Continuation of the edited transcriptions of discussions and conversations which took place during the Very Real Time 3 residency (Cape Town, March-April 2012). For chapter 2, see last weeks post.
It’s interesting that in the case of Cape Town, the World Cup in 2010 had this after-effect of masking to a degree, the realities of the recession which began in 2008. Just to take it back a bit, in the 1970s Cape Town was this sort of unpainted city. There wasn’t a lot of money floating around Cape Town and the centre of the city was for me characterized by buildings that were fading, they weren’t freshly painted. I think there were two coffee bars. Now obviously that was a different time, in the 1970s. There weren’t as many people with disposable incomes and even people with small incomes didn’t treat their incomes as being disposable. There was a different attitude. But the huge difference was after 1994 (the first democratic elections), when there were various waves that affected Cape Town. The one was obviously the whole rediscovery of South Africa as a tourist destination and all the hype, the marketing that went around the ‘Rainbow Nation’. Its like a second wind of uhuru, you could come to the sun and have a holiday and see colourful things. It was very exotic and everybody inside South Africa seemed to buy into it as well, so people sort of felt they were part of a fairy story, something optimistic, and Cape Town benefited probably more than any other part of the country because I suppose it’s natural environment was marketed. So that had an instant effect with facilities being developed for the summer tourist trade: The beaches were jacked up, hotels were built, a huge amount of coffee bars and restaurants sprung up, and associated industries like the film industry developed, which was part of that feeling of being an international city. The wine farms transformed from being purely for production to being these places which catered to a huge daily trade, tourists coming to do wine-tastings and buy bottles to take home with them. And things became very much more sophisticated.
There was also a huge influx of summer dwellers, people who escaped the European winter by buying nice houses in Cape Town, Germans, Italians, English and so on. And Cape Town changed very fast. In addition to that there was the flight from Johannesburg, where a lot of crime and hijacking drove people out of Johannesburg in the second half of the 90s. A lot of businesses moved their head offices to Cape Town, and this kind of coincided with the boom that was happening overseas and South Africa, Cape Town particularly, benefited hugely from this. There was a lot of hype around Cape Town’s bid for the Olympic games, which we lost, fortunately [laughs]. And then there was South Africa and the World Cup.
Now, the World Cup, the infrastructure in Cape Town was kind of there already. There was a lot of Mafia money, I think, because the Italians – the guy reputed to be the Mafia banker lived in Franschoek all those years, he’s just recently been arrested in Thailand, Palazzolo. There was this huge inflow of so-called Irish and Bahraini money to Cape Town which was invested in real estate. Hotels, transformation of existing buildings into… I don’t know how many hotels Cape Town’s got built… the Cape Town Convention Centre. But the big justification was always the World Cup, ‘we need so many beds for the World Cup’, and we built the stadium for World Cup. So there was this huge expenditure in the lead-up to the World Cup, some of the roads were fixed up a bit, the urban fabric was improved, the look of the place. And even those of us who were quite cynical about the World Cup immediately noticed that during the World Cup there was an influx of tourists walking around in the street, something changed… This happened all over the country, there was less division, less street level hostility and paranoia respectively between the have-nots and the haves.
Suddenly we were in that kind of society which I think is general all over world, where even if you’re suffering with nothing, you still play with people you see in the street, you greet them, you have some kind of interaction with them. And suddenly Cape Town became a place like that, and it was suddenly safe. Because a lot of these things are subjective, so the fear of walking around in the streets without anxiety, suddenly evaporated, and the more people walking around in the streets the safer it is and now there’s a bus service which is another spin-off, a developing inner-city bus service. So you’ll now see single woman or small groups of young people at night, either walking through the city or waiting at a bus stop which you never saw five or six years ago. And it kind of feels as if we’re living in a boom city, although all of these facilities were paid for with money which is loaned from the future, essentially. And it’s highly artificial. And nothing has really changed, there’s been very little job creation out of all of this… The stadium, like all stadiums built for these kinds of events in the world, is just a cash strain, and the most logical logical plan put forward for it involves dismantling it and selling it as scrap. It costs I think five million rand to run, a month, and every time there’s an event in it, the council subsidizes it to the tune of between one or two/three million. The financing’s extremely murky, I think nobody really knows how much of it is mortgaged, and what mortgages are being paid off by the city council. The figures vary, that we’ve been given, and every commercial enterprise that’s done a study on running it, has backed out. So in other words it’s impossible, they see it as being impossible to run it and break even plus a reasonable mark-up which would allow a profit. I suppose its kind of a dream that we’re living in after world of the World Cup and one wonders how long its going to last.
Ray du Toit
I don’t think people are just divided geographically here. It’s economically as well. More than anything. I mean everybody would love to live in Cape Town, its beautiful. This is one of the nicest areas in the country, but it’s for the wealthy. Even if you’re a student, you’re lucky to be able to live in a flat close to campus here. We’re economically divided in this country. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just… I think this government’s done very well keeping us out of a lot of shit. It could be a lot worse.
Cape Town sort of… I dunno. The starlets of the South African scene, these are the black people that I hang out with and that’s cool. I’m glad there are these people. But really, there’s not a lot of mingling that happens. It’s why I like going to the Kimberley (Hotel), ‘cause it’s the one place that it feels totally okay. I don’t get a feeling of… I don’t really get to spend time with black people. It’s not like I’ve got a problem with it but I do notice that.
I love it here. But it’s got a long way to go. I think it’s a process, it’s going to happen. Cape Town is an abnormal city. It’s beautiful and it’s wealthy and it’s removed from South Africa. It really is. Every time your guys talked about coming to South Africa… I just wanted to say every time, don’t forget! This isn’t South Africa. Cape Town’s a country all by itself. It’s very different to… But maybe the whole of South Africa’s like that, I just feel like every time I go to East London it’s different. Ja.
I’ve got a feeling my views on the sort of belonging aspects to South Africa are quite common views amongst my contemporaries. And that’s very much an age thing. Guys, kids at the age of twenty-five have a very different mindset to me. I did suffer from some kind of white guilt but it was just completely ridiculous, because I had nothing to feel guilty for. I was brought up by good parents but just in such a weird time and in such a weird place. Specifically the place I grew up in was just crazy. But only in retrospect. It was happy suburbia, while I was growing up in it; lots of open spaces, close to beaches, but you know, I remember being at school and suddenly there was this weird sense of like, ‘Woah, something heavy is going down!’ You’re a kid, you know, you can pick this stuff up. And we were all called into an assembly room and they started telling us about this man (Nelson Mandela) that was being moved from Robben Island to the prison, to Pollsmoor prison which we could, I could see from our school. I could see it from my house if I stood on the roof. And it was terrifying. I didn’t know who this person was, we weren’t taught about him and his picture wasn’t allowed to be published in the newspaper so if you’re told as a kid, this terrifying, scary, terrorist man is coming here… they told parents to pick their kids up after rugby practice… and I was like, what, are you serious? And this prison itself was so intimidating and I was like, but if he’s in there, how’s he ever going to get out and what’s the big deal? And on the other side of my neighbourhood was the railway line which was the real vein of Cape Town, was that railway line…
Where were you living?
