Chapter 3: Cape Town, money and time.

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.


John Nankin
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…

Gregg Smith
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.

Gregg Smith
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…?

Kira Kemper
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.

Trasi Henen
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.

Milena Bonilla
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.

Kianoosh Motallebi
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.

Gregg Smith
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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s