kagablog

May 14, 2015

a letter from dave marks

Filed under: six questions — ABRAXAS @ 5:00 am

Dear AK – thank you for this important and brilliant (if sometimes painful, angst & guilt-ridden) kagablog link. There is hope yet. I know a few of those artist (?) activists?? Helge for one…

I STILL haven’t really focussed or got thru them all… keep getting stuck. Busy with Howard Smith.

Nice to know, but how does one get these views out to where it matters most? To the ‘Animal Farmers’ in Parliament, the municipal fat-cats, all over the place… to the Ray Ban Beemers?

So saying – how are you coping? Have you got work? A scan thru your blog and I have to say just how sadly ironic and quite unbelievable the ‘new’ SAfrica is. The Rainboo Notion? How do you and Helge and Andile and Howard etc. get work and what support systems have you got so’s you can get those issues out of the way, or to the ones who need them most? If Andile loses his EFF seat, who’s gonna support him and his (at time off-the-wall radical) important views and warnings? Had you and Andile today… as Helge had thru’ the 70’s & 80’s – had an active support system (as many of us 60’s & 70’s refugees had) you’d be earning your keep, if not a reasonable living from the love and light you want, and sometimes need, to spread ‘n share. Isn’t that what we thought would / wished would happen post 1994?

Forgive me if this turns into a lecture / excuse / opinionated piece – shooting from the lip again? Although your ‘6 question blog’ does trigger off hope, it also makes me sad to keep whining: WTF went wrong? Is it them, me, you, us??? I can’t help doing what so-called elders do (although I certainly do not consider myself one – in the classic sense of the term) and that is, glancing in the rear view mirror all the time, rather than check out the oncoming traffic… is this where your support systems are? Is this what the so-called revolution promised? As Andile and others allude to, it hasn’t started yet, but, with great respect, there’s a shovel of self-serving bullshit in that scenario.

So if I may? Totally against the run-of-play (and work) say, that we somehow created / invented many of those pre-1990 ‘support systems’ ourselves; and we survived – as a collective; if not totally morally vindicated, we were also like, totally materially bankrupt. (We did not invest in or rely on property or any of those institutions – banks, insurance, and pensions – that were then, as now, the root cause of most of our social ills); fuck the system was the mantra. We bitched but we made our own joyful noises, music, records, clubs, concerts… because, oddly enough as I say, we did it from outside of the shallow mainstream – loudly at times, so they couldn’t help but hear… if not listen; and perhaps that’s what generated our subliminal support? OK, so we all had one common enemy as it were – the white tribe… not all of them, which made it so confusing as well. (Perhaps the most radical and active were not the middle-class guilt-ridden liberal white children, but the often dirt poor, really loud Afrikaans poets, playwrights and activists who had to fight the whole world from without and within… ostracized by their own people, families and the ‘other tribes’ for whom they were shouting? BTW why does no one mention that “T” word? Tribalism has become more, not less and the media have the nerve to say that COSATU and the JZ’s Zulu administration are ‘left wing revolutionaries’? Mbeki’s Xhosanostra? Huh!!??)

Point is, the so-called activists back then had some form of support, however small & sporadic, and it was not, as some of the bloggers allude to, in a tribal, ethnic or colour-coded form. We whimpered a lot: it was just a matter of time before the entire system imploded anyway, we cried. What I’m trying to say is that these are the lessons / experiences that we were hoping would take us – and the generation that followed – into a constructive and worthwhile ‘new’ SAfrica, post revolution. (BTW – You’ve given me an idea for the title of a song that I’ve wanted to write for a couple of years now: Pre Marikana – Post ’94.)

Well, I’ll be damned. The so-called revolution that we had come to accept (if dread) never happened. Certainly not the way we (mainly so-called neo-liberal, active young whities) had dauntingly sung, painted, wrote and danced about. We thought that there was no question about it; there would be blood in the streets – more so than the 40 / 50 ‘liberated service-delivery bereft’ souls who perish almost every day – post 1994 – or the Marikana Massacre. That’s not revolution, or civil war, that’s a form of genocide… if one throws in the education system, designed to keep the masses stupid? 20 years on your voices should’ve been heard and heeded by now and understood by many of not all.

Finally – what am I doing about it these days? If what follows sounds like a cover-up, cop-out or an excuse, it can be either or. I am 71 in a few days, and there’s no way that I can do what my conscious tells me to do anymore; I rely on people (pale materialists mainly) dropping small change into Bruce Sosibo’s old gold mine hard-hat. I’d be in the poor house or the mad house if I did today what I did in the 70’s – as much as I most probably would have, had I had the ‘support’, that was promised. And without claiming entitlement, that too should not be so, in this day and age. Our Hidden Years collections (and there are quite a few now) should be out there, and available. As I think I’ve told you before – what we have instead is the likes of the skin-lightening Krok Brothers empire funding and hiding behind their divisive and wonga generating Apartheid Museum. Seriously!

And what makes it sad from behind my 6 string cultural ‘weapon’, every Sunday, is that there are many bewildered SAfrican born and bred ‘children of the 60’s’ from all classes, codes, colours and cultures, who are STILL saying WTF!!?? It’s not that they had unreasonable post 1994 expectations, or that they too feel entitled; singing, acting, dancing, recording and speaking out, was simply (?) the right thing to do…finish ‘n klaar. But the point is if we had those support systems back then, then what has happened now? Really!! (And no one I know would ever have had the nerve to say, or even think ‘we didn’t struggle to be poor’; that’s the one single phrase that gets me burning my ‘membership’ – in public – almost every Sunday.)

My reality, if not my personal quandary (excuse / justification?), is that I enjoy spanking the plank and shouting my tuneless pop-odes to the Port Shepstone Country Club members – they throw ‘bread in the my jar’… not because I don’t want to play in the street anymore (or venture to try out the subways of London as so many of my elderly muso friends are doing), but the PSCC helps me keep my HY Archive ideals alive; and besides, it puts GMO Jungle Oats, Pro-Nutro and other toxic everyday necessities on our table. I write, talk and sometimes try and joke about it all. But that’s as far as I can go.

OK, it’s true… and I say as much every Sunday: I’m NOT an ‘entertainer. I genuinely ‘share’ the songs and stories I like… to the when-we pale people and to a few south coast indigenous Asians mainly; swinging golf clubbers, crusty old fishermen, the odd surfer and a gaggle of dancing, jorling 70 plus bowlers; I sing (?) as best I can, the very folk ‘n rock classics that I banned musicians from singing at our 3rd Ear Music festivals, clubs and concerts (blush!!) in the 70’s. What a ‘fascist’ I was (re Helge) – because these, I’ve discovered 30 / 40 years on, are timeless, beautiful melodic and memorable songs; words and music that we marked time too, even if, we scoffed and dismissed them as reactionary commercial mainstream pop fluff… which most of it was. But thru it all the classics (as Howard tries to excuse) really shone and survive to this day: the Beatles, Dylan, Marley, etc.

These days I have no problem sharing songs like Me & Bobby McGee, Piano Man, Master Jack & The Black & White Calypso and many more words and music that were so powerful and memorable, that I can boast, 4 decades on, how I recall well over 100 songs, without ever looking at the lyrics or programming a PC backing track. It’s not me that’s clever… it’s the songs that are powerful. There. Now I feel vindicated.

Seriously AK; back on the street; one-on-one, most of the people that I share stuff with are good, well-intentioned worried (mainly) pale-people (a smattering of the Asian and the odd Zulu businessman with a reasonable handicap) who can afford to sometimes squint back into the shadowy past – the so-called ‘good old days’, that I wouldn’t want to wish on anybody – but, surprisingly, most of them are very aware that we are ALL in trouble and that they – more than the Gov, gravy trainers and the Ray Ban Beemers – have to change. But I also cannot fully endorse Andile’s narrow, old fashioned, obvious & sometimes race-based fascist so-called revolutionary vision, of more mayhem and blood; that won’t change anything! Well, for the fat-cats, not the foot-soldiers, of course.

Maybe I can further justify my guilt-ridden self by wimping… how blind & deaf can my passing trade be if they can stand, sit and dance thru 3 hours of Cohen, Dylan, Lucey, Taylor, Malan and Marks, and still drop ‘bread in my jar’? Without them, me and my exclusively SAfrican HY Archive would be stuffed & the songs and tall stories I like to share with the passing parade and dwindling trade, who seldom really listen would otherwise stay at home; and I don’t mind them not listening. I’m happy that they gather, giggle and gaggle.. and that I’m part of the conversation that I avoided back then. I’m learning.

And besides, I like to believe, that by supporting the HY Archive, we can all also (hopefully) learn, and ask the question: where now is the support for the hundreds of musicians who stayed to face the music??

Enuff! And apologies.

Can I add your kagablog link to my eMail lists? Might keep a few of my capitalist and ex-comrade super-golf ‘n bowling elders away on a Sunday, but then as the song sings:… Guilt is the Ghost of the Free… and who is, at this point in time?

Namaste

David

February 23, 2015

paul khahliso matela answers six questions on film in south africa after marikana

1. Do you think film can be didactic in a good way?

They say, I reiterate, THEY SAY that the Cro-Magnon man may have carved rock paintings to legitimise those images of plants and animals ‘suitable’ for eating and in other strokes depicting the poisonous and deadly ones. I am not sure if it is ‘truth’, but I found that interesting. And when those carved images danced in the flickering light of a furnace scattering lessons to the observers, would not that be the ultimate didactic method that would serve a collective memory, at least not for dogma, but a ‘knowledge’ of how to preserve and be preserved by life? The didactic, I think, in this scenario of dancing paintings against rocks is but that cautionary element added into a collective memory about what is poisonous or not. If it prevents more members of the species from eating poison mushrooms, then that member’s part is done after the 99 monkeys that ate those poisonous mushrooms. So I believe film to be an attempt to bear record of memory characteristically shared by a group of people, the meanings of which can be maintained and transformed across time.

2. What is this need to document? Of what use is it?

I always loved the idea of memory ‘in its flawed nature’ as an apparatus of compartmentizing memory, serving as a document that validates an existence in time/space of an event or phenomenon. But to further the idea, was the elucidation that each set of eyes, or any compendium of the six/seven senses as ascribed to each individual, serve a greater memory pool of a species… so I would like to think that it is essentially the calling of each breath of life that we continually deposit ‘our’ perspectives of ‘life’ into that memory bank of a species that wants to remember itself. In a way I acquiesce that life experiences itself through us, so we must try and be as accurate as ‘humanly’ possible.

3. Can film be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

If one has to attempt explicating on past methods of thoughts regarding what constitutes ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ and ‘self-awareness’, I believe we have a lot to abandon under the influence of new intellectual paradigms which have transformed how we ‘see’ the pinnacle ‘self’ in an age of capitalist greed and self-serving social constructs and an ever evolving technological revolution which will in itself define what ‘real’ is. I would rather answer the question with a number of questions which are as follows. Is truth solely a construct, or are we to discard all notions of ‘truth-in-itself’ Schopenhauer wrote about? Can THAT truth be documented through individualised vantage points? Can one human being experience all of ‘life’ within a supreme singularity? Was the cave painting a construct of truth? Were all the other animals ready to be eaten because the viewers of the cave painting could not ‘validate’ the truth depicted? Did our species then follow the logic that the hundredth money was wrong and many depleting their own species and life on earth based on dietary addictions?