Ray du Toit
The suburb was called Kirstenhof, you know, where you get Tokai and…So the railway line goes very close there and that railway line is the one thing that connected the whole of Cape Town in those days. I don’t even remember taxis going up and down the Main Road but you could get onto that train and go, either to come to Cape Town or go to the beach. But to get to the closest station I’d have to walk basically into the edge of the Cape Flats, into Steenberg, it was Steenberg then Lavender Hill, it was all there. So, I had access to these areas and we used to spend a lot of time there, it was quite exciting, it was where we would ride our bikes and go and get a thrill, yeah. It was the biggest thrill we could get, going into these areas. But I had no sense of Apartheid, that these people were there because they had to be there. It was only after the facts I learnt, okay… very strange. Very strange time. I mean I’m very, I feel very privileged that I did grow up in that time and I got to see it and the timing was just so perfect.
Roger Van Wyk
Ironically, it was much easier and seemed to be much more logical for people from the ‘white’ neighborhoods to be doing things in the townships in the apartheid era and the 90’s, than it is now. At that time it was part of the stance one had taken to be involved in different projects there and develop friendships with people because of that. Somehow now with the end of apartheid and the growth of the various touristic ventures which welcome people to the townships, it’s started to feel like a slightly problematic thing to be doing. A lot of people just don’t feel at ease with doing that any more.
It seems like people have just come to terms with Cape Town being a kind of fragmented city and gone more into their own lives and built a richness out of different zones where they live. Kira, in your younger generation, do you find its quite easy for you to experience a crossover of cultures, or cultures which are more hybridized? Outside of the campus…?
Well, I find Cape Town strange, so strange. In terms of socializing or going out, I mean I’ve been to one party that was quite interesting, it’s Cold Turkey in Woodstock, which is probably the only point where you can go out and mix, with different music, not just one type of music but a very big selection, like, kwaito, hiphop and then also house and whatever. Which is refreshing because I think that most of the places I’ve been to in Cape Town have been very much these scenes, different scenes. Kind of like people with similar interests will cling together and there won’t be a very racially diverse group of people at all. Which is quite boring. Whereas in Jo’burg I think, maybe just because it’s bigger… I find Cape Town to be like a little piece of Europe, to me. The safer it is, the more it feels like that.
I also think there also are conditions specific to where you live which also have an effect on the ease with which you pass your time. For example, in South Africa, a reality which affects artists very strongly is the fact that one doesn’t have the luxury of having a day job to fall back on, for the simple fact that that kind of work is reserved for a certain part of the population who depend upon low-skilled work to feed their families. So when Kianoosh tells me he works in a hotel at nights to pay his rent in Amsterdam, I think that must be so great to be able to do that, and the security and time which that must permit one, and it allows you to work as an artist in a very different way, knowing perhaps that you are not dependent on that work for your income. Here it’s just not possible for artists to live like that, and that changes a great deal their artistic output.
Julia Rosa Clark
For a long time I was teaching, and before that I suppose I was doing waitressing or doing other jobs to pay the rent. And then recently I stopped teaching and have been focusing more on my own work and getting this show together. But because the show now needs to be a commercial success in order for me to pay my way, doing my artistic practice in a way becomes my day job, and I’m unable to be as free as I would like to be for Very Real Time, for example. Which is very frustrating. I mean, I have lists of things which I would love to do if I had the time. I’d love to go for a walk down Voortrekker Road for example, and go into some of the shops down there again. But it’s just not possible.
Sure, I can relate to that. Even if I do live in Amsterdam now and no longer in Bogata. For a long time I was doing things in more or less isolated circumstances but lately I started to be quite busy and also working with a gallery which is great because it helps to ease my financial situation, but at the same time my gallery is constantly milking me like a cow!
But at the same time, I would like to play Devil’s advocate. I mean, on the one hand I’m sure we work harder than anyone, I mean, a lot of office people are just hanging in the seat all day. But what’s harder, actually, I think it’s harder to be in an office everyday. This notion that we are having so much problems and we are we, as artists, we are struggling a lot – honestly, I think its true on a level but I also think it’s a lot of bullshit on another level. I mean I think we complain too much.
I think this residency is a luxury. Precisely because it’s a space in which you can just hang around and think about your own process in relation to the space, or think the space, or not think the space, or write, or just, you know, get drunk everyday if you want, that’s not the proper aim but anyway, it can happen… how many people in the world can do that for one month, independently, whether they are artists or not? But if you think about it, what we are doing, an art residency can become a kind of (even though I think it’s a bit romantic what I am about to say): a hole in the whole capitalist structure. Its like, you are not really producing, you are not having, or being part of that machinery of production, even though you are. Even though the residencies are part of that. And a part of this idea of connection and being aware of the other and being aware of globalization are all discourses that are very current in the contemporary thought, lets say.
But, then I was thinking like, ok, that’s one thing, it’s a very beautiful thought but what happens in reality? You are not here isolated from your own agenda somewhere else, you are split, you are dealing with your own capitalism and your spaceship on time, on Very Real Time, in which you have the luxury to deal with other space, even though you might think you do not have time or you might think that it’s the wrong time or you think that it’s the proper time, that’s independent. So, when you are in a space that is actually offering you new things, at the same time you are having pressure from elsewhere. So at the same time you are here, you are there, and if you count how many tasks you are asked to do for your life there, you can say you don’t have time, you can say it, you can decide not to say it, you can decide to chill about it and not give a shit about it and just drop it.
I was thinking very much about this trick that we play to ourselves of not having time, because that always plays against us. Actually it can be even appealing to think that you don’t have time because it makes you feel important. I think it’s a very interesting, tricky device for your head. But when you feel that you have time, you get stressed because you don’t have anything to do and you get stressed because you feel like you are not doing anything in this world, you are not reporting anything, or you are not being considered, you don’t have a task. And that is like Stockholm Syndrome, you know that? It’s when a host falls in love with a kidnapper. It’s like, we are falling in love with our own lack of time, its interesting… to put on Facebook, like, I need forty hours extra during the week because I’m so tired, you know? It’s even fancy, fashionable.
I mean its just a question of thinking what time means to everyone, for me, time is just a construction, like language. And in the moment that a society realizes how inefficient, lets say, or excessively efficient, or punishing the policy they invented can be, or the device they invented is, like the clock for example, I think there is always a mechanism that puts things in another perspective. Technological discoveries, poetry, art, even politics… So it’s important to be aware that we are not living only one time, you know, its not just, my time, it’s how I experience my time in relationship with the others’ time, and in relationship with the other space’s time…
So that’s one of the difficulties of being in a residency, in an era in which it’s hard to dismiss time as a productive force. I have a lot of problems with that, you know, I love to be busy, I think I even love stress, to have these deadlines, to move around and say, ‘I’m wasting my time!’, but on the other hand… In Zen Buddhism its very strong how, when you are there, looking at the tree, or looking at a candle, or looking at the infinitum, and just breathing and being aware of your own body… I mean, I know it sounds a bit weird and esoteric, but its quite concrete; you have to feel your body, you have to know that you are here, to be aware to do things. And that placing yourself in context and recognizing your own body makes your relationship with time very interesting, because you realize that there is no need to occupy your time with stress or with time that you don’t have or occupying your time thinking that you don’t have time. Because it’s a sick endemic circle… And this is the circle that is nourishing capitalism.
