Please note: Kathryn Smith’s installation runs concurrently with the exhibition, The Dream of Rosita: The Art of Marc Glaser (1936-2007)
In association with the Bloody Book Week and Goodman Gallery, GALLERY AOP presents Incident Room: Jacoba ‘Bubbles’ Schroeder 1949-2012, a research project by Kathryn Smith
31 July - 7 August 2012
Opening Tuesday 31 July at 18:00
Special guests at the opening are Rahla Xenopoulus (author of 'Bubbles', a novel published by Penguin) and forensic anthropologist Alan G Morris ('Missing and Murdered')
Kathryn Smith will be present in the gallery from 14:00 – 17:00 daily
“Don’t be surprised if you read about my corpse in the morning papers” was the last sentence Jacoba ‘Bubbles’ Schroeder apparently threw at Hyman Leibman in the early hours of August 16, 1949, as she got out of his car and began the long walk home from the corner of Oxford Road and Corlett Drive in Illovo, to Rissik Street in downtown Johannesburg. A little more than 24 hours later, her corpse was indeed found a short distance from where Leibman allegedly dropped her, lying in partially burned, bushy veld. She was neatly dressed, but without her coat, handbag and shoes. She had been strangled with a ligature of some sort, and pieces of white, chalky material had been forced into her throat.
The murder of ‘Bubbles’ Schroeder is one of Johannesburg’s most enduring mysteries. It has all the intrigue and messy class politics of a bestseller: a young, working-class Afrikaans girl of German heritage comes to post-war Johannesburg in pursuit of a life more interesting than the mines of Lichtenburg or Vereeniging. Malan’s Reunited National Party has just ousted Smuts’s United Party at the polls. With no income or prospects, she has certain standards: she takes a job in a dress shop but works only one day, walking out the moment she was asked to sweep the floor. She is taken in by a middle-aged Jewish bookie she meets at a dance in Orange Grove. He grooms Jacoba to be Bubbles, the kind of girl by whom rich men would pay to be entertained.
We know that she left a Rissik Street apartment in the company of wealthy Morris Bilchik and wealthier David Polliack (in separate cars) on the evening of August 15, 1949. We know that they encountered Hyman Leibman in the driveway of the Polliack family home as he was leaving to take a girlfriend to the cinema. We know that housekeeper Irene Miya prepared a late supper of asparagus soup, chops and chips, and dessert peaches for three. We know that they also snacked on imported peanuts. But everything that happened after that, and before her body was found in Birdhaven in the morning of August 17, remains apocryphal.
Written and rewritten by journalists and true-crime buffs, Bubbles Schroeder’s murder remains a deeply unsatisfactory narrative. I have attempted to collect everything published on the case since I encountered her story in my mid-teens. I feel exactly the same now as I did then: a girl should not be found dead in a plantation after a night of dancing and socializing. And 63 years later, we should know who was responsible for her death and the violence done to her.
Bubbles has become an emblem of the absurd truism of the criminal justice process that some bodies matter more than others. The police who worked her case referred to her as ‘the girl who died twice’. As much as the investigation into her death generated hundreds of column inches of newspaper copy and much else besides, she remains a literal bubble, a lacuna in the maelstrom of dogged detectives, rich boys and frantic mothers. Her biography and posthumous media life has also struck me as an uncanny counterpoint to that of Beth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia, murdered only two years before in post-war Los Angeles. So, several years ago, I set myself the task to burrow beneath the myth of Bubbles and find Jacoba, to reinscribe her subjectivity, dignity and her memory. Engaging public, private and long forgotten documents, archives and other repositories of human memory, Incident Room is a selection of objects, images, actions and films that have emerged as artefacts of this epic and ongoing quest.
Send a friend request to Jacoba Schroeder on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jacoba.bubbles.schroeder to receive updates on this ongoing research.
Kathryn Smith (b. 1975) works at the interface between studio work, scholarly research, writing and curatorial work, exploring and documenting spaces of uncertainty, risk and experimentation, with an abiding interest in the processes and aesthetics of forensic science. She holds a senior lectureship in Fine Arts at Stellenbosch University. She is a 2012/2013 Chevening scholar and will be pursuing an MSc (Forensic Art) at the University of Dundee, Scotland. www.serialworks.info
The research and production of this work would not have been possible without the assistance and generosity of the following individuals and collections: Christian Nerf, Sebastian Voigt, Josh Ginsburg, Francis Burger, Lorna Martin, Benjamin Marnewick, Heléne van Aswegen, Tobi Swart, Gerrit Wagenaar (National Archives of South Africa), Jean and John Comaroff, Margie Orford, Clare Butcher, Rahla Xenopoulos, Joni Brenner, Madeleine Fullard, Teunis Briers, Estelle Fouché, Pauline Theart and Trevor Moses (National Film, Video and Audio Archives), the Western Cape Archives and Records Services, the University of Cape Town Manuscripts and Archives Collection, the National Library of South Africa (Pretoria and Cape Town), the Department of Visual Arts Stellenbosch University and Gallery AOP.
Kathryn Smith’s work appears at GALLERY AOP courtesy of Goodman Gallery
Spier Creative Block wines will be served at the opening, courtesy of Spier