4. Is South Africa a productive field for film today? In what way? How would you describe the film scene here?

I think our industry is one of the under-rated corporate media institutions in the world, devised solely for the advance of a great variety of memory censorships and agenda which one might burn bridges for speaking about, either through film or any other tool of expression. But, one cannot deny that the country has entered a rapidly changing global mind which has transformed a number of generations in the country. The new minds, so to speak, have a lot to offer the content necessary, but on a never to be paid for basis. We will have to sell our films for peanuts to some fifteen channels brought on by digital migration, when broadcasters, who still don’t have enough money to fill their present channels, being under pressure to fill 20 channels instead of, for instance three, will have to exploit content makers who will also be overtly desperate for fiscal returns on investments. So, the traditional ways of capitalising on South African experiences are approaching a turning point for the worst, where ‘monetising truth’ will also take centre-stage. The more blatantly true your film is, their ‘construct of truth’, as you called it, will have to take the budget. Truth is silenced in nearing years of our inauguration into a world of chaos, since we have been inducted in global intergenerational tyranny.

5. What is the role of music in film?

I once read an article analysing auditory hallucinations suffered by a variety of patients exhibiting various symptom of psychosis. One observation that stayed in my mind was about a phenomenon where blind patients seemed to hear other frequencies better that the ‘sighted’ patients, possessing a heightened ability for the aural. I found that peculiarly interesting because it seemed to imply that there exists ‘a sort of pairing’ of any two senses, whose connections seemed to claim a polarity with other sense at some primordial level. I figured, perhaps ‘images’ are ‘music for the eyes’ and ‘sound’ is but ‘visions for the ear’. Perhaps, I am also speculating that when one loses their sense of taste, their sense of smell becomes heightened; even when this postulation is too immature for a mere reader and no specialist in the field of psychology.

Threnody For the Victims of Marikana from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

6. What can film tell us about Marikana? What can film do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Oh fathers and mothers, our life’s blood… What is memory without…
Marikana,
What incestuous decisions and compromises our struggle stalwarts succumbed to in order for us to bloodlet and be collateral damage for those who perhaps lodged five bullets into Dulcie September’s head?

I see the strewn carcasses of our fathers at foothills to mansions breeding shafts.
And I remember Hani. Tarmac to where they can reach us most is clear, but painted with fallen stars, crimson like souls bled.

***

Film can make Marikana a spectacle for intellectual analysis financed by capitalist military industrial complex waged against people of colour around the world.
Or expose the expense of human mortality for fertilising the blossoming of terror on earth.
Booming economies and their ties to future disasters bred by sensationalised lusts, while paid for by visuals of dead black men being the financial piggy bank for a global media propaganda cult, will suffer a great historical amnesia concocted through film.
Film can be a lobotomizing tool in the ever pervasive project of censoring memory.
Imagine how much rationalizations and fiction were concocted to be known ‘truths’ about those commemorated days in the annals of our historic struggle for liberation.
Film will be a librarian’s transcript of edited speeches uttered by CEO’s of mining conglomerates making excuses for a system that enforces a colonialism of the future – solely based on politics of the stomach.
Film will make the proverbial act of ingesting oneself as palatable as images of dead Palestinian children edited into ‘format’ within montages of dead black male bodies and pets mangled with stories of sorrow.
But I hope, film can expose the evils of capitalism as expressed through the massacre without making society live complacently with those evils.

February 6, 2015

dave marks responds to the six questions about art in south africa after marikana

Filed under: six questions — ABRAXAS @ 11:18 pm

Dear AK – thank you for this important and brilliant (if sometimes painful, angst & guilt-ridden) kagablog link. There is hope yet. I know a few of those artist (?) activists?? Helge for one…

I STILL haven’t really focussed or got thru them all… keep getting stuck. Busy with Howard Smith.

Nice to know, but how does one get these views out to where it matters most? To the ‘Animal Farmers’ in Parliament, the municipal fat-cats, all over the place… to the Ray Ban Beemers?

So saying – how are you coping? Have you got work? A scan thru your blog and I have to say just how sadly ironic and quite unbelievable the ‘new’ SAfrica is. The Rainboo Notion? How do you and Helge and Andile and Howard etc. get work and what support systems have you got so’s you can get those issues out of the way, or to the ones who need them most? If Andile loses his EFF seat, who’s gonna support him and his (at time off-the-wall radical) important views and warnings? Had you and Andile today… as Helge had thru’ the 70’s & 80’s – had an active support system (as many of us 60’s & 70’s refugees had) you’d be earning your keep, if not a reasonable living from the love and light you want, and sometimes need, to spread ‘n share. Isn’t that what we thought would / wished would happen post 1994?

Forgive me if this turns into a lecture / excuse / opinionated piece – shooting from the lip again? Although your ‘6 question blog’ does trigger off hope, it also makes me sad to keep whining: WTF went wrong? Is it them, me, you, us??? I can’t help doing what so-called elders do (although I certainly do not consider myself one – in the classic sense of the term) and that is, glancing in the rear view mirror all the time, rather than check out the oncoming traffic… is this where your support systems are? Is this what the so-called revolution promised? As Andile and others allude to, it hasn’t started yet, but, with great respect, there’s a shovel of self-serving bullshit in that scenario.

So if I may? Totally against the run-of-play (and work) say, that we somehow created / invented many of those pre-1990 ‘support systems’ ourselves; and we survived – as a collective; if not totally morally vindicated, we were also like, totally materially bankrupt. (We did not invest in or rely on property or any of those institutions – banks, insurance, and pensions – that were then, as now, the root cause of most of our social ills); fuck the system was the mantra. We bitched but we made our own joyful noises, music, records, clubs, concerts… because, oddly enough as I say, we did it from outside of the shallow mainstream – loudly at times, so they couldn’t help but hear… if not listen; and perhaps that’s what generated our subliminal support? OK, so we all had one common enemy as it were – the white tribe… not all of them, which made it so confusing as well. (Perhaps the most radical and active were not the middle-class guilt-ridden liberal white children, but the often dirt poor, really loud Afrikaans poets, playwrights and activists who had to fight the whole world from without and within… ostracized by their own people, families and the ‘other tribes’ for whom they were shouting? BTW why does no one mention that “T” word? Tribalism has become more, not less and the media have the nerve to say that COSATU and the JZ’s Zulu administration are ‘left wing revolutionaries’? Mbeki’s Xhosanostra? Huh!!??)

Point is, the so-called activists back then had some form of support, however small & sporadic, and it was not, as some of the bloggers allude to, in a tribal, ethnic or colour-coded form. We whimpered a lot: it was just a matter of time before the entire system imploded anyway, we cried. What I’m trying to say is that these are the lessons / experiences that we were hoping would take us – and the generation that followed – into a constructive and worthwhile ‘new’ SAfrica, post revolution. (BTW – You’ve given me an idea for the title of a song that I’ve wanted to write for a couple of years now: Pre Marikana – Post ’94.)

Well, I’ll be damned. The so-called revolution that we had come to accept (if dread) never happened. Certainly not the way we (mainly so-called neo-liberal, active young whities) had dauntingly sung, painted, wrote and danced about. We thought that there was no question about it; there would be blood in the streets – more so than the 40 / 50 ‘liberated service-delivery bereft’ souls who perish almost every day – post 1994 – or the Marikana Massacre. That’s not revolution, or civil war, that’s a form of genocide… if one throws in the education system, designed to keep the masses stupid? 20 years on your voices should’ve been heard and heeded by now and understood by many of not all.

Finally – what am I doing about it these days? If what follows sounds like a cover-up, cop-out or an excuse, it can be either or. I am 71 in a few days, and there’s no way that I can do what my conscious tells me to do anymore; I rely on people (pale materialists mainly) dropping small change into Bruce Sosibo’s old gold mine hard-hat. I’d be in the poor house or the mad house if I did today what I did in the 70’s – as much as I most probably would have, had I had the ‘support’, that was promised. And without claiming entitlement, that too should not be so, in this day and age. Our Hidden Years collections (and there are quite a few now) should be out there, and available. As I think I’ve told you before – what we have instead is the likes of the skin-lightening Krok Brothers empire funding and hiding behind their divisive and wonga generating Apartheid Museum. Seriously!

And what makes it sad from behind my 6 string cultural ‘weapon’, every Sunday, is that there are many bewildered SAfrican born and bred ‘children of the 60’s’ from all classes, codes, colours and cultures, who are STILL saying WTF!!?? It’s not that they had unreasonable post 1994 expectations, or that they too feel entitled; singing, acting, dancing, recording and speaking out, was simply (?) the right thing to do…finish ‘n klaar. But the point is if we had those support systems back then, then what has happened now? Really!! (And no one I know would ever have had the nerve to say, or even think ‘we didn’t struggle to be poor’; that’s the one single phrase that gets me burning my ‘membership’ – in public – almost every Sunday.)

My reality, if not my personal quandary (excuse / justification?), is that I enjoy spanking the plank and shouting my tuneless pop-odes to the Port Shepstone Country Club members – they throw ‘bread in the my jar’… not because I don’t want to play in the street anymore (or venture to try out the subways of London as so many of my elderly muso friends are doing), but the PSCC helps me keep my HY Archive ideals alive; and besides, it puts GMO Jungle Oats, Pro-Nutro and other toxic everyday necessities on our table. I write, talk and sometimes try and joke about it all. But that’s as far as I can go.

OK, it’s true… and I say as much every Sunday: I’m NOT an ‘entertainer. I genuinely ‘share’ the songs and stories I like… to the when-we pale people and to a few south coast indigenous Asians mainly; swinging golf clubbers, crusty old fishermen, the odd surfer and a gaggle of dancing, jorling 70 plus bowlers; I sing (?) as best I can, the very folk ‘n rock classics that I banned musicians from singing at our 3rd Ear Music festivals, clubs and concerts (blush!!) in the 70’s. What a ‘fascist’ I was (re Helge) – because these, I’ve discovered 30 / 40 years on, are timeless, beautiful melodic and memorable songs; words and music that we marked time too, even if, we scoffed and dismissed them as reactionary commercial mainstream pop fluff… which most of it was. But thru it all the classics (as Howard tries to excuse) really shone and survive to this day: the Beatles, Dylan, Marley, etc.

These days I have no problem sharing songs like Me & Bobby McGee, Piano Man, Master Jack & The Black & White Calypso and many more words and music that were so powerful and memorable, that I can boast, 4 decades on, how I recall well over 100 songs, without ever looking at the lyrics or programming a PC backing track. It’s not me that’s clever… it’s the songs that are powerful. There. Now I feel vindicated.