These very basic associations that time is gold, ‘time is gold’, it makes a lot of sense, you know? It’s like, the more time you invest producing, the possibilities of you acquiring or affording financial security increases. There was this book, it’s written by a guy called Mark Fisher, ‘Capitalist Realism’. He’s an English guy, I think he teaches in Goldsmiths. And what he says is: it’s easier to think that capitalism is mean, evil, sick, damaging, or wicked power. It’s easier to think capitalism as something dark, obscure, and powerfully manipulative than to think that it’s just obsolete.
I think that was very interesting because in the moment in which you think its not evil, I mean Capitalism itself is not a bad idea, people didn’t do it to oppress other people, its just the nature of capitalism is meant to be make some people rich and to make a lot of people poor. But that doesn’t necessarily imply a moral statement on it. And I was kind of fascinated, I was just like, ‘Shit – its how the collective mind shapes reality’.
So if the collective mind decides, I mean it’s a long process anyway, you cannot do it overnight, it would be great but I don’t think we can do that. But for example, communism was just not working. And when everyone realized that it just was not working, it stopped. Now its still working in certain areas, but the way in which it was embraced by the governments that were approaching it, was so corrupted that there was no way for it to work. Maybe corruption works better in capitalism than in communism, indeed. I don’t know, its just maybe a stupid comment but, I mean it makes absolute sense to think that you don’t have time, there is absolute sense to think that you have to produce. Sometimes I find myself thinking, what will happen with my work in the future, why am I producing all these objects? Who… I mean, really, the amount of people that is doing the same as me, what is the pertinence of this, why am I doing this? If you think this way, and you really think that what you are doing is meaningless, you are building that reality, and you say, yeah, its meaningless, I just drop it. It’s not important anymore. It’s the same with everything, you know.
So, Very Real Time somehow, also poses that question, like how important is our time for us? If our time were really important for us, we would not be producing for the art world. I think we will be doing something else, but I don’t think we are very aware of that. On the other hand I think that what we are doing is meaningful in the way that somehow… you have the product, you have the object, but the object that can be collected, purchased, et cetera, by whatever, private, public institutions or people, that’s actually not (quoting Duchamp), ‘art’ in itself. The art lies in the relationship between that thing that you produced and the people that is witnessing it or looking at it or embracing it or enjoying it or hating it because without that, that relationship you know, its dead. You don’t have an experience with it.
So, I think its important to do art because even if you communicate to one person, as we were talking with Roger the other day, or to two persons, and that thing that you did triggers, unknowingly, something, this light, this thing in these other people through your work, I think that that activity is very important. So I think it’s important to produce. But not in the way that the art market is demanding.
So, that is the conflict: on one hand you have these beautiful ideas of engaging people with your thoughts and giving something to somebody but on the other hand the art world is demanding you just to become, like a cow, like we have to go to take your milk everyday at four in the morning… and when you are dry you just… And that’s complicated because a lot of people can dry out very easily from that. And potentially the work can be dead in two years. It’s really harmful. But that’s why it’s important to recognize it, if you don’t recognize it; it just takes you and blows you away.
The paradox for me is that even though I have problems with making something here, an artistic project, never the less I was already interested in all of these questions that being here brings up. It makes Very Real Time for me an actual thing, it becomes an object almost. That’s why I think that I do have some kind of a project, lets say, but that’s why I think it’s crucial to look at Very Real Time as a thing. I find it important because Gregg is also the person who does it, and he’s come here and he’s also changed. It is this malleable thing. I guess my focus has been on that and trying to talk about myself within this thing which has been set up long before me. So it was never about Cape Town, it was about Very Real Time in Cape Town. In a strange way I found it positive. I find it also disturbing, because it makes you worried about what the hell it is that you’re doing here.
But, I guess there’s nothing wrong with just having a question that you pose in this setting and for me it was really about what is it to spend time here. I guess it’s a problem that I also tend to think from Gregg’s imaginary point of view, I put myself in your shoes and think: How would I justify this? Because it’s really relevant; if I was Gregg, living in with his family in Paris and dealing with the project funders, how would I deal with this? And you can often think about these things as really negative. ‘How should I write my applications?’ And that also becomes part of your, let’s say, project. But I think there is interesting way of dealing with it and that’s something I’m realizing more and more and especially while being here; because this is such an open ended project that makes it even more complex to try and explain to someone, but within an artist’s practice that’s always the case, unless you’re the type of person who does really specific things all the time. So for me the most concrete interesting thing is that there is a way of spending time and describing it, that is actually really interesting. It’s all about articulating, to articulate what it is that happened here.
This discussion has been really interesting because in the residency we’ve spent most of the month struggling to articulate things but it’s taken the whole process of the month to find a space to actually talk quite clearly about what had gone on.
And to arrive at that point creates the possibility for something else… I think even when you can’t articulate something very well, but never the less a group of people start to understand something, it creates the possibility of organizing alternatives or other ways of doing something, because at that moment you start to feel like you’re no longer stuck in this rat race, where life is never quite how you want it to be. I think one’s experience of time is a lot to do with one’s relationships with people around one, and how easily you can articulate yourself and feel understood – basically how effective you find your communication with people around you to be, and whether there is a space for what you’re feeling to be heard. If you don’t feel that then it’s easy to feel like you don’t have time for yourself.
So I think its quite interesting when in a group or a collective situation, everyone is able to say something, or you can come to a deeper understanding of what is going on during a given period of time and how that period fits into an ongoing continuity, historically, and so on. That’s what I started to feel was the value of Very Real Time anyway, that through relations between people, through this kind of confidence on a relational level, people start to feel more confident in their time, that it gives a confidence in one’s time. Through some slowly built understanding between people, which would not be possible if each one of us is just trying to get their own project done.
Continuation of the edited transcriptions of discussions and conversations which took place during the Very Real Time 3 residency (Cape Town, March-April 2012). For chapter 1, see last weeks post.
For me its been quite strange to be here because I experienced again the paranoia of walking down the street, and having the feeling that I need to have eyes in the back of my head…which is why I left Bogota. You might have this idea that if I am coming from a country that is in so much conflict, or has seen so much conflict, there are certain things I can understand. Certainly there are a lot of things I can get, maybe my interpretation of things here are different from somebody from France, or from Scandinavia. Maybe these people would be really shocked to see the townships. For me, its completely normal, it’s like, okay, we have that too. Actually ours are better built than here.
