Transitional Spaces

Against the Picturesque: Christine Dixie’s Bloodspoor (1997)

John Walters and Brenda Schmahmann

De Arte 77


Alert to writings which focused on the ways in which nineteenth-century representations of landscape were bound up with imperialist agendas, Dixie would also explore how the Eastern Cape was, to the colonialist settler, a liminal space between a lost past and an alien present. Further, she would reveal how, to a colonialist imagination, the geography of the region constituted a terrible ‘otherness’ which, for the settler who was not mindful, might facilitate regression from civilisation, yet paradoxically also suggested the possibility of superseding the limits of a class identity and thus facilitating potential access to a life of prosperity not possible at ‘home’.

Enacting Gender

Through the Looking Glass: Representations of Self by South African Women Artists (2004)

Brenda Schmahmann


She re-appears …. With bandaged eyes – an allusion to Oedipus’s blinding – she again wrings her hair. In this instance, however, the image is produced via indexical rather than iconic means. Dixie pressed her face into the soft ground placed on her etching plate, leaving an imprint, a trace that reads as evidence of culpability and trauma. Iconic and indexical prints alternate throughout the series, and the latter mode of representation is used for two other images of self. In Slipping the grasp and The fragile wound, the sixth and eighth prints in the series, Dixie includes prints of her hands and lower leg, impressions that seem like forensic markers of her presence as well as signifiers of bodily wounding.

The Observed Viewer

The Lie of the Land: Representations of the South African Landscape, 2010

Michael Godby


Christine Dixie has recently drawn attention to the imperialist strategy of the high viewpoint in The Great Kei by including in the first plane of her engraving a figure looking over the temporary frontier of Xhosa independence effectively as the first act of appropriation of a new territory. (p.112)

Re(viewing) Landscape

Thresholds, Bloodspoor – David Bunn

(Text accompanying exhibition)


Christine Dixie's work is concerned with landscape. However, it is also interested in the relationship between vision, surveillance, and trauma. Instead of the azure distances and aerial perspective we find in topographical illustration, her printmaking offers a different view of gendered, threshold spaces. "Landscape" has been displaced into a series of citations: a forgotten lithograph of a picturesque view curling on a wall; a partial prospect glimpsed past the shoulder of a man staring back towards the house. Within the claustrophobic spaces of the frontier home, a different economy of looking is set in motion, one that has nothing to do with distant prospects and which is triggered instead by Oedipal crisis, sexual violence, voyeurism, and the irruption of the Uncanny. This intensely self-conscious understanding of vision also seems troubled by the act of framing itself. It is as though the moment one describes a border around a field to be viewed, another narrative is triggered, something that cannot be contained. As if in answer to some terrible catastrophe at the heart of the family drama, a group of brown hyenas, or wild dogs begins to lope, with terrible intent, apparently following an invisible blood spoor.


Thresholds, Bloodspoor – David Bunn

(Text accompanying exhibition)


Is it possible to figure the experience of the Eastern Cape outside of the gendered language of landscape and surveillance? Thankfully, some glorious precedents exist. In Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm, for instance, Lyndall has that unutterable longing for blue distances normally reserved for male explorers. Most dramatically of all, there is the world of Coetzee's Magda, for whom the idea of landscape is inextricably tied to her experience of the confining labyrinth of an isolated farmhouse and a domineering father: I am a thing that he holds by the shoulders and steers down the passage to the cell at the farthest end. The wind blows everywhere, it issues from every hole, it turns everything to stone, glacial, chilled to the core. . . . The wind blows out of my room, through the keyhole, through the cracks; when that door opens I shall be consumed by it. (J. M. Coetzee, In the Heart of the Country 55-56)


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