Seriously AK; back on the street; one-on-one, most of the people that I share stuff with are good, well-intentioned worried (mainly) pale-people (a smattering of the Asian and the odd Zulu businessman with a reasonable handicap) who can afford to sometimes squint back into the shadowy past – the so-called ‘good old days’, that I wouldn’t want to wish on anybody – but, surprisingly, most of them are very aware that we are ALL in trouble and that they – more than the Gov, gravy trainers and the Ray Ban Beemers – have to change. But I also cannot fully endorse Andile’s narrow, old fashioned, obvious & sometimes race-based fascist so-called revolutionary vision, of more mayhem and blood; that won’t change anything! Well, for the fat-cats, not the foot-soldiers, of course.

Maybe I can further justify my guilt-ridden self by wimping… how blind & deaf can my passing trade be if they can stand, sit and dance thru 3 hours of Cohen, Dylan, Lucey, Taylor, Malan and Marks, and still drop ‘bread in my jar’? Without them, me and my exclusively SAfrican HY Archive would be stuffed & the songs and tall stories I like to share with the passing parade and dwindling trade, who seldom really listen would otherwise stay at home; and I don’t mind them not listening. I’m happy that they gather, giggle and gaggle.. and that I’m part of the conversation that I avoided back then. I’m learning.

And besides, I like to believe, that by supporting the HY Archive, we can all also (hopefully) learn, and ask the question: where now is the support for the hundreds of musicians who stayed to face the music??

Enuff! And apologies.

Can I add your kagablog link to my eMail lists? Might keep a few of my capitalist and ex-comrade super-golf ‘n bowling elders away on a Sunday, but then as the song sings:… Guilt is the Ghost of the Free… and who is, at this point in time?

Namaste

David

January 31, 2015

helgé janssen answers six questions about art in south africa after marikana

Filed under: art,helgé janssen,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 4:22 pm

0

1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

Perhaps being/becoming didactical could be seen as the artist’s (those that try to make a real difference at any rate) last stand without becoming fascist? I think the left has failed because it has shied away from a fascists’ determined energy.

Animal Farm springs to mind.

However, I am at a point now where I am seeing that the suppression of art globally (through any channels – parents, teachers, governments, religions, mainstream media) has been entirely and supremely successful. In spite a plethora of anti war art/films/novels/poems/plays/dances/documentaries/photographs/articles/exposures etc etc etc WAR still proliferates, the warmongers still have willing fodder, fascism constantly morphs into a new guise. Capitalism continues to be the modus aperandi. How did we end up with these shameful world leaders? We have no leaders of conscience. The one’s that have get taken out.

Thomas Sankara springs to mind.

The left has not learnt to recognise the underlying immutable truths of fascism, or if they do, the message is suppressed. Incredibly dark forces are determined to befuddle logical thinking, rational deductions, and sound values.

This has lead me to the conclusion that no matter what political machinations humans are presented with, we are all at different stages of consciousness and hence perception. Without knowledge, information, mankind is manipulable. The majority of people do not know how to make their own decisions and the ballot box has effectively been reduced to an illusion of ownership. Being able to discern a lie from the truth seems to be impossible to learn in a society that has been conditioned to abdicate their responsibility of thinking for themselves. The primary role of ALL education should be about addressing these issues. We have regressed and education has failed the free world.

It is a vicious cycle……

There is sufficient proof in history that man (collectively) cannot learn from his mistakes, has failed to remember the past in any constructive way. This is either a built-in trait of humanity…..or humanity has become so punch drunk with mind manipulation, relentless financial onslaught that binds them to the grindstone, that they have become willing participants of their own destruction. Nobody in any effective political position seems able to learn that violence breeds violence. Politicians get into power and then seek revenge. Deeply negative traits of human nature constantly triumph….

Perhaps this is all very simple really: the world is overpopulated.

While there is evidence (?) via FB that the world is waking up, how much of that is just a smoke screen to make the left think ‘something is happening’ whereas in fact its business as usual? I don’t think we should ignore this aspect. I am thinking of those memes where we see “Happening in New York right now!” and we see an image of 1000’s of people marching through the streets? If these things were true, why do we not see EFFECTIVE CHANGE? Look at the hypocrisy of “je suis Charlie”.

I think it is beyond the 11th hour.

0

2. What is this need to document? Of what use is it?

I think that the NEED to document is driven by a creative urge to make sense of, to ‘order’, to understand aspects of ones existence. To extract the light from the dark. I think it is a fallacy in psychological terms to say that light BANISHES the dark.

The mere act of thought (stemming from self knowledge) and writing it down becomes revolutionary.

Documenting is a statement against invisibility.

Documenting is participatory, an affirmation.

As a child, all my creative endeavours were given no credit to the extent that I was ‘frowned upon’. My father was mostly absent and my mother gave absolutely no encouragement. I suppose I can blame them for me becoming ‘multi-talented’ as no matter in what direction (singing, making dolls dresses, creating a ‘nature book’, making up plays, getting high marks at school) my creative endeavours unfolded, they were simply not impressed…..hence I kept exploring. I therefore took my creativity for granted (which I still do) and generally need to galvanize myself into creation. I always face an inner panic. In that sense I am a reluctant artist/performer/creator. Strangely, I feel this has helped me survive apartheid – where my drive to create was not matched with a drive for recognition. In 1998 my solo play The Come-Uppance of Punch came up against a total onslaught at the Grahamstown Festival.

Even with ‘Faces’ and my 15 year career as an ‘alternative’ dj I have very little, if any, personal photographs of that time. All the photographs I have (for example) are those that were given to me.

Of the Body of Despondent Artists (1984-87) the photography (mostly by Peter Hart-Davis and Andrew Yates) was done for press release, rather than for the purpose of documentation. It never struck me that any of this should be ‘documented’.

However, I kept diaries for many years – from around 1980 up to 2000 at which time I acquired a computer. I thus had a lot of material for the writing of my five plays – three with the Body of Despondent Artists: I HAVE NO! (1984), MASTERS OF CEREMONY (1985), DARK CORNERS OF A NEW MIND (1986). And then of course my two solo plays BLOOD (1988 -1990) and THE COME-UPPANCE OF PUNCH (1995-1999). Today I cannot read those diaries – they are filled with utter pain, excessive compulsive repetitions, insanity.

I have only recently acquired some photographs of my parents and I do not have a single photograph of my maternal grandmother who parented us (sister and brother) over a five-year period. I have very little knowledge of my maternal and paternal grandparents. Males did not feature in my family set-up. I have very little sense of ‘ancestry’ via conventional family ties. Given that my fellow black South Africans in particular live THROUGH ancestry I struggle to understand the import of ancestry to one’s existence. I feel that IF I have any ancestry it is the link through other artists. I respect my parents deeply, but they were totally dysfunctional as parents.

I was immensely disturbed by the apartheid mindset to the point of a manic and morbidly obsessive interest and had little idea at the time of the universality of my understanding (and hence depiction) of fascism. Looking back at those times (and particularly since writing Tell Tale – Pine Slopes Publications 2005 ISBN 978-0-9584874-1-2) I have realised I was psychically out of control and painting/writing/djing/fashion prevented me from spinning out completely. My oil painting “Beyond Good and Evil” is a particular example of this depiction/survival: an attempt to gain distance and rationality from the turmoil and the ever conjoined dynamic of the ‘opposites’ merry-go-round.

It was from 1990 that I felt a need to begin documentation of my performances and thus have videos of my solo play BLOOD filmed at the Natal Playhouse, a fashion show at 330 (1992) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogkT67B34Fs&spfreload=10)

and the ‘Come Uppance of Punch’ filmed at the Bat Centre 1999 amongst others.

In 2007, the ONLY person with whom I shared the most intimate moments of my life for eight years (Brain Vincent de Kock) was killed in a horrific motorbike accident. I have spent the last eight years writing a novel of these times set against the decline of our Education system: I returned to teaching in 1997 and it struck me that the classroom was the ‘coal-face of change’ and I felt intensely privileged to be in this space during this time. Bearing in mind that in 1997 there was a strong sense of euphoria in education….and I was dealing with a generation of South Africans that had, for the first time in their lives, access to a quality education. Yet by 2001 things began to get hectic. Changes that swept through grade 8 and 9 Natural Science syllabus were disastrous where content became a dirty word: it was all about process. For eg. it was not WHAT the graph depicted it was the UNDERSTANDING of the graph that was important. Not a single educator at any of the workshops understood this concept. There were no standardised textbooks for any of the years that I taught Natural Science. As a result the CASS assessment tasks were meant to be set so as not to favour any one school. Many schools could not complete the tasks causing the assessments to be meaningless. Initially, the over zealous Education Department in Natural Science created assessments that took about an hour to mark a single script – and with 300 Grade 9’s? Compare that with other subjects like Home Economics (for eg.) that took about 5 minutes to mark! The irony of those same children needing CONTENT for the Matric exam escaped them completely. Changes that swept through grade 10 to 12 Life Science syllabi were mostly phenomenal and headed in the right direction but were too fast, too uncoordinated, badly delivered. Adding to the confusion, between 2006 to 2009 Biology was changed to Life Science and the syllabus was changed three times. And, by introducing Evolution and Environmental studies (two fantastic moves which represented half the year’s work) the Education department blithely ignored the fact that they had just rendered all Life Science educators under qualified. What this says about the Education Departments contempt for educators is alarming – without so much as a murmur from the press or parents. To me, this was the REAL reason why the pass mark was lowered: Educators had to get up to speed while floundering with new content…….and a high failure rate would have made them (the Ed. Dept.) look like idiots.

Stepping into a matric classroom in May 2009 (after 3 ½ years at a deaf school) was a shocker of note. That coalface had become one-dimensional, immature, unknowledgeable. I was facing a form of xenophobia and began to believe that the pupils thought they had stumbled upon the very person who had master-minded apartheid. Malema was in full cry taking private spats with the white right into the public arena. There was constant pandemonium in the school: learners wondering around corridors during lessons free to interrupt at will, strikes, sit-ins by pupils and parents to have the headmaster re-instated. He was suspended pending an investigation regarding him caning a pupil. These strikes and sit-ins were arranged by the ‘illegitimate’ GB. Added to this it was utterly impossible to have a class discussion on evolution, to discuss the dynamic of abortion being seen as a method of birth control, to discuss the effects that alcohol and drugs have on the nervous and muscular system….all standard discussion topics…..to mention but a few! And, if you realise that discussion is a time to exercise knowledge, broaden one’s perspective and plumb some ‘commonaltiy’ of perception, you may get some idea of how dysfunctional that school was.

Attempts to document the court procedure (2010 to the present) of ‘unfair dismissal’ from the Ed. Dept. has become a major 5-year ‘installation’ artwork. I found support structures ineffective, out of touch and dismissive. I have had to constantly wade through mounds of paternalistic presumptive attitudes and formulative responses from presumably intelligent people. No lawyer was able to engage contextually with the matter at hand. I had to laugh when, three weeks before my court date (19th November 2014 – the judge ruled that my case be sent back for arbitration!) I had a two-hour interview with a top Durban advocate (who was white, by the way). I told him that I found that the notion of CONSEQUENCE to be a virtually non-existent concept amongst lawyers when he said, not without some pique: “The legal system is about consequence.” In spite of an extremely positive meeting, three days later he backed off from this case.