But, the fear is related to one’s personality. I mean, my work was very much about the city at one stage, I was really taking a lot of risks when I was younger. When I was doing this project with the buses (Transitory Map); I was always with somebody but we were taking these risks and we were going everywhere on the buses, from the bottom of the city to the top, from North to South and we always ended up in the weirdest places, which I had never been to before, and for some reason it was very enjoyable. I really liked it; I did it for two years… But something changed during this time. I think as you grow, there are things that you have to face more directly and in the places I was living, I realized that I was being very courageous for some reason but also that gradually I was starting to become calmer. I was taking less drugs, I was partying less, I was having less adventures with my friends or driving with somebody completely wasted at two in the morning to the Bronx – that’s an area that is also called the Bronx because its the area with all the homeless people squatting places and its regulated by crime. You can trade there: drugs, weapons, organs, everything – and that was my life, you know, I was really embracing as much as I could some very hectic, sordid stuff. But, I moved away from it, and when that happened, I came down to Earth.
How old were you?
I was in my 20’s. This intensive life was my whole period at university, in fact it was really nourishing my work there, my work was about power relationships in the city. I start to make some fictions and I was drawing comics about this relationship between urban culture and nature, because I had been very interested in nature somehow.
But at the end of my living in Bogota, the work with the urban space reached a point in which I couldn’t enjoy it anymore. And then I had to move to Holland. For four years, I was really wanting to leave. Not because I was necessarily sick of the art scene there but I was sick of the country, I was sick of the government, I was sick of the city. I really didn’t enjoy anymore having to smell and breathe a lot of bullshit from the busses. It was very sad because I was in love with Bogota for fifteen years, more or less, but then it just dropped in a very bad way.
So, its weird because I found that when I go to another place, even if its safe – I mean I could be in Helsinki, you know; people kill themselves because they are bored – I behave very much like a cat. I hide for a while and then I start to deal with my own fears, of people, of the environment or whatever. So I knew that somehow that would happen here, but then I realized that what made it more wierd was the fact that I went to Johannesburg a few weeks before coming to Cape Town. I really wanted to see the city centre of Johannesburg, we were in a suburb, nearby old Mandela’s house, and Kentridge’s house and I was feeling like, I would like to be in a place in which I can at least see people walking in the street! Now I’m in this kind of bunker, completely safe, being driven here and there, and we jump from the restaurant to the theatre and from the theatre to the hotel and from the hotel to Kentridge’s house… So it was a completely fictional encounter with Johannesburg. There was something beautiful about the city because it’s the biggest manmade forest, in the human history and we went to the top of a hill with Kentridge and I saw the whole city and I was amazed by it because its completely built but at the same time it feels kind of, tropical and nice. So those things, they were little pieces of the window opening but then you couldn’t see anything else because the Rolex people were completely freaked out about us taking risks.
Ray du Toit
This may be a surprising thing but I feel that as well. I feel in a strange way disconnected from here like I don’t quite belong here, even though I’ve lived here my whole life.
I think what Ray’s talking about is to a certain extent generation specific, it would be interesting to hear Kira’s point of view for example.
I feel very angry that you say that. I started school just after Apartheid ended (in 1995 I was in Grade 1) so my experience of education and growing up was a mixed one, blacks and whites and all children went to schools together so there was no segregation at that point. So in that way I feel just as much an African as anyone else and I think from that perspective I feel quite protective over my country and I feel like I belong here. I think it’s not helpful to feel like you don’t belong here.
But Ray’s feeling of being disconnected is also to do with the time he grew up in.
Ja, ja. It was a very different time, I can imagine.
Ray du Toit
Let me explain…I grew up during the Cultural boycott, and as a wayward kind of kid, I was interested in alternative music for example, but at that time you just couldn’t get any of that here. You had the public broadcaster that played very boring pop music and that was it.
Julia Rosa Clark
I’m sure that in Russia it was the same, or in Colombia.
Ray du Toit
Maybe, but I think we are very isolated here. It also has to do with fact that the price of Internet here is one of the highest in the world and its also one of the slowest. If you’re someone who’s interested in discovering things on Youtube, you’re starting with a disadvantage.
But it’s not just that. It interested me, the way Milena was talking about Jo’burg, everything she said, I was thinking, ‘Ja, I feel like that, I feel like that’ and really what I meant was, you could be talking about me, as a South African. I was like, ‘Wow! We are all foreigners’. And I was thinking about their trip to Sutherland as well, you know, I really love traveling to the Karoo and I’ve been doing road trips around South Africa my whole life. My family and I are big road trippers, but honestly, I feel more of a foreigner sometimes in my country than I do in most of Europe. Europe I find so easy. Even if there’s a language barrier, it’s so easily overcome. Maybe its because it’s also that it is so cosmopolitan that you just fit into the larger demographic of being the other, whereas in South Africa we are all South Africans but, are we, you know?
I’ve also sensed that… coming back here and traveling, being confronted with these beautiful landscapes and feeling like a loneliness in front of you. What’s strange is that you’re not even in a social context anymore, it becomes kind of metaphysical…
Ray du Toit
Absolutely. You know, the beauty of traveling, for me… A lot of my trips around South Africa happen because I’m a surfer, so I travel for a purpose, to get from point A to point B – a surfing spot, which is often in the most bizarre parts. You don’t go there because of the area. Like we’ve been exploring the far West coast in the diamond reserves. And these are some of the most apocalyptic places in the world, really, its very interesting. De Beers have destroyed this landscape, thousands of kilometres of it, all the way up into Namibia. So there’s these landscapes that are, they’re unbelievable, and again, photographically just so interesting. Goldblatt had actually been in there before… Pieter, Pieter Hugo and I went in there together and some other friends. My point is, its incredibly lonely and desolate out there, and in the context of your residency, I was just very pleased when I heard that they were going to Sutherland. It was strange because I suggested it to Leonid on the first night, something in me just said ‘you guys should go there’. Unfortunately I didn’t think of the full moon thing…
You know, I think it’s important for me to say that I have resolved these issues, internally. I’ve come to terms with it. I don’t suffer from white guilt or any of the easy traps to fall in as post-Apartheid South Africans. When I became adult, let’s say, the very first time I was able to vote was the first democratic elections, so the timing was spot on. It’s not like I was ever had to vote for an Apartheid government…
I think I can compare what you’re saying about this feeling of being an outsider, to living in the 1980’s in Johannesburg. The people I knew, the house I lived in… one of them was doing a Masters, the rest were post-students, and I suppose they were all quite nihilist – there wasn’t a sense of any solution to the South African problem during time. Although a lot of our friends were supporters of what later became the UDF, and some of them were even involved at that stage with the ANC, it wasn’t something one talked about but one sort of knew. But to us that was like a forced optimism. It didn’t seem possible given what we’d seen of the determination and the viciousness of the regime… it didn’t seem possible. So it seemed there was no outcome here and I relate that to stuff that I’d somehow come across in West Berlin during the same period, this sort of frontline city in the Cold War. A lot of artists and musicians were based there for some peculiar reason. I think because it was sponsored as a sort of shop window of the West to the East by the Americans, there were opportunities at one stage for art organisations to base themselves there and that probably created this spectrum of other artists who were just hanging on there. This kind of pointless endgame, which we lived with here as well. Which was somehow difficult to integrate into the consumer optimism of the last, how many years? Since 1990 there was a sort of mainstream optimism in the world which was pervasive, it seemed very churlish to adopt a contrary position to that. It was this new one world market and a time of boom and everybody was just consuming and buying and ‘no’ became a very unfashionable word.
