territory, dependency and archipelago, a total of 253 places. For all the works she mailed poste restante letters addressed to herself.

Poste restante is a system which enables travellers to collect mail from post offices wherever they may be. If not collected , the letter is returned to the sender. Lieberman knew about this system as she had used it extensively on her travels. Home gains its poignancy from the time it took various locations to return the letters marked poste restante; Lieberman's letter to Antigua and Barbuda took 694 days to get back to her , Iceland only 29 days, Gabon 565 days. A letter sent to Mogadishu in Somalia was returned in 179 days with the apology: 'No service due to civil strif' (sic).


Born in Johannesburg on July 26 1969, Kim Lieberman obtained a BTech Degree (FA) from Witwatersrand Technikon in 1997, and her MA (FA) from Witwatersrand University. She has held four solo exhibitions to date:

Solo Exhibitions:

2003 'Every Interaction Interrupts the Future', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
2000 'Blood Relatives', Camouflage Art. Culture. Politics, Johannesburg
1997 'Pushing the Envelope', The Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town
1996 'Notice Absence', The Civic Gallery, Johannesburg

Highlights from her extensive list of group exhibitions include:

2002 'Landmark' curated by Nessa Leibhammer for WSSD, MTN Building, Johannesburg
2001 'CLEAN', curated by Retha Erasmus, Millennium Gallery, Johannesburg
2001 'FNB Vita Art Award', NSA Gallery, Durban
2001 'After the Diagram', curated by Lauri Firstenberg and Douglas Cooper, White Box Gallery, New York
2001 'switch on/off', curated by Marcus Neustetter, KKNK Festival, Oudtshoorn
2000 'Translation/Seduction/Displacement', White Box Gallery, New York
2000 'After New York', Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
1999 Winsor and Newton Millennium Painting Competition, Sandton Civic Art Gallery, Johannesburg (top five finalist)
1999 'Exchange', Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
1997 'Taking Stock', Johannesburg Stock Exchange
1996/7 'Hitch-Hiker', curated by Clive Kellner, Generator Art Space, Johannesburg
1996 'Common and Uncommon Ground', curated by Steven Sack, South African Group Exhibition, Atlanta

Select reviews:

2003 Sean O'Toole, 'Kim Lieberman Interrupts the Future'
2001 Brenda Atkinson, 'Clean: An Exhibition of De-saturated Contemporary Art',
2001 Mail and Guardian August 10 - 16 2000 Mark D'Amato, 'Translation/Seduction/Displacement', African Arts, Autumn, pg. 84-87
2000 Holland Cotter, 'Translation/Seduction/Displacement', The New York Times
1997 Donald Paul, 'The epistles of Lieberman', Cape Times, September 19
1996 Hazel Friedman, 'Artist's underarm tactics', Mail and Guardian, November 15
1996 Kendell Geers, 'A seductive exhibition of aluminium, rubber and pretty little nuts and bolts', The Star Tonight, March 29
1995 Candice Breitz, 'The First Johannesburg Biennale: Work in Progress, Third Text, #31, Summer 1995

Select Catalogues:

2003 Every Interaction Interrupts the Future
2001 Clean/Grime
edited by Retha Erasmus and Sean O'Toole, Bell-Roberts Publishing
2001 FNB Vita Arts Award Catalogue
2001 KKNK 2001, Oudtshoorn Festival catalogue, exhibition 'switch on/off'
2000 Blood Relatives
2000 Translation/Seduction/Displacement, edited by Lauri Firstenberg and John Peffer, Artist Press

A 2001 FNB Vita Art Awards nominee, Kim Lieberman's work is represented in the collections of the MTN Art Institute and Gauteng Legislature. She has travelled extensively throughout Africa, Europe, both the Americas and South East Asia. Preceding the birth of her first child recently, the once peripatetic Kim Lieberman has made her home in the city of her birth.


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Wim Botha
(April 2003)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Angela Buckland
(March 2003)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Berni Searle (update)
(Jan 2003)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)