The court papers, all of which have been done by myself, serves as a LEGAL account of this insanity. This procedure has pushed me beyond the limits of endurance. I have had to look to Mandela’s statement: “It is you who must take the defence of your rights, your aspirations in your own hands.” – and to take control of my understanding of the constitution. Mandela’s message has become alarmingly cryptic in the light of the bizarre twists and the perturbing failure of leadership in the ANC. I have been driven by the fact that I would not die in peace if I did not follow through with this abuse until justice has been served. While this procedure has been understandably fraught, it has been empowering….and I am supremely happy with this work. The more I researched, the more I delved, the more ‘truths’ came to light. I am currently awaiting a second arbitration hearing and I have already been subjected to collusion in this new setting. The impunity is shattering…..and seemingly endless.

I would like to add that I feel that change has dragged out so because people do not/have not taken personal responsibility for change and have absolved themselves through a collective amnesia and collective bargaining which has smothered the real issues we as a nation need to face.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

My paintings/plays/writings are a direct application of this statement. ‘Art’ has to be an apparatus for constructing truth: it has no choice. But, as in my opening statement, it has struck me that art has been successfully suppressed by the corporate states globally. We have become blinded by the big bling billboard. The Ray Bans on Cape Towns Waterfront? We are also at an extremely dangerous juncture in terms of global mind control and manipulation. The vilification of Muslims which began almost forty years ago and which has gone unchecked, has lead to the ardent drone annihilation of the Palestinians and the bizarre wars in the Middle East.

And, since the demise of apartheid, I constantly encounter the vilification of the LIBERAL where there is a determination to confuse liberals with closet racists. It is all coming very close to home.

If there is ONE immutable truth that apartheid has taught me it is t his:

“A lie is a lie,

no matter how much you try

and look at it with fresh eyes.”

What does this mean? Apartheid was premised on a lie. The Apartheid Regime bent over backwards trying to prove the lie to be NOT A LIE and all they did was poke more holes into their own façade. It is bizarre, now, 20 years later to even have to say this!

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

There is creativity taking place in SA today……inevitably so….but very little of it is taking place in mainstream circles.

Twenty years into our new dispensation silly people with silly agendas are still muddling to control art. The art market (as in any country I suppose) is determined by curators who need to make money out of artists. This has lead art astray and has undermined the deeper power (in the short term at least) of what art is about.

The art scene hence lacks risk and is thus anything but vibrant. There is a huge lack of viable critics who carry any effective weight in their perception of art i.e. the gap between artists and public is a gaping chasm.

In Durban in particular I am seeing too much predictability when it comes to people getting ‘important’ appointments where they have no sense of the past, let alone the present, let alone a ‘radar’ for what is needed. They might have once HAD a radar: but that radar has become tainted with compromise of the wrong sort. They are simply being paid to maintain the status quo within the realm of appearing new and different.

Instead there is a DEEP sense of everything that is OPPOSED to art: amnesia, selective memories, closed circles, ideological miss-wiring….middlemen muddling the way…..

Political events seem to pointing me in the direction of once more becoming a ‘performance terrorist’….of which the image of the RED BULL 1983-2005 (representing the blindness and fear mongering of apartheid) and the APARTHEID DEMON (1988 – 1998) have become the most iconic.

Art has proven that it is too dangerous to be left in the hands of artists.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

Music to film is like walls to architecture.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy’ after Marikana?

I think your film “Night is coming” – a threnody for the victims of Marikana, expertly answers all aspects of this question and for which I wrote the following review:

http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=35297

What has struck me most deeply these last 20 years is that for democracy to function there is a desperate need for people to be well informed, open minded, able to debate, to be transparent so that you are not driven by a need to hide information, to be honest and not corrupt, to not be threatened by differing view-points. How did the ANC get this so wrong?

I don’t think anybody understood the concept of democracy. The first thing the ANC should have done was set up task teams knowledgeable in the hands-on functionality (i.e. import) of democracy and these should have been sent to schools to educate educators, to pupils, to parents in an onslaught of dissemination, consistently, over a five year period. Instead all we had were (for eg.) seminars on ‘conflict management’…..and a misguided/mishandled policy to get ‘old school’ educators to remove themselves from the system by taking huge severance packages laughing all the way to the bank. Who thinks these things up? Well it’s way too late now to be bothered!

January 10, 2015

carina venter answers six questions about art in south africa after marikana

Filed under: art,Carina Venter,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 9:36 am

1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

The answer is yes, not because the answer is yes, but because the answer has to be yes. Partly delusional, partly idealised, partly corrupted, and partly sheer faith in a belief that I might be wrong about the afore-mentioned conditions in a sovereign sense. At least for the present, I have no other way of thinking about the possibility of aesthetics as a didactic force.

2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

This need to document, indeed the incessant need to catalogue, review, reconstruct, catalogue our reconstructions, review our catalogued reconstructions, reconstruct our review of the catalogued reconstruction: this need to archive is both cumulative and productive, but not linear in an ontological sense. Which leads me to the conclusion that the need to archive is a sign that the present of linear time (understood as always following what came before and opening onto what comes after) is mutilated, so much so that we must go somewhere other to warm our shivering lives. We return to the past, to the archive, at times to seek consolation, to enunciate our present as a reconstruction of the documented past or to respond to something other than the linear present. Psychoanalysis is, I think, one way to understand the immense psychic need to archive: it is only when we have understood our most intimate archives, or rather, when we have reassembled those archives into something with which we can live — albeit momentarily — that depression (the experience of the present, not as fleeting and finite but as what is irrevocable and infinite) yields to the warmth of a moment in which we feel able to be present. This also means that the archive and its modern derivatives are abstractions that mostly exclude those monitory subjects without money. In other words, it is a space for those of us who have been fed, clad, rested, cared for, and then find that there is still time left.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, a means of constructing truth?

The day that a consensus is reached on this question will be the day that art becomes nothing other than what we think it is. Art can be anything it wishes to be. And perhaps herein resides its only hope. Art is ephemeral in the sense that its total undoing is always still possible. It is the only realm in which it is possible to dream new beginnings, even if those dreams are themselves never untainted.

4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

I am not qualified to answer this question. I am too young, I haven’t lived very much, I have seen too little of art, and I have lived apart from art for the first 18 years of my life. In my own writing, South Africa is a principle, the intensity of which—often violently—refuses distance. For me, writing has become a threshold, a bulwark against my own falling silent. I write about what resists writing, in order not to fall silent. There is another type of art-making in which I choose to partake, whilst convincing myself that participation is not a matter of choice but of coercion. This type of art-making is akin to a game of Monopoly: through hard work, good luck and a bit of bluffing, I buy houses, streets and sometimes entire cities, individuals, traditions, nations, histories, with the sole aim of playing the game, inasmuch as it is possible, on my own terms.0

5. What is the role of music in film?

I honestly don’t know, but I would like you to put the same question to me ten years hence.

Night is Coming – a threnody for the victims of Marikana from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

This question, too, is beyond what I feel I am able to answer. Or rather, I think that you have yourself proffered one answer which is what occupies my mind and body at the time of responding to your questions. Allow me, then, to quote (almost verbatim) something you wrote:

The title of this film is inspired by the geography of the physical landscape in which a massacre that forms its backbone, is set. It is a new South African fable featuring two “characters”, a Massacre and a Blind Musicologist, played by Gertrude Magrietjie in her haunting debut role. And it recounts their adventures, or rather misadventures in the arid parts of Marikana. Having teamed up, our protagonists, a Massacre and a Blind Musicologist Bible Thumper, set out on a journey to secure spiritual food in order to sustain themselves during a period of spiritual drought. They arrive at red and green pastures, and the Massacre, knowing that these belong to a moody Lonmin, encourages his Blind colleague to gaze. Retribution is inevitable and it takes the form of a Massacre that leaves 34 dead, many of them shot in the back by Police Tactical Response Team members. The Blind Musicologist, unable to swim, drowns.
Night Is Coming: A Threnody for the Victims of Marikana is a fugue in four voices. Two of the voices relate to foreground material (comprising fingers, hands and faces in extreme closeups) and background material (consisting of landscape spaces and plans sequence which both frame space – plastically and architectonically – as well as to operate within the landscape’s frame.
The other two “voices” of the fugue are sound and speech respectively. Particularly Billie Whitelaw’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s text Rockaby lends itself to a fugal setting. Sound design is a crucial part of the success of the fugal approach, and this is already built in to the film from the opening salvo that heralds the Tactical Response Team’s not very tactical response to the striking miners being herded by large armoured vehicles to their own massacre.
The sound of this salvo of bullets is used like a goema drum as a warning, a memory from the Chthonic subconscious built into the DNA, the cellular structure, of generations of people derived from slavery but denied their memory of self by hundreds of years of forced forgetting under colonialism and apartheid.

December 21, 2014

stacy hardy answers six questions about art in south africa after marikana

Filed under: art,literature,politics,six questions,stacy hardy — ABRAXAS @ 3:59 pm

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

I guess the kind of art I like, the books I like to read, the music I like to listen, feels like it has something at stake to it, that there’s some necessity to its having been written rather than it being a replication of patterns or traditions that have come before or brain fodder.

I think there’s a growing urgency for art and writing that shakes us out of our complacency, reminding us that we are alive, really alive and that things don’t have to be the way they are, reminding us that anything is possible, that everything is possible, despite the fact that we routinely convince ourselves that things are just as they are—the way we’ve inherited them.

So yes, I’m interested in art and music and fiction that works against society’s indifference. That challenges the world we live in, the world we have inherited. I love work that shakes up our stable view of the world, work that trips us up or surprises us, that forces us to see the world differently. I love work that grapples with the self as a transient gossamer thing, easily obliterated and readily rebuilt. I’m interested in sex, in desire and the body, an art that champions the vulnerable, the fractured, the disenfranchised, the fucked-up.

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2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

Well I think there’s a real sense that our that language has failed us, is failing us – that we no longer have the tools or even the words, the sentence structures to give voice to our present realities, that all too often the language we use has been compromised by history or co-opted and emptied out of meaning by our late capitalist reality.

So it’s about how we document and how we speak about our reality that’s the pressing concern. How do we capture the complexity, the beauty, the horror, the inventiveness of life here and now now?

I have little interest in documenting unless that document subverts or challenges accepted views of reality or allows us to really see not simply to recognise. Recognition occurs when we look at things without seeing them—when racism in Cape Town has become so familiar, we tune it out. Seeing, in contrast, happens when something makes us to look again, and regard a thing as though we’re encountering it for the first time.