There wasn’t a lot of criticism of capitalist ideology, there was a sense that Communism had failed, that we were all idiots if we had seen it as an alternative, and that we’d been ill-informed, and we’d romantically attached something to it that wasn’t even there, just because of our disgust at what we saw happening in the Western capitalist world. And there wasn’t really a people-centered alternative, you know?
Culturally there was also the period of suddenly including the margins after the end of the Cold War. The inclusion of all the peripheries in this strange post-colonial openness and curiosity which obliged artists from the peripheries to be critiqued strictly in terms of their origins.
Yeah, exactly. And that was a huge shift for people like me because part of your understanding of your identity and your associate’s identities, the people you cleave to, was the sense of trying to imagine an alternative. Obviously on a basic level this was very compensatory for our positions as, our histories as white South Africans, and as much as we would have despised talk of guilt, white guilt, because we (… when I say ‘we’ I speak for me and for people that were like me, even though we’re not all the same obviously, so its not really a generalization, I’m just using ‘we’ ‘cause it sounds silly to just keep saying ‘I’, but of course I’m talking about myself…) we tried to escape that feeling of guilt.
There was a sort of oedipal dimension where one had to turn against one’s parents, one’s father particularly, but one’s parents. You get to a certain age where you start construction your own identity and you see how much your parents were part of the privileges and the belief systems of white South Africa… Even if they weren’t extreme racists or vehement Nationalists, but just by being white South Africans they were contaminated by it. And then one sort of turned, went against that culture and a part of turning against that culture was obviously to mix wherever possible with black people. So we knew black artists and actors and drunkards and rookers (dope-smokers), people you could interact with, and spend time in the townships when you could. These things, if you analyze them, they’re quite artificial actually, synthetic, they’re not a real experience of the mass life, you know, because often we were their kind of mascots in the white world and you only realize afterwards that these visits to shebeens and things were only set up by them and they weren’t real shebeens, they were like a relative’s house and it was like a shebeen, they brought the bottles in and people came to drink with us because we were these white people who’d come in, we were their white friends, you know.
But we also turned away from the labour practices. So for instance, I used to do all my own carrying and when I worked in the theatres, there was no labour, we did everything ourselves. But that was also part of a world-wide ethos that you would have found in London or theatre groups in America even, France… it was part of a sort of progressive socialism coming out of the late 60s. This current had always been there in the West but it came to a head I suppose in the late 60s in Paris, and those ideas spread, even if one was unaware, unconscious, of the roots and the transmission, they affected all of us. So that was one way we escaped, by feeling solidarity perhaps. So we were very poor, we didn’t accumulate money, we worked on these kinds of projects that weren’t profitable, and we sneered at and were in opposition to everything that was successful in the white world, including the art projects and a lot of art and theatre etcetera, that was complicit with that regime. Even if only complicit in the sense of being a whore, being a bedfellow, for survivalist reasons, rather than altogether propagating ideals of Christian’s nationalism. So it was quite a shock, not a shock, but very quick transformation when this barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and between commercialism and alternative or counter-culture attitudes, quickly fell.
Now one had to address a whole lot of other things like, why was it an issue for an artist to earn a living from their work, why that seemed a problem, or was it the artist’s problem that artworks became substitute signifiers of wealth. That’s how the art world works, it’s got nothing to do with the artworks really. So, on our level, why was it an issue? Why did it become an issue? And why were we so scared of success, or did we even have something different to say and was it important and it probably wasn’t, you know? It was a strange time.
But, what is memorable about that time is the derangement of it, the fact that we were, so many of us, suffering from degrees of what I suppose you could call post-traumatic stress. In what I’ve read about post-traumatic stress, you either get the single event, a woman or a child is raped, or a person is in a huge car crash and all their friends die and they were the driver, or they were in a war and they lost. There’s like this single event… And then you get the other kind of post-traumatic trauma when you get a series of traumatic events and that also can produce post-traumatic shock.
You mean a series of lesser traumatic events?
A series of small, low-level… you know now we were constantly living with stress; if you went out – that you were going to get a brick thrown at the vehicle you were in, so you would experience yourself, as a white person as a target. There was a stress that the police used to just barge into the house we lived in and break things and kick things about because we were outsiders in the way we looked, in the way we dressed. We dressed like trash because we didn’t aspire to be like everybody else.
So the police were just suspicious of you because of the way you dressed, or that you had a history of organizing…
I think the police were suspicious of everybody in Yeoville, they thought they were left-wing Communists and drug users, and English, and they sort of lumped that all together as the sort of ‘other’. I had some really bad experiences.
So anyway, when the South African currency collapsed in 1984 when the world banks pulled in the loans and said, ‘okay, the revolving credit, now you gotta pay or we’re upping the interest rates’ and the Rand went from, I think it was two or three to the dollar to about seven or something, very quickly. Up until that time, in terms of investment in South Africa, there was this obsession with wealthy South Africans about sending their money overseas, in case the worst happened. And one of the legal ways they could do it was by owning artworks. So the artworks they bought at the time were rarely South African artworks, because there wasn’t a huge market overseas for South African art, especially not contemporary art. It had to be international. I think art lovers, cultured wealthy people, supported and bought South African art because they liked it. Linda Goodman’s gallery was going and there were one or to galleries that sold that stuff. But it was only after 1984 when the currency collapsed and suddenly it was really too expensive to buy foreign art that people started to deal in South African art.
But before that, there seemed to be a complete break between the art world and this world that the friends of mine lived in which was this sort of post-student world where you sort of exhibited your work and sometimes a friend would buy it for like, 50 bucks or something. But there was not a chance of earning a living from art. I wasn’t part of the art world anyway, I dropped out of Michaelis in 1967 and then I wasn’t part of the art world after that at all, I worked in theatres and performed…
This existentialist feeling which John describes, it really strikes me. There was a moment in which he was talking, I just started to feel this emotional void, thinking ‘Shit. I don’t understand that shit.’ You know, I cannot enter into this space, even emotionally, and that made me very sad just to see somebody describing his own conflict and his own existential problems with this situation. When somebody is speaking in that deeper honest way, its always very emotionally charged, so I was feeling very moved by what he said.
People are talking about not having a sense of belonging, but that exists everywhere. I spent half my life in one country and the half in another country and I am going back and forth between these places and I don’t really like I belong in either one of them. I am a foreigner everywhere, at least to the people that know me in Russia I’m a foreigner – I have been gone away for almost twenty years and then to the people in the States, I’m always the Russian guy with an accent, and now in Amsterdam, I am just wherever… But this sense of not belonging it is not necessarily a bad thing.
How old were you when you went to the States?
And how old were you when the Cold War ended in ‘89?
The Soviet Union fell apart in ’91, ’89 I was 9 years old. Born in 1980.
