Claire, Leonid, Milena, Kianoosh and Ludwig left for Sutherland yesterday morning. I tried to reach them several times since but they’re out of cell phone range somewhere in the Karoo. It’s already two weeks that the residency has been under the way and this is the first chance I’ve had to gather my thoughts, I needed to find a place to write. Cape Town has a profusion of new café’s since my last visit, not just on the main drags and intersections, but also in the quieter and more suburban streets. I thought I would try ‘The Power and the Glory’ (the coffee is excellent but the service is very slow, Kianoosh told me), but while looking for parking I found this one, on the corner of Brunswick Road and something else, a quieter part of town and more suitable for working.
On Friday, my small family arrived from Paris and we moved from the house where I grew up in Kenilworth (where I have been based till now), to Roger’s comfy and spectacular studio space in the top of Thamboerskloof. This was a day of ‘musical houses’, during which Kianoosh and Leonid moved from Roger’s studio to Hannah’s apartment in Long Street, which she had vacated on Saturday in order to take up her self-styled residency in our apartment in Paris.
In the days before our arrival here in Thamboerskloof, Leonid had been making various attempts to construct an enormous camera obscura out of their living quarters in Roger’s studio. The two cavernous front rooms give onto a large wooden deck which in turn looks down in a sweeping view over the city, its high-rises and the docks, Table Bay and the Cape Flats. With Kianoosh, I imagine, he covered the large double volume windows and sliding doors with aluminum foil (using washing up liquid as an adhesive). I came through on Sunday morning to have a look and asked them to leave it up.
So it was that we woke up yesterday morning, with a beam of the rising sun piercing into the room through the small lens and casting the inverted city onto the wall above our bed. Leonid said that it was best before 9am, but we discovered that there is a second ideal viewing period in the afternoon when the city and its buildings are fully lit up and one can even see the cars moving along the Nelson Mandela Boulevard, near the Good Hope Centre.
I know its not the first time Leonid has made a pin hole camera project, but I’m glad he did this one here. If this Very Real Time is about trying find out what it means to meaningfully inhabit the time of a digital media age which seems to be insinuating its way into all forms of direct and local experience, then the idea of waking up inside an unplugged live streaming of the city, is certainly a happy one. As Zoé says, there is something very special about waking up in this decor, ‘even if the image itself seems a little dated’ (the high-rises in the half-light seem more in keeping with the opening credits of Dallas), but this is part of its charm. I am tempted to leave it up, but one could also be waking with a view from the bed of the ships coming into the docks and that is also an undeniable pleasure. So does one choose reality or its reflection?
I wonder what they are getting up to out there on the flat dry plains of the Karoo? The visit to the Observatory is scheduled for this evening, that much I know. Normally I would have resisted their desire to travel away from the city for a few days as part of this brief residency. VRT is usually about exchanges and encounters made here in the city, but there is also a kind of logic to the way this trip has unfolded since the first night when Leonid got talking to Ray du Toit at the Kimberley Hotel about the geological formations around Sutherland and also the fact that it has recently become the home of the South African Large Telescope, SALT). On the night following the Kimberley Hotel outing, we went to watch Von Trier’s Melancholia at the Labia Cinema. I think we all felt a general suspicion of the Wagnerian force of the film, but the image of this beautiful planet descending towards the earth, and link between the cosmic realm and the emotions seemed to resonate in some strange way. When it turned out that the family of Claire’s host/housemate, Ludwig, owns two farms out at Sutherland, the journey was gathering a real momentum.
This is a sort of spatial tangent in the 1-month period, but it seems coherent. It was also clear from early on, that the rapidly spreading and tentacular networks which grew out of previous Very Real Time residencies, are this time around being established in quieter manner. It’s too soon to say what that says about the city, as it is today, or the residency, but it’s not a good or a bad thing, just the way it is. I like the degree of ease and ‘attunement’ which this slowness permits; the focused and articulate nature of the exchanges that happen in a degree of seclusion it would be good to give this the time that it needs to find its creative forms. After the first week of the residency it started to become tempting to try this out as an ongoing 2 year cycle, the same group of people meeting several times, here and elsewhere, to make an ongoing research over a two year time span. After the fragmented and frantic pace of the past few years where sincere critical exchanges with friends and colleagues have become a rarity, the chance to set up a sustained period of reflection and discussion feels like a huge gulp of fresh air into the lungs.
I guess it’s also about growing up and having different rhythms. We went for a drink in Long Street on Monday evening, the night before they left on their road trip, to one of these odd touristic bars which besmirch the street these days (this one with a Havana theme, but no cigars). On the way back to our cars I was talking to Julia, she was remarking about her shifting relations with Long Street, having been born there in the 70’s, growing up in the suburbs and then I guess spending much of her student life and early adulthood around there (as we all did at one stage), and now evolving away from what one could call ‘those wild and restless days’. Since the street has become awash with backpacker culture, the old haunts no longer feel the same. And what was the routine of fending off the beggars and desperado’s as one walked home or headed for one’s car, seems to no longer feel normal.
Tomorrow we’ll visit her father’s theatre space which he has built out of corrugated iron somewhere down the hill in Military Road, and see about doing something there. I’m curious to see what Julia does for this VRT. She has a very specific and rich history of this city, whose culture is so poorly documented.