When it comes to the documentary impulse I gravitate towards work that defamiliarises reality. Work that plays with is disastrous commingling of fact and fiction, blur the borders between artists/ viewer, author/ character in order to disparage authenticity where self is put at risk by naming names, becoming naked, making the irreversible happen. The writer/artist becomes exposed and vulnerable: you risk being foolish, silly, pathetic, wrong. The writing comes too close to reality, to the body, to the bone. This challenges the safe distance between the text and the world, the writer and the reader.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

I’m always wary of grand ideals of truth. Maybe I’ve just been poisoned by the homoglossic realism I’m encountering in so much writing today – a mode that privileges the power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity and coherence of a self by which is built, rather than destroyed, by conflict. Much of this work assumes a position not too close, not too far away, a narrative structure which seems to me to covertly mirrors SA white suburbs where everything is contained and segregated, neatly walled off. It wants to offer us the authentic story of a self. But is this really what having a self feels like? Is it really the closest model we have to our condition? Or simply the bedtime story that comforts us most?

At the same time, yes, art can definitely operate as an apparatus for constructing personal truth. The best art is often its own adventure, a way characterized most definitely with error yet also with discovery and potential originality, which in time may well prove significant.

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

I’m kind of wary of categorisations like South African art or a South African art scene. Having grown up in South Africa under the Afrikaner Nationalist government and then lived through the rainbow national mythology of the present government, I’d rather not embrace any prescribed national identities. I have no interest in the South African art scene… I think part of the fuck up was how readily we adopted the existing prescribed models. This was a colossal fuck up in politics. It’s a colossal fuck up in art. So many fantastic brave subversive improvised models and strategies were developed during the apartheid years – both to resist the system of oppression and to challenge the horror of apartheid, but also to simply get by, to get work out there, to communicate. Artist, writers and musicians worked together; artists showed work on book covers and album covers; the pages of literary magazines became impromptu galleries; private book collections became public libraries; writing collectives were formed; improvised spaces became concert halls. Now it seems we’re all fighting to be part of or to be charge of the very same oppressive system that was resisted for so long. This is not a nostalgia for the apartheid era – god forbid! But more a call to recognise that the oppression hasn’t ended; a call to embrace and build on those strategies we have already developed and to develop new strategies that allow us to act and think, to be and yes, to breathe differently.

I’m humbled and grateful to be able to work with incredible, talented, smart, beautiful people right here in Cape Town who are doing that, who are creating a fantastically productive field to work in.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

I think it’s a very powerful tool to perform precisely the kind of defamiliarisation I was talking about… so it can be used to provoke us to see differently, to see images differently and maybe even anew. Of course it might also allow us to dance or at least dance in our seats.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

I don’t really know if I can answer this.. I don’t really see Marikana as some kind of turning point, some kind of cataclysmic moment or disaster or event or “accident” to quote Paul Virilio. It seems to me that happened long before Marikana, that Marikana is but one of many terrible tragedies that happen in the aftermath.. or maybe its more that we’re at a tipping point, an event horizon, an ongoing accident?

I’ve just been reading Connie Willis’ fantastic science fiction short story, “Schwarzschild Radius.” I hope you will indulge me if I quote a long passage?

“When a star collapses, it sort of falls in on itself.” Travers curved his hand into a semicircle and then brought the fingers in. “And sometimes it reaches a kind of point of no return where the gravity pulling in on it is stronger than the nuclear and electric forces, and when it reaches that point, nothing can stop it from collapsing and it becomes a black hole.” He closed his hand into a fist. “And that critical diameter, that point where there’s no turning back, is called the Schwarzschild radius.”

Travers paused, waiting for me to say something.

He had come to see me every day for a week, sitting stiffly on one of my chairs in an

unaccustomed shirt and tie, and talked to me about black holes and relativity, even though I taught biology at the university before my retirement, not physics. Someone had told him I knew Schwarzschild, of course.

“The Schwarzschild radius?” I said in my quavery, old man’s voice, as if I could not remember ever hearing the phrase before, and Travers looked disgusted. He wanted me to say, “The Schwarzschild radius! Ah, yes, I served with Karl Schwarzschild on the Russian front in World War I!” and tell him all about how he had formulated his theory of black “holes while serving with the artillery, but I had not decided yet what to tell him.

“The event horizon,” I said.

“Yeah. It was named after Schwarzschild because he was the one who worked out the theory,” Travers said. He reminded me of Müller with his talk of theories. He was the same age as Müller, with the same shock of stiff yellow hair and the same insatiable curiosity, and perhaps that was why I let him come every day to talk to me, though it was dangerous to let him get so close.

“I have drawn up a theory of the stars,” Müller says while we warm our hands over the Primus stove so that they will get enough feeling in them to be able to hold the liquid barretter without dropping it. “They are not balls of fire, as the scientists say. They are frozen.”

“How can we see them if they are frozen?” I say. Müller is insulted if I do not argue with him. The arguing is part of the theory.

“Look at the wireless!” he says, pointing to it sitting disemboweled on the table. We have the back off the wireless again, and in the barretter’s glass tube is a red reflection of the stove’s flame.

“The light is a reflection off the ice of the star.”

“A reflection of what?”

“Of the shells, of course.”

I do not say that there were stars before there was this war, because Müller will not have an answer to this, and I have no desire to destroy his theory, and besides, I do not really believe there was a time when this war did not exist. The star shells have always exploded over the snow-covered craters of No Man’s Land, shattering in a spray of white and red, and perhaps Müller’s theory is true.

“At that point,” Travers said, “at the event horizon, no more information can be transmitted out of the black hole because gravity has become so strong, and so the collapse appears frozen at the Schwarzschild radius.”

“Frozen,” I said, thinking of Müller.

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, the Russians call black holes ‘frozen stars.’ You were at the Russian front, weren’t you?”

“What?”

“In World War I.”

“But the star doesn’t really freeze,” I said. “It goes on collapsing.”

“Yeah, sure,” Travers said. “It keeps collapsing in on itself until even the atoms are stripped of their electrons and there’s nothing left except what they call a naked singularity, but we can’t see past the Schwarzschild radius, and nobody inside a black hole can tell us what it’s like in there because they can’t get messages out, so nobody can ever know what it’s like inside a black hole.”

“I know,” I said, but he didn’t hear me.

December 14, 2014

deon-simphiwe skade on literature in south africa after marikana

Filed under: deon skade,literature,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 6:59 pm

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1. Do you think literature can be didactic in a good way?

Absolutely! In fact, I personally believe what distinguishes good literature from the rest is a successful concealment of that state of being didactic. Let us face it; all of us have a particular stance on just about anything of this world and beyond. And when we create (sometimes the motivation to create is in fact inspired by these stances) we are often guided by these opinions we possess. We may not always be fully aware of these drives, but they are there nonetheless; even if they creep in our consciousness much later when the work we are creating has taken many turns in our attempts to represent it as best as we can.

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To illustrate my point on the instructive nature of literature (and other art forms), I will briefly reflect on one of my favourite novels from the so-called protest literature era – Ntate Mongane Wally Serote’s To Every Birth Its Blood. The first part of this book is simply magical in how English as a communication medium is made to work accurately in telling a story about the people of South Africa. Only a few novels succeed in creating this magical realm where language in its various forms creates a fusion of a very real world whose constructed integrity we cannot even question because it is so believable. Sadly, the second part of this novel does not emulate the success of the first part as it ends up appearing to be instructive in a certain kind of way.This in itself is not a bad thing because literature should make us move; hence I imagine those living during the times in which it was written may have been encouraged to do something about the gross injustices of that era. Thando Mgqolozana’s Hear Me Alone, Tracey Farren’s Whiplash and Ntate Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools and Other Stories are some of the novels that succeed brilliantly in avoiding being didactic.

In conclusion and going back to “in a good way” qualifier of your question, I would like to say the following: As long as literature (in a case of a novel) is presented in such a way that we forget about the author’s artistic engineering as we read, then literature is still in the right place. To have this phenomenon only elevates the author to the highest podium as having succeeded tremendously in surrendering to the story. On the contrary, overtly didactic art pushes us away from the created and forces us face the author’s agenda, which we do not want to see because it is his or her creation we are interested in. We should not find ourselves being preoccupied with the agenda the author was pursuing and how successful or less successful they became at it. Instead we should be consumed by the story in such a way that we forget that there is in fact a hidden instructive element somewhere in the background.

2. What is this need to document? Of what use is it?

There is an inherently vital need to document. We tend to forget that our world is made up of fragments which define our present and the future, thus we are always left with a historical account to reflect on. Naturally, it would be a momentous loss for mankind if we were to neglect the need to document. However, this crucial service of documenting needs to happen at different levels within our societies, this way we allow the fragments to tell us one complete story because nothing happens in isolation.

The benefit that the recorded material gives to mankind is timeless – it is for the era in which the record was made and certainly the future’s. Such is the record’s powerful ability to always stay relevant. Memory fails, and nostalgia among other human faculties, tends to influence our recollections of the past. That is why the documented becomes increasingly important – it minimises the possibility of distortions.

In hard news for example, what is initially reported as allegations soon become facts and begin to involve many other parties as the story develops. Similarly, what is initially reported as fact at times, soon becomes something else. Documentation in this regard helps us to establish the truth and other matters related to the story.

In literature for example, in as much the story in the novel is constructed from our reality, the benefit of documenting becomes even more substantive. A novel may present a big moral crisis, and through carefully thought out plan by the author, offer insights and resolutions to the problem that other media may not offer. It is for this reason we are made to imagine our world differently. The same can be said about film and other artistic disciplines in their quest to propel us forward in our thinking.

We are very fortunate to be living in the twenty first century. The mercurial growth of technology has availed to us many outlets through which we can share what we document. A medium such as a book, which was once confined to libraries and other places of books storage and sharing, has since become digital. Contrary to the past, we now find ourselves exposed to a much wider range of thinkers through a plethora of texts we encounter on various Internet sites such as blogs and social networking platforms. These are the kinds of thinkers we may have not encountered as gatekeepers of various publications may have deemed them too rough to publish. But thanks to blogs and other online outlets we are able to see those crucial fragments of the whole I referred to earlier. The beauty about all of this is that we get a universal picture of where we are and are going, as the Internet is worldwide.

In as much as everything seems to be fleeting nowadays, we are able to record all of it anytime and everywhere. If it is not for the benefit of the present era, it will at least be for posterity.

3. Can literature be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

Like I said in the previous comment, literature is in a favourable position to offer us alternative views in how we currently see ourselves and how that can be changed if we do not like what we see. So, yes, literature is a powerful tool with which we can construct truths.Sadly there is a reality of economics and a fierce competition for audience affecting the continued growth and reach of this medium.

We are constantly shocked by the news reports on various aspects of our societies. There is always something occupying our collective consciousness because of its shock value or the way it generally makes us feel. And the society constantly wants to know more about these news items, but sadly even the news media houses cannot keep up with this demand which soon requires in-depth coverage to bring together all the fragments that make up a whole. That is where a great opportunity for comprehensive account of such news items presents itself, hence we see a lot of non-fiction books that offer a wide-ranging account of what the news media could not provide. These books usually go on to become best sellers, a financial success that helps publishers continue publishing literature, a medium they say does not make money unless of course you are like Deon Meyer whose books sell in large numbers.