It was kind of the beginning of your adolescence…
Yes. In ’91 I was in the States for 6 months and I actually remember the moment when Soviet Union split shortly after I went back and then I came back again to the States couple years later.
Do you think it was easier for you, being slightly younger at that time than somebody who was, for example, 18 or 25, coming from Russia and trying to live somewhere else?
Yes, I think… If you went through the education system in Russia, if you went through high school and wanted to go to college – it is a very rigid program. You go for five years and you determine right away what you want to do. It is very predetermined and after you get a job because that is also set up for you. You have to have a certain frame of mind. In the States I had a much more open education and I could do things that I could change and choose and work independently.
I studied in different countries: Russia, the States and also Holland. On top of that most were alternative institutions. Also very different ones, some established like Yale University and some very experimental like my high school – School WIthout Walls. There was no way for this kind of school to exist in Russia at the time of the Wall breaking down. But people here in South Africa also had a similar experience. I’m sure my generation of people from South Africa went through this change in the nineties… They had a similar experience of a shift in culture and society – my generation is also in this transitional state. It is like people who were not able to have a decent education in South Africa and now they are but it is just the first generation and it will create quite a change in the next ten, twenty years. In Russia it happened, this kind of change in education because when the Soviet system collapsed many different schools opened up and it was different outlook. It was not anymore a predetermined, direct path. It was something you had to create yourself.
I guess for me, my education started with drawing, with drawing people actually. It opened up a new way of seeing things and this changed everything. Because of this new outlook I became interested in everything else. It really opened up my life. It was this program in School Without Walls that allowed me this. It allowed me to pursue an independent project for a year or longer. Because of that experience I opened up my interest to everything and actually all the things that I would learned before and didn’t care about, I wanted to relearn again. I was talking to Carin about Senga, because she is at that age. It is about how you figure out what to do and I was saying it is the most important thing you have to do because it leads to everything else. If you have somebody who provides you the opportunity to dive deeper into what you want to do it opens up all sorts of channels for a higher education. Education should really start with that, that should be the beginning point – realizing what the child is fascinated by. All you can do is to provide a space for this connection to happen.
I find it very complicated, there are so many complicated things going on in someone’s development. I know people that have been intensively, studying piano for an amount of time and suddenly it’s too much, and they go into medicine or law…Even when initially if piano was a choice which came from the child, or the young person, it depends on the relationship with the teacher and the training process.
A good mentor can definitely help, but it doesn’t have to be like that; if you can find one you’re lucky, someone you can connect with. But the really important thing is to be able to see the depth by yourself. In the end all education is self-education and that is where it should start.
Roger Van Wyk
Gregg, I’m curious to know more about your concept of time, what you think this all says about the way we experience time today.
Well in terms of time as we experience it today, it seems like the capitalist model is imposing this increasingly accelerated and fragmented experience of time. Even if in our daily lives most of us in the Western world are not confronted with major upheavals and wars and other dramatic phenomena, we are living on very unstable terrain these days, and it is an ongoing effort just trying to stay on one’s path. I think this starts to affect one’s experience of time and to a certain extent I feel like this sort of ambience has been very present in the VRT residency this time round, compared to previous residencies. For both the visitors and the locals, I have the feeling that one is constantly asking one’s self, ‘Is this superfluous, or is it valuable to my own personal trajectory?’ In this way our paths are becoming increasingly narrow and channeled. The aim of Very Real Time is to try analyse the conditions imposed on our experience of time, and to try to find alternatives to the fast track, by placing value on the personal exchanges to allow our paths to maintain a sinuosity and the possibility to profit from our experiences in the present moment. I guess the Internet also plays a strong role in that, its arrival coincides with a trend towards acceleration over the past 15 or 20 years, but it seems like the financial crisis in 2008, really added to this momentum in a radical way.
to be continued…
Edited transcriptions of discussions and conversations which took place during the Very Real Time 3 residency (Cape Town, March-April 2012).
Discussion at Zink, April 18, 2012
Thank you for coming here tonight, to talk about the past month of the Very Real Time residency, what’s worked and hasn’t worked, how the time has been experienced for the visitors and how its been experienced for those here that have been involved.
Its an interesting time right now because it seems in general that arts funding is getting increasingly tighter and more controlled, and the opportunities to do things like this are getting more scarce. In terms of funding criteria this creates more accountability which can be awkward to deal with, but in terms of the times we live in I think its also valuable to think very carefully about what the real value of a project is, how it can benefit this place in the best way.
I’ve been away from Cape Town for quite a while and so every time I return, I’m aware of the changes. The way that I used to experience the city (which formed the initial motivations for VRT, 10 years ago) is different now. The cultural scene in Cape Town has also shifted and reorganized itself, perhaps there are more separate scenes now, people have taken up positions and there are less overlaps than before. Then there is also the fact that my friends have grown older and are more inclined to be busy in the evenings. But in general I think people are less available than in the past because of the scary economic situation and the cost of living.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the group of us assembled here tonight is a fragment of the larger city, speaking from a personal point of view. It also seems to me that we have reached a stage where we no longer feel obliged to speak in an all inclusive way which takes into account the separations, but rather feels comfortable to speak about what is specific to our situation, feeling good about this particular position and trying to make the most of it.
Perhaps to begin with, it would be interesting to have one or two accounts from some of the visiting artists on their experiences here.
All the time while I’ve been here, I’ve been thinking a lot about the experience of difference and this so called different place and what makes it actually different. Because you can go to all sorts of different places and they’ll all be ‘different’, so when everything is different nothing is different because you just experience difference from your own brain. I mean, you’re relating to it from your own projects; I’m interested in certain things, you are interested in certain things and this applies to everyone, we all experience things in our own particular way. So being in a strange new location is really not that different in the end, because you are the constant within that.
So a lot of this past month, I’ve been asking myself, like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I have nothing to do but go around and think. Why should I produce here? You could put me anywhere, on Kilimanjaro or in a tent in the desert and I would have an experience, something that made me think ‘Wow!’ but that doesn’t constitute and idea or a project, so I have been troubling over this. Going around the countryside looking at things like a tourist, its interesting but what the hell does one do with it?
I guess in my normal daily activities at home, a lot of the time I’m just concerning myself with the technical problems of doing a project. I mean normally that’s a large part of how I spend my time, with the light bulb piece for example, its just trying to figure things out and trial and error. And I can spend up to two years getting that right. The light bulb I made 3 times in the end, and each time it was different.
Julia Rosa Clark
But don’t you think it would be interesting for example to try and make the light bulb here? It’s probably a completely different working process and network of technical people, but the experience might be quite interesting. There are all these workshops and studios set up around the film industry. My Dad (John Nankin), would probably be able to help you…
Yeah, of course it would be interesting to do that here, and making the light bulb in Switzerland would also be very different, it would happen in two seconds probably…call someone up and they would have one ready. Here it would be more complex, maybe it would be faster.