The above scenario is not an optimistic one for literature. And this does not divorce from the fact that literature does fulfil as important service as non-fiction books do. There is a very complex creative process we find in literature that we cannot find in hard news for example. And it is this creative tool that allows for the construction of truths in ways we may have not seen anywhere else.

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I am am again reminded of Thando Mgqolozana’s book, Hear Me Alone. It offers a perfect example of how successful literature can become when it offers and alternative account to the mainstream. In this book, the author, through meticulous language skill, recounts a well-known story of the birth of Messiah. But this Messiah is born in South Africa and of black parents in the rural Eastern Cape. The truth of this story is indisputable because there is great artistic and communicative excellence in how it is presented. We are reminded of how beautiful things used to be among our communities when we still had respect.Stacey Hardy achieves something momentous with her short story The Emperor’s New Hose. The insights she offers on the president’s story we have come to know quite well is remarkable to say the least. In the story the author offers a powerful truth we may often find missing in bare facts we find in the news media.

4. Is South Africa a productive field for literature today? In what way? How would you describe the literary scene here?

Let me get the issues of the literary scene out of the way quickly. It is a very lonely scene, I think. Its demographic make-up is awfully imbalanced. As participants in literary festivals and book launches
often joke, the audience members in these events are largely white senior ladies. There aren’t nearly enough black audience members in ‘the scene’, especially the young ones we so desperately need to read and help in the discourse of this country. In short, the literary scene is like a niche market.This means that there is a lot more work that still needs to be done to grow the literary scene. I often hear that there are book clubs, but they appear to be as hard to pin down as trying to get Number One to account for the expenditure on Nkandla. Due to the haunting loneliness I was beginning to experience within the scene, I found myself content staying home. Mind you I used to love attending books launches and festivals.

On the issue of South Africa being a productive field for literature,well, I’m not quite sure what to say on that one. There are definitely many literary books published each year and this is a good thing because it says people are still producing literature. But what kinds of stories make it to publishers? Are they of good quality? And do they take advantage of how dynamic South Africa has become? I really do not know. What goes without saying is that South African political and social landscapes provide alluring ideas in which literature may thrive. I am just not sure whether we are in fact taking advantage of this abundance.

I feel that we can do much more to revitalise literature so that it can continue to grow in way we may not have imaged before. We need to adopt a new approach in how we generally do things. For example, publishers should be more active in scouting for talent. As I indicated earlier, the Internet is filled with many new voices that may help steer literature to new frontiers. Monde Mdodana, a fellow blogger and friend, comes to mind as one such talent. With opportunities and the right grooming writers such as this one may truly take advantage of the current state of South Africa and produce compelling works.

5. What is the role of music in film?

I am tempted to label music as a conspirator to the visuals and dialogue we encounter in film. But this sentiment may be perceived as negative despite its positive nature. Imagine watching a film without music. Do you think you can experience the same magic as films in with an intelligent score is used for example? Certainly not!

It goes without saying that music gives life to film that other various components of film would not inject in it. Music also enhances parts of the film that would otherwise be less engaging. It helps us open up to a myriad of feelings a work of art such as moving pictures ought to solicit from us. With an exception of brilliant acting and inviting cinematography, films would be dead without music. But even in films with great acting and visual presentation, there ought to be music, unless of course it is a stage play we’re watching which allows actors to do more with their voices and bodies than in films.

I think music is an indispensable part of human beings. I believe music is always with us; whether we’re happy or sad, music is always there somewhere in our psyche. It is becomes such a wonderful feat when filmmakers handle film and music well. Quentin Tarantino is one such consistent filmmaker.

6. What can literature tell us about Marikana? What can literature do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Quite frankly I don’t think any art medium has begun telling us a lot about Marikana. With the exception of your film and that of Rehad Desai among a few, plus the visual street-art employed by Tokolos Stencils Collective and the opinion pieces and other media here and there, I think we are yet to talk about the colossal tragedy of Marikana.

Threnody for the Victims of Marikana from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

Part of me fears what we have become as a society. Compared to murders committed by the apartheid regime to which there had always been collective sense of solidarity, we seem to have lost that in this new era. The massacres such as those that occurred on 16 June 1976 and 21 March 1960, have a monumental commemoration in South Africa. Sadly there is nothing for the victims of Marikana. Someone may argue that the Farlam Commission has not yet released its finding, hence not much has been done in this regard. I am almost certain that those in power would have insisted not only on a commemoration for this great tragedy before 1994, but a severe punishment for the perpetrators that were directly or indirectly involved in the massacre.

In literature, I feel the best medium through which a lament for Marikana may be communicated to the world at different settings is poetry – both in the written form and the performance type. Compared to novels for example, poetry has an ability to mutate in various setting through its very close relationship with music and stage. Poetry can be performed almost anywhere and at any time, whereas novels are read in individual spaces. Besides,novels take a while to put together. This is by no means an excuse why we have not begun writing anything around Marikana and related events. It has been over two years now and that has been more than enough time to produce a number of books on the terrible event.

Marikana reminds us of how increasingly brutal the police have become. It also makes us acutely aware of the manipulative nature of politics. If I remember well, civil society once strongly opposed the disbandment of the Scorpions. But we all know what ended up happening to the crime-fighting unit? South African people have been wanting the president to account for the extremely exorbitant expenditure in Nkandla, but the president along with the ruling party have been doing everything in their power no to account for anything. All these events, including Marikana, tell us that there is something extremely worrying about our leadership and society at large.

December 9, 2014

nagmusiek author stephanus muller on art in south africa after marikana

Filed under: art,politics,six questions,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 9:34 am

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

If you replace the ‘can be’ with ‘can be made to be’, I will answer with an unqualified yes. In the formulation you provide, I will have to give a qualified ‘yes’. Not all art, not all of the time, in other words, ‘can be didactic in a good way’. Art can, totally independent of its provenance or intentions, instruct, also instruct morally, and can therefore also be didactic in a good way. But it can also just give pleasure, or upset, or leave one indifferent. Art is also just a thing in itself, like war, or love, and can therefore just be that thing which exists in the world in the way that that particular thing exists. But can war be didactic in a good way? Yes. And love? Yes. And art? Yes. And interesting things (good things, moral things) can be learnt from it about life and about war and about love and about many other things too.

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2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

The need to document derives from our (‘us humans’) curious awareness of death. In that sense, procreating is also a way of documenting (ourselves). Making art is documenting, collecting is documenting, writing is documenting. But actually, if one sees all need to document as an acknowledgement of mortality, then life itself is a way of documenting, of inscribing oneself in space and time. Thus art is life, or life is art. Both happen in the shadow of death. There is no other need for documenting, other than the need to come to terms with the fact that we are temporary and as an expression of our (sometimes) long and protracted farewell to our existence that starts as soon as we are born. This is also why, to return to your previous question, art (whatever it is) can be didactic in a good way. It not only provides a way for us to engage with non-being, but also with an-other being that gives us so much more life for the price of one.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

Yes. Of course, it goes without saying that answering this question in the affirmative also means that the obverse has to be true: art can be a means of historical obfuscation, and an apparatus for constructing lies. Adorno’s distinction between art and culture is meant to position art as the truth-seeking critical impulse and culture as the obfuscatory lie. Of course I simplify. But there is a problem with this, because Adorno equates art with the dialectical critical enterprise, whereas I think bad art (what I think he would call ‘culture’) also points to truth in a negative way, thereby fulfilling a critical function.

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

It depends on what you mean with ‘productive’. If you mean: a field abundant with the kinds of tensions, emotions, psychological extremes, forms, patterns, diversity, flows, shades, human conditions etc. that art thrives on, my answer would be: exceptionally so. But it comes at a heavy, perhaps excessive, price. And therefore if you mean ‘productive’ in the sense that this abundance has been productive for people who make art in South Africa, who ‘produce’, I would have to answer ‘no’. It seems to me as if the possibilities for such people in our circumstances are forced into two extreme options: Artistic response that opens itself fearlessly to the potential of this terrifying inferno, leading to the erasure of the boundaries between art and life in an act of self-destruction and resulting, ultimately, in the impossibility of art; artistic response that distances itself, in an act of self-preservation, from the danger of engagement described in the first response resulting, ultimately, in the impossibility of art. How would I describe the arts scene here? I speak as a musicologist: As the rat infested trenches holding both these positions with a no man’s land between them littered with sacrifices and failure and inevitability.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

This is not a question I can answer. I know some of the theory, but that is not what you’d be interested in. It is not a question with which I have grappled. In the light of my previous answer, and the way film music has become the way to think about how South Africa relate to the world of ‘entertainment’ compositionally, I would extend the metaphor and say in our place and time the role of film music (as opposed to music in film) is to get the hell out of front line by pushing two pencils up your nose, faking insanity.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

You have allowed me to hoist myself with my own petard, as you are so fond of saying. For I have to say now: Art can be didactic in a good way about Marikana, art can document Marikana in the face of mortality, art can historically elucidate Marikana and be an apparatus for getting at the truth of Marikana. All the qualifications in questions 1-3 apply, of course, as well as the risks of the entrenched positions outlined in question 4. If Marikana as news event is the transient headline, the anodyne report, the depressing con, then art can tell us that Marikana is something other. Art can connect with Marikana to show how it is different to what the media have made it. Of course it cannot un-make, it cannot restore life to those massacred, but it can make the events signify differently, in different registers, connected to different historical and political forces. It can make us see Marikana, hear Marikana, feel Marikana. If nothing else, art can grieve for Marikana, and for ‘democracy’ after Marikana.

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December 7, 2014

mary corrigall: resistance is futile

Filed under: art,mary corrigall,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 12:44 pm

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December 2, 2014

athi joja on brett bailey’s exhibit b

Filed under: art,athi mongezeleli joja,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 9:38 pm

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art and politics in sa now now

Filed under: art,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 11:48 am

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first published here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/02/china-artists-masses-mao-style-cultural-campaign

December 1, 2014

sacp member Howard Smith responds to the six questions about art in south africa today

Filed under: art,music,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 9:02 pm

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Art is not class neutral; people who represent it (whether their own or others work) as such are guilty of fraud. They must get honest.

Popular music is just that – not commercial music, not what broadcasters promote, not what is produced by muso’s whose wordy descriptions of, or interviews about, their work exceed manifold the number of pages that they have actually covered with musical notation.

I enjoy many different genres and periods of music – music inspires me, depresses me, makes me reflect, cry, laugh. That, what I listen to by choice, is not popular music either – but it can include popular music.

Popular music is what people create, use, repeat, exploit to express themselves. In what we refer to as western culture, the last expression of a genuine popular music was the protest songs of the anti-Vietnam war era, or of the civil rights movement. The Occupy Movement has produced nothing like it, one reason why it’s not the movement it should be.

In SA we seem to have lost the feel for popular musical expression since 1994 – but there is still a wealth of songs lauding Zuma, the ANC government and our popular struggles, alongside many others against all that. Has the EFF any such songs, or is exposing rounded butts sufficient, without or without fart-like sound effects?

Our airwaves could do more to popularise (ie broadcast) existing popular musical expression, thus contributing to the genre, its survival, development and future. But then in a world where everything has to have a price (become a commodity) that is difficult to organise.

I don’t think privileged composers (I mean those fortunate few who can make a reasonable living from it, unlike those who compose everyday of their lives to stave off hunger pangs and never see a penny for their creative effort) are particularly well placed to discuss popular music or pretend that what they do is create it. At the end of the day the reception of their work will decide, but they shouldn’t bemoan the audience they reach if they do not/cannot take their work into the townships and rural villages. If you compose for orchestras in concert halls, your audience will be those who frequent them; if you compose alongside your fellow strikers on a picket line, then your audience will be alongside you adding harmony to your creation.

November 29, 2014

composer michael blake on art music in south africa today

Filed under: michael blake,music,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 11:51 am

1. Do you think art music can be didactic in a good way?

When I first thought about the uses of art music – years ago – two things occurred to me: 1. perhaps music could (indirectly) affect listeners’ thinking by doing unexpected things, by getting inside someone’s head and shifting a few things around, and then seeing what happened; 2. art music in South Africa could make people aware of their own (indigenous traditions), instead of only looking to/redoing Europe, and we could create our own indigenous art music as the Americans so brilliantly did with the American experimental tradition. There are some good things to have come out of the USA.

Art music’s problem is that it now occupies a space far away from these idea(l)s; it is now often about reinforcing comfort zones. So you get it on the radio (CockFM in Johannesburg, Fine Music Radio in Cape Town), in the symphony seasons, the movie soundtracks, the student composer concerts, the professional composer concerts, and so on. In order for music to be didactic in any way, the (listeners’) channels have to be open; you can’t avoid a dissonant interval or chord because it makes someone uncomfortable or doesn’t blend with the bland furnishings in their middle class houses. And the problem with my second idea(l) is that composers have used the genre as a holdall for any kind of kitsch combination of Western and African music; most composers don’t question what they are doing, they just deliver more and more music on request. And young composers have no interest in indigenous music; in fact they are often more reactionary than their teachers.

2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

Of course music needs to be performed live in the first instance (unless it is purely electronic, but even then it needs the focus and ambience of a performance rather than just a private hearing on headphones). But in the difficult economic times in which we find ourselves and the possibility that works may never get a second performance – or not for a long time – the recorded medium is a means of disseminating the music to new listeners and of making it accessible for researchers. Then of course the CD and the internet has made it viable for most composers and performers to get their CDs out, as part of their merchandise. The person who initiated this “need to document” was Stravinsky, the only composer born in the 19th century who actually did this. You can for example get his complete recordings of his own music on 22 CDs (including the ones he supervised with Craft conducting) in a box set (I got it for £21(!) a few years back). And now of course you can get the complete Varèse (on 2 discs), complete Stockhausen, Boulez, Ligeti, Glass etc etc. Vanity plays a role, but I think it’s also about having your stuff out there in the market place, on the net – elbowing your way in, in an age when the market is flooded with music. And record companies love packaging complete outputs – it’s a strong selling point. But the most important think is having a composer’s complete works or a representative selection so that you can get a strong picture of, a feeling for that particular creative mind. One used to wait with bated breath for an Ives or a Schoenberg or a Cage or a Nono work to appear on record, and acquiring and handling those LPs carried a certain reverence with it, and that’s not so much the case anymore – we just focus on the music now, not the packaging. Finally this whole documentation process is often fetishistic, but I guess that’s not a bad thing. There is no excuse anymore for young composers not to have heard most music of the present as well as the past, and to have heard it repeatedly.

3. Can art music be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

What other use would it have? But it has to have TEETH, which so much art music today lacks. All the great composers had teeth: Machaut, Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Debussy, Ives, Webern, Stravinsky – just to mention a few – and it’s the teeth from which modern day composers can learn a thing or two. Countless listeners are taken in by fake art music, such as the output of Karl Jenkins or Eric Whiteacre or John Rutter or that Italian bloke whatsisname (and Paul McCartney unwisely also made some forays into this field). This music appeals purely by its fake sentimentality, cheap tunes and ‘catchy’ rhythms, and perhaps constructs a fake truth. Doing it with integrity is so much more difficult that many lesser talented and faint hearted composers would steer clear of it completely ad settle for writing ‘nice’ music rather than worrying about historical elucidation or constructing truth. Composing with texts is perhaps the most powerful and direct way to elucidate history, as for example the St Matthew Passion or the Choral Symphony or the music dramas of Wagner or dramatic works of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and many texts (Faust, Shakespeare, Bible) that have been reworked by various composers over the centuries continue to be a means of constructing truth in music, because the issues usually don’t change, only the contexts.

Which is not to say that historical elucidation is not possible without a text, because there may be a hidden text, but instrumental music can also work subliminally – it has its own (non) narratives time-scales. And many of the composers I mentioned before – Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Debussy, Ives, Webern, Stravinsky – achieved this. In fact I would perhaps go so far as to say that music which is not text-dependent may even have stronger teeth, or better, different kinds of teeth. This is a tough question (needing good teeth), so my answer is needs a bit vague.

IL STRATEGIO DEL RAGNO from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

4. Is South Africa a productive field for art music today? In what way? How would you describe the art music scene here?

Is there an art music scene here? Give me an address! No seriously we have seen a volte face in the so-called South African art music scene, following the so-called end of apartheid and the emergence of so-called democracy. The chosen few – chosen by former SABC head of serious music, broederbonder Anton Hartman – had a good thing going during the apartheid years including the apparatus of a pretty good radio orchestra, broadcasting network and commissioning opportunities at their disposal. Of course it was all white but avant-gardism was not considered decadent (unlike Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia). Then European music was the lingua franca, but as you know in the late 1970s/1980s many people jumped on the ‘African elements’ bandwagon, serious composers and opportunists alike; the former have honed and sublimated their ‘African elements’, while the latter have conveniently jumped off the bandwagon, or in some cases fell off. Jean-Pierre de la Porte spoke at a conference recently about artistic issues during the so-called Second South African Republic (1948-1994) and the fact that subversive composers (which I think includes myself and only a few others) were undermined by the fact that they couldn’t attack the political system in the obvious musical way because the avant-garde had been hijacked by the very supporters of the system. That is probably why we turned to American experimental music to formulate our response.

So that’s the background in five and a half lines. Now we have a new generation of young composers with little or no interest in the concerns of their teachers and mentors. They want to be sexy, but sexy has a short lifespan, and few of them have the technique or even the anti-technique to know what to do next. So we are seeing two reactionary musics: the old apartheid guys have gone retro and are expressing themselves without teeth (maybe they’ve just rotted and fallen out) in musical languages that had currency and potency a hundred years ago, and the youngsters – often their musical offspring – are opting for any language or style that is accessible, easy-going, sentimental, soft-centred and fairly short in duration. Hey man, the Sonatina still rules!

When the composers who have some teeth represent our art music scene internationally, all hell breaks loose because the reactionaries were not on the programme. There was a recent incident in New York at the Juilliard School of Music, a concert given as part of the Ubuntu Festival last month. Seven composers were programmed by the conductor, including Kevin Volans, myself, a former student of mine, and so on. The conductor Joel Sachs asked for our opinions on a range of topics about being an art music composer in SA which he wrote up in an article in the Juilliard Magazine. It opened a small can of worms, which seems to be fizzling out now but makes for quite interesting reading and helps to put some perspective on the art music scene here: http://www.juilliard.edu/journal/1410/nje-south-africa

In short, the scene is provincial, factional (as in many places), very short on resources and hence competitive for the few handouts that are available. Most of the old guys (and gal) are in some way attached to a tertiary institution – themselves all very conservative – and in those hallowed halls their music is presented to half a dozen (mostly) white audience members. They can be assured that all six will applaud vigorously at the end for at least a minute, and somebody might even write a nice little report in the last remaining daily. The young reactionary composers are setting up their own performances in equally miserable surroundings for equally appreciative audiences, and the rest of us do our thing in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, etc – and get our CDs out.

NOTES ON MELANCHOLY from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

5. What is the role of music in film?

The role of music has changed since the early days of film scoring; I think to say it has evolved is too nuanced and gives the current crop of untalented note-stringers too much credit. If you think of the great scores that Prokofiev wrote for Eisenstein, with the detailed planning and working out that they did together, and you look at your average Hollywood blockbuster now as well as the films which Philip Glass scores, we’re talking about efforts that are worlds apart. I think music should contribute to film at a subliminal level; and even the absence of music as we heard for example in The White Rose not so long ago works at a subliminal level. (That film was also blessed with the absence of sound design, a deliberate return to the way films were made with viewers needing to ‘work’ in the cinema, and before every detail of reception was manipulated so viewers were completely spoonfed.) One of the better composers for film working right now is Jonny Greenwood, who brings a terse neo-modernist language to his scores rather than the diarrheal arpeggiation of Philip Glass (or more likely his assistants, doing the film scores) and all those shards who replicate same.

Well that’s the context, and the role that I see for music in film is something that needs to be rethought. One of the problems is that the wrong people are doing it: the wrong ‘composers’, the wrong editors, the wrong directors. So there is no chance for a whole string of great movies with great soundtracks, but we can create some models for doing it well, and that will inevitably influence a few people working in the field. There are a huge number of academics in American and British universities who have invented a new research field called ‘Film Music Studies’ (to keep ‘Film Studies’ company), and amidst much theorising about the relationship between music and image, there are some useful pointers for would-be film composers. But it is important for a film composer to be a composer first and foremost, just as Wagner, Verdi and Puccini were before they devoted themselves to the opera house.

Marikana Sarabande – Computer from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

6. What can art music tell us about Marikana? What can art music do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

This perhaps implies an explicitly political music, something which South African composers have never really embraced. But actually explicitly political art music elsewhere – Cardew, Christian Wolff, Fred Rzewski and so on – has always run up against the problem of audience/reception, because the so-called working class for whom the music is intended don’t get to hear it since the venues in which it is played are bourgeois venues. Its purpose has mainly been to create/retain awareness of the working class. I think art music could play a decent role if the listening public, however small, was not so musically numbed or brainwashed by popular music and the watered down jazz and neo-traditional music that inhabits the airwaves and the record stores and the internet, and which are considered the musical genres of the working class and previously the ‘struggle’. These musics tend to have a sentimental impact, dealing with memories in a very straightforward, unnuanced way. I think this could be a good moment for art music to deal with/comment on real issues such as Marikana or democracy or the many problems (corruption, racism, poverty) that confront South Africa today, and because I am in the middle of composing a new large-scale work I don’t want to elaborate yet on how I might be dealing with these issues myself (but watch this space). I tentatively approached some of these in my 2008 work ‘Rural Arias’ which just had its American premiere in New York (see question 4).