But I’m just highly skeptical of this thing of ‘experiencing difference’, because it also gets into this whole mess of the way politics deals with it as well, and culture, to experience ‘diversity.’ For me these things are really interlinked certainly because these residencies are often brought about by western countries wanting to explore the rest of the world. And I’m not saying this from a moralistic point of view. But how do you observe this difference and say something interesting about it without just sucking it dry and putting it back into your work?
What’s interesting about you is that you problematize things all the time and articulate them very well which allows one to reflect quite carefully on how one is spending one’s time and reacting to things. Despite what you just said, you also seem to try to get out of your own head a lot and see things from other’s points of view. And for that reason perhaps your rhythm is quite slow and you make one work a year rather than one work every two weeks. This is a very important part of this residency, first of all the attempt to find an alternative to the automatic reproduction of one’s practice in every new place that one arrives in, but also the possibility of finding confidence in people around one regarding what one is going through as an artist; for me growth has always been linked to moments like these: there is research, working, making mistakes but there is also spending time with other people who give a sense of common ground and relevance to ideas which one has otherwise arrived at intuitively and in isolation.
Leonid, maybe you can tell us how it’s been from your point of view?
When you come to a place like this and there are all these social issues which are blatantly obvious and its also a very new and young society, you feel pressured to engage in some sort of social aspect or make work about the social aspect. For me it was a long time ago but I separated from this in my work and it was a strong break. Dealing with societal involvement for me was very much from a bird’s eye point of view, it was far removed. I made environments for things to happen and for people to engage in but I don’t engage the people, I just make the place. And here I felt this need to engage with people and at this point of development in my practice it’s a good thing to do. To came back into a society, out of the studio, through my practice. I was forced to think about it more and more. Through one kind of experience with a specific person followed by experiences with others. That is how project with Claire came about, through a developed friendship, and the other project addressing an unknown population.
I think Kianoosh was saying that he has an ongoing process, and he doesn’t respond to the environment in the same way. His process is constant and it is directed from one source. For me I think it is the same as for Kianoosh: from the aspect of being involved in an internal research based practice… But as with anyone, wherever you go to, after a while you will respond to the environment and you will start to put it into your practice in varying degree. The situation affects your practice and after a certain time of being in a place you become a part of it. If for example the social context is such a big issue, it forces itself into your work, into your practice, because you are responding to your environment through your work. I mean, you form ideas, you do little things and you connect things together wherever you go and whatever you do. It is a reflection, something which we cannot avoid, no matter if it is very conscious or if it is something that creeps up in the background on a subconscious level.
It’s also really strange to have such an experience. We ended up spending a lot of time together and getting to know each other better and we are all very different.
Last night you were also talking about how the dynamics between you as a group, and the way you start to affect and influence each other, begins to change your way of seeing things when you’re suspended from your mundane life.
Yes, in that way, the time spent becomes life changing. It is the experiences I have; they can be life changing through the people I meet. These connections I make with people here, engaging with the city and engaging with nature, thinking about how important one or the other is for me. Maybe it is something that pushes me over an edge that will make me set a decision for a new path.
Julia Rosa Clark
I think chance also plays a strong role in how things unfold. I mean look at who is here tonight, it could have been so many other people and it would have been a completely different conversation. I often find particularly with artists’ residencies that chance is a very important factor. Because in your normal daily life, of course there is chance everywhere in every moment of your life, but you have certain guarantees and habits when you are at home. When you are away from home in some strange place, chance and accidents or small details or switches in the current agenda, start to play a much more influential role in your time there. And I think these chance events are also much more able to happen in these situations because you are much more open and available than you would be at home. I mean, I’ve had the most amazing conversations with people that I’ve only spent a few hours with, in a small town in Egypt for example, but that will really stay with me as very significant moment.
This discussion about chance came up last night as well, and Milena was also talking about how chance influenced the development of her project. But I find it funny that you’re talking about chance and chance encounters. For chance you need to have a really sterile environment where chance can happen. If you want chance, you better make sure that there are very few other influences. There’s a huge problem in making random number generators which is a big deal in Science, for example. If someone can invent a random number generator they will probably win a Nobel Prize, its really hard to have something that’s purely chance.
I mean you come here and you do things in a particular way and you meet interesting people, for example Ludwig happens to have family there in Sutherland, and the South African large telescope is there, but obviously I would have never wanted to go there if I wasn’t me. But the funny thing about coming to this kind of exotic setting is that it really makes me think about how much of the place is really influencing me, because I think its very little in fact, from my perspective, its almost nil, because I’m really interested in certain things and hang out with certain people and with other people it doesn’t click. That’s not because of the situation, I think a lot of that is just me and what I’m used to. I guess the whole experience of being here from quite early on has made me think about where do one’s ideas come from? Are they coming from here, or does it even make sense to do a project here? Because, you know, its basically continuing a project I would have done elsewhere perhaps as well. I think its relevant because all these residencies are – similar but not quite the same things as Very Real Time – are happening elsewhere as well and they’re often set in places you would never think of. And you have this idea that you would do something with that context, and that feeds something into the context and the context feeds something into your work, just by virtue of its being different.
Julia, was talking about like having meaningful conversations when you know you’ve got limited period of time with these people. For me, a lot of the more meaningful conversations that I’ve had back in Amsterdam in the last few years have been on Skype. When you have this frame of, even though you have a good friend in the studio next door you always think, ‘oh, there’s going to be time for to talk to them later on…’ you know, and everyone’s busy with everyday stuff and rushing around, but then there’s these weird intense Skype chats with friends who are far away. It’s kind of in this frame. It’s also handy because you can pretend, if the conversation is getting boring, that there’s a bad connection, you can just freeze, stop moving… and then turn it off. Make sure there’s nothing moving in the background that will, uh, ruin the illusion!
There are a lot of strange different zones here that you kind of enter. I mean you get that in many cities, there’s different kinds of contrasts, which give some kind of picture of truth, and there’s always going to be a rich/poor thing but here it’s just so strongly intermingled. These differences, which you know and you read about before you came, but the physical experience of walking through and experiencing it… I know I’ve only experienced the surface of it and maybe that’s all I will. But there’s something that’s just really present here, so that’s what also maybe made me think a lot about different kind of zones within a space.
There was moment where I thought this was quite interesting to observe the more metaphysical aspect of the ideas you have all been pursuing, rather than making overtly ‘public art’ projects. And what this said about being an artist today and also what it said about the city and trying to do the Very Real Time here again. I agreed to your trip to Sutherland, even though it seemed like a strange tangent to your engagements with Cape Town. And then the reason for going there fell flat as it turned out that it was a full moon and so none of the stars were very visible during the nights that you were there, and eventually it seems like the more interesting part of the trip was the culture shock of staying with Ludwig’s family and all that that entailed – being completely removed from regular urban society, other political viewpoints, the gun culture and the relationship with nature out there…
Then at a certain point when you all went off on the Pringle Bay trip I started to get a bit stressed out that you were spending too much time together and that this was a way a dealing with an insecurity, and that this was also starting to get quite boring and irritating for you. It was around then that we had the meeting at Café Neo and I said, hey, do me a favour, start calling the people who have given you their phone numbers and arrange to meet up. Normally that happens in a much more natural way in the residency, but this time less so. But it was interesting because I think then there was a shift. We started to be able to have more distance on the way one is experiencing things and behaving during this month, and articulating that, not as a good or bad thing, but trying to understand the conditions which had been shaping the time till then, both in terms of Cape Town and in terms of the international art scene.
I guess everyone comes here with their computers and Internet stuff and continues trying to deal with stuff back home, and as a result not being properly here. So in the first week you’re still kind of dealing with stuff back home and it was strange being in two different sorts of time zones at the same time. It was only like after that first week that I kind of just ignored the computer and caught up with myself here and started to experience things in a more present way without always being somewhere else. So yeah, at the beginning Amsterdam or the place that you’ve come from is very much present, in the forefront of your mind, and then through the time of being here, over the month it just got smaller and smaller and smaller. And so, this place which at the beginning seemed quite abstract suddenly has come into focus in different ways.
Can I ask, how did you select the people for this residency?
The main criterion was that they were nice people, sensitive and comfortable to engage with others without jumping to conclusions. I think that’s quite important, especially in a place as socially and psychologically complex as here. I had not seen all of the artists’ work in much detail. Milena I met in Spain on an exhibition there, and Claire I have vaguely known for 7 or 8 years, but we did a project with some other common friends in Amsterdam last year where we got to know each other better. Kianoosh and Leonid I talked to on the phone and by Skype and I just enjoyed our conversations.
One has to try and consider the group dynamics in social situations when inviting people from abroad, how to make that group of ‘foreigners’ permeable, bearing in mind that people are quite impressionable here, slightly intimidated by artists coming from the ‘centre’, who have done the Rijksakademie for example, and might have an international career going on, moving around a lot. From the isolated viewpoint down here this can seem larger than life.
Ray du Toit
And they have all been very nice people to spend time with over the years. But I disagree that we are overly impressed, I think that time is over now. It might have been true a few years ago, now I just have a thirst to meet other people who are artists who are doing interesting things from elsewhere and be able to talk. I remember when I met Leonid at the Kimberley Hotel and in no time at all we were talking about camera obscuras. Maybe because I’d just made one in my apartment, but I had no idea that he was into that as well and I would probably never have talked about that to one of my friends here.
Julia Rosa Clark
One of the first things you told me that night was about your camera obscura! (laughs)
But its interesting to me, this kind of model, because when Jonathan (Garnham) told me that you were looking for people to host artists from overseas for a month my gut reaction was, ‘No!’ This is because I was recently involved in a project where I had to host visiting artists who were doing projects here and it was a very uncomfortable experience, I felt like I was a resource for them to carry out their projects and access other people and information, so that as quickly as possible they could assimilate what they thought was going on around them, and make a work an important work out of it which would help them with their international careers. When Jonathan called me, my housemate, Francis Burger was about to go up to Johannesburg and so I had a spare room but I decided not to give it up. Then when I came to the ‘function’… (laughter)
I prefer to say ‘get together’…
…at Roger’s place, and I realized that this was a very different kind of project with different kinds of people involved.
Roger van Wyk
Having done some exchanges with international artists, I think its quite often that we find as the hosts to European artists who are here having to achieve things in a fairly short space of time, that it’s a fairly strange relationship. Its made easier when artists are here on a singular mission and that’s clear, but when its linked into some sort of developmental objective which is meant to link into community of some sort, then its very challenging to make something meaningful out of it. One really needs long periods of time and lengthy opportunities for engagement to do something meaningful. So I found it really refreshing that Very Real Time had no direct outcome, was not staked around any kind of an agenda or outcome from the work and really left it open for people to engage in their own time and in their own way. Obviously it takes a while before they find their way and for people to find their feet and find things that make sense to them, but there’s something very refreshing about that. I felt that they were all pretty earnest and eager to find a way to do this engagement. I suspect that, although it might take longer, I think that they would have more interesting things to say and do about it, particularly if they have the chance to reflect back and come back again later.
But I was interested in what you said about the kinds of projects having changed, that the projects are no longer necessarily ‘public art’ projects in the city.
Well that seems to be a gradual change that’s happened over the past 10 years since the VRT started. It feels like that these kinds of projects which overtly engage the public or the city, are no longer appropriate now, or that the interests have shifted and become more fine-grained.
For example there was a beautiful project by Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle and local photographer and filmmaker Jean Meeran (for VRT in 2003), which developed into a photo series of images of Cinthia in different parts of the city, camouflaged into her background using different colored fabrics which they had bought at the Oriental Plaza. It had to do with her identity as a visitor from Brazil, physically resembling people here and so blending in, but at the same time feeling voiceless because her English was not so good and how all of this developed into project with her host, Jean – both through their friendship and his interest in creolism, being of Indian descent.
There was in the same year a project by Thembinkosi Goniwe, called ‘Parties in different places’, in which, over the period of a weekend, he took us to various shebeens and bars which he likes to frequent in Gugulethu and Nyanga (where he lived at the time). It was an extremely rich experience and at the same time incredibly stressful, because one had the feeling that people were on the one hand very happy to have us there, but at the same time that we were communicating across a huge cultural divide, so that it felt that we had to shout at each other to make ourselves understood. By Day 2 of the project, our group was decimated from 12 to about 4. I remember fielding this trail of feeble excuses by SMS, while we waited at the taxi rank.
I have the feeling that the rainbow energy of that time, the curiosity to overcome the geographical and psychological barriers in the city, which were part of the initial motivations for Very Real Time are now shifting to a more fine-grained experience, and quieter and more considered conversations.
I get the feeling that, to a certain extent, the cities defense-orientated town planning (which began in the 1920’s and 30’s and culminated with the forced removals in the 70’s and 80’s), has won, but also that the city has gradually grown into typical international city with its complex networks of subcultures which we don’t really know very much about. But I have a feeling that a lot is going on in different places and on different generation levels and that perhaps people have reached a fairly tranquil space in realizing the place where they feel comfortable to invest in, and no longer having the energy, curiosity or moral conscience to go on trying to bridge the gaps between different social groups. Its possible that the psychic stress involved in trying to do that became draining at a certain point, and also possible that there was an awareness that whilst one felt very alive in penetrating these other parts of the city, it was also a vicarious kind of experience. Maybe its interesting to hear about Milena’s experience of being here, compared to what she experienced living in Colombia?
(to be continued…)
Amsterdam and London – based artist James Beckett’s exhibion, Of Animal and Inventory opened at Blank projects on 31 August and runs till 29 September 2012. The opening include a concert of the piece “Rabbit to Score” (2006), performed by James Beckett, Robyn Farah, Robin Brink, and Garth Erasmus. Photos below, for more information: http://www.blankprojects.com/1208-james-beckett.php
Beckett was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in KwaZulu Natal where he studied at the Durban Technikon. He has been based in The Netherlands since being accepted to a residency at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in 2001. He was a previous participant in Very Real Time in 2003, and this exhibition is seen as an opportunity to share his impressive body of work as it has develloped over the past decade, with his context of origin.