November 28, 2014

MPHUTLANE WA BOFELO on art and politics in South Africa after the Marikana massacre

Filed under: art,mphutlane wa bofelo,poetry,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 11:33 pm

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Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

This reminds me of the question that a fellow writer who is also a publisher asked me recently: “ Why do stories matter?” My answer was: Narratives bring personal and psycho-social and socio-political and cultural context to issues, emotions, philosophies etc because every character presents a particular voice and perspective and the setting and scene gives you the context within which to interrogate the actions. I went on to say that fiction mediates social reality and deconstructs it by providing us with faces, voices, places, moments that allow us to go into the inner factors and a myriad of forces at play in society and beyond. I think this somehow sums up my perspective that the literary, visual and performed arts should not merely reflect social reality but should also mediate and interrogate that reality and imagine other ways of thinking, doing and living beyond what is there. Yes, art can educate, raise consciousness, and make moral judgements and value-leaden statements without being too preachy, propagandistic in a dogmatic and prescriptive way.

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What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

Artists’ creation of works that serves to capture and document moments and histories is part of the struggle of memory against forgetting. Oppressive and exploitative structures thrive on amnesia. The manufacturing of consent, the construction of false-consciousness and the production of weapons and mediums of mass illusions rely heavily on making the people to move from one moment, festival and tragedy to the other without reflecting on the previous. It is easy to create hype about the next election if people forget about the travesties that occurred in past elections; and to get the South African people excited about hosting the Olympics if they have no memories of how the Olympics have affected other countries who hosted them before or engage in no critical reflections on the promises of 2010 World Football Crap and who gained and lost out of the flip it is here moment. Documentation can wake people from slumber and can be used to hold the establishment to account.

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Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

South Africa is a very interesting place to live in today for artists. This is a country pregnant with possibilities for fresh and creative ways of imagining the world and yet full of examples of how the celebration of mediocrity, romanticization of ‘struggle history’, obfuscation of the present and valorization of the paradise called the future ensures that we are trapped in to the status quo; and the mantra of patriotism and social cohesion is used to normalize conformism, complacency and apathy and to mask the contradiction, inequities and injustices based on class, race, gender, sexuality, disability and other forms of exclusion, discrimination and marginalization. The tragi-comedy comedy in the whole situation offers ample material for the creation of art. The entrenched culture of carrot –and- stick; demonization of critical minds and patronage to the parrots means that one either joins in the worship of mediocrity and the religion of convenience or simply dare to dream, think, imagine and make art and life outside prevailing orthodoxies, dogmas, canons and hierarchies. I think this country has proponents on both sides, just that those challenging orthodoxies, dogmas, canons and hierarchies are not in the papers, on TV, in the books, and shall not get the awards and honorary doctorates….naturally so …..

I have given poetic tapestry to this in my poem, Blues for the Jazz Rappers, dedicated to Robbo the technician and Lesego Rampolokeng

Blues For Jazz Rappers

(For Robo The Technician & Lesego Rampolokeng)

ladies and gentlemen!

i will not observe any protocol

to me hierarchy is the foundation of tyranny

pat me not on the shoulders

no ovations for me

i am not part of the propaganda machine

i have no regard for your orders

my regards are on the shop-floor

my credibility is in the ghetto

the pavement is my alter

to the masses i bow

that’s the only god i know

the underground is my heaven

rebellion is my religion

the mainstream is the hell i refrain from

sorry mister corporate and missus government

keep your podiums

high tables, circus stables

red carpets for puppets

blood in the wallets

the sting is in the conscience

emotions on sale, psalms for rent

some count cents for sense

for the rands they are the red ants

throw heretics off the stage

to clear the way for the market

silence in the theatre

it’s not police sirens

but the voice of the poet

doing a judas\brutas against Rap Master Supreme

a hatchet job for the gods

of poetry for pleasure

too many punches and no lines

they slaughter literature

googled beats & pirated melodies for the ambience

the gullible are in trance

perhaps it’s time for a séance

summon the ghost of Cesaire

call the presence of Count Bassie

invite the Mahlathini roar

bring on Mahotela Queens, Dark City Sisters; Nina Simone

an orchestra of voices

from the under-belly

we come wailing

with bob and the wailers

on the Pharaoh Express

bavino sermon a jeremiad against gutter education

no histrionic choruses

it’s a rage against clones & their masters

no mastering needed for this sound-track

it is beats pumping against the killing of life

no bane robotics, sir

some went mechanic with the sound

others technical with the word truth

robo lyrical with the technique

a return to the verbal

conscious music a freedom-weapon lethal

it’s no beats from the box, sir

it’s hearts pounding against the odds

life hip and hopping

at the grassroots

we rap the blues

from the ground

thunder, the wind

& the ocean

play our kind of jazz……

on that note of kinds & all that jazz

the word is clear

there is only one cry

the language of love

and resilience is universal

human experience has one voice

the difference is in the accents

you can rave to the rhythm and poetry

of throbbing hearts

croon it from the soul

jazz it up with polyrhythmic sounds

rock & roll with it on the dance-floor

rap and shoot it from the hip

chant it as pop or freedom songs

hum it as the spirituals

sing it as the gospel truth

or in raga style

you may wrap the moods

in expansive colours;

it all amount to the same thing

the yearning for love

in its many facets

in one word we call it blues

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What is the role of music in film?

Music and film can fall under either of the categories mentioned in answer to your previous question. It can question, instruct, liberate, pacify; it can heal, conscientize, awaken or deaden the mind and the body. It can delink the personal from the public or it can show how political the personal is and how much private interests have a squeeze on the public and a hold on the state. Music and film can be part of the injection of amnesia or it can combat the de-memorization and de-historicization process; refuse to fall to the fallacy of the end of history; the lie that human inventiveness has reached its pinnacle; that there is no world other than the consumerist, crass materialist, capitalist world; the lie that accumulation and consumption are the culminating points of human existence or simply put, the dogma that to be is to accumulate and to live is to consume, with no consideration for the environment, other species and other generations. The music and film I root for is one that says: there are other worlds, other thoughts, other modes. In the choice between There in No Alternative (Tina) and There Must Be an Alternative (Themba), and I root for the music that stands for hope….

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What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Marikana highlight the struggle of There Must Be An Alternative against the gods and demons of There is No Alternative. It’s the people beginning to rise against hierarchies, orthodoxies, dogmas and canons in a big way. It also shows the extent of the collusion between the gatekeepers in the union movement and other movements and the captains of capital and the state. But it points to the possibility of building a borderless movements that links the struggles of all the damned of the world and their allies. But it tells us of the violence and brutality of the ideology of the establishment and how language and culture are part of the key instruments. Art can show the ideology, culture and language at play behind Marikana. I think art can give eternal life to the victims of Marikana. Art can make the ghosts of Marikana haunt the oppressors and exploiters of every ilk. Art can ask\make\move people to refuse to forget. ART CAN \IS\MUST BE LIFE \HOPE\STRUGGLE

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NIKLAS ZIMMER on art and politics in South Africa after Marikana

Filed under: art,niklas zimmer,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 9:28 am

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

Yes, I do. In fact, my own – possibly rather outdated – notion of what art is and does includes a kind of didactic role that it always plays. Works of art that arouse and sustain my interest always confront me with things that I have not yet grasped to my satisfaction. I state this in reference to your qualifier ‘in a good way’: I am not really that interested in critiquing didacticism per se, since there are enough ways in which we can easily close ourselves off from lessons we do not want to learn anyway. Our judgements about what we believe to be lacking or needing form effective enough barriers from indoctrinations on any scale of subtlety or crassness. The (good) didacticism of (good) art is of such a nature that it makes me wonder, that it hurts me with a truth I recognise as profoundly unbearable on my own, because now, suddenly, I am directly being spoken to by an author, directly moved by a dancer, because a sculptor has placed something into my space, making it into a temporary home for my lost soul … here, now, a communication takes place that seeks no other, higher value than itself. It is never pure or uncomplicated, but it strikes at my roots and enlivens my spirit to sing out above my daily settling for less.

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2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

As with each of your questions, an attempt to answer it might best be through writing an entire book with several open chapters, a body of texts that span a range of possible approaches from the most lyrical to the most stringently academic (historical, logical, critical, comparative). The reason for my delayed reply to you in fact lies here, how to create a productive silence about the absence of all those already existing and not-yet existing texts, the myriad of possible footnotes and their web of interference patters, so horrifyingly beautiful in their futility to provide a new way forward. A way along which it would not be necessary to document, or rather where there are no longer any documents of anything, because their would be a continuity of experience that has no need for redress, for storing up hopes and shoring up losses. I guess I am talking about heaven, or an after-life of some kind. We document out of hubris, out of indignation at our ignorance, and the failure of the world to complete us. Its use is to soothe the anxiety and the hopelessness that arises in the face of every moment that is a learning. Every learning moment is a confrontation with inevitable death. The act of documenting is an active denial of the deeper possibilities invested in this learning – it translates insight into empowering and disempowering products and procedures, it commodifies wisdom, and it makes idols and icons out of the mundane terror of existence. With respect to visual-technological documentation (imaging), the fairly recent conflagration of documentary photography and fine art photography into ‘documentary fine art photography,’ with all its incumbent unbearable rhetoric, it has become clear that the neurosis of the ‘artist’ in trying to short-cut any learning and feeling (snap! the cord is snapped. Snap! again) has been married through clever dealer-consortiums with an equally pernicious neurosis on behalf of the collector, who is unfortunately often not merely an individual tragically disconnected from society by unethical amounts of disposable income, but also a public institution with a didactic role, such as museums. The exhibition of such spuriously generated ‘documents’ turn these places into temples of indoctrination, a role which they may have at some point escaped, had the impossible task of providing aesthetic proof of divine design that the arts have carried all their own since the enlightenment been augmented with a radical enough philosophy to structure society fairly, with enough common future to bind us to purposes beyond our lifetime in good faith. Documentary needs are born in bad faith, their best use would lie in declaring this, and in such declarations to be heard and taken up with effect.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

Art has always been used in that way, but the best works have always outdone and outlived this purpose. The contemporary constructions of truth in art always find extra-contemporaneous (mis)understandings and constructions of new truths. There is, of course no historical present in any art, not even in the scream of the saxophonist squirming on the stage of his political oppression, witnessed by his fellow travellers on the unforgettable summer night of revolution. The truth of art is never the truth of history. Art is an experience that has no apparatus. There are aesthetic guidelines of form and conceptual guidelines of context, but the life of a work lies within its experience. This inverts history: the reader hears the authors heart beat before the author has finished writing the book with his own blood. The mythology of ‘the artists intention’ may deepen or obscure connections made with the work of art, but the work that each viewer, each listener, each reader does every time they allow themselves to acknowledge their connectedness to the one who sounded out so deeply the necessity and the potential of a meaning (one singular, another singular, yet another singular, …) that they brought forth, birthed, shat out, vomited, whispered, lied, … not least: completed a work that transcends merely reasonable behaviour, leaves behind historical time and the necessity for truth. In art, truth is found and lost, but never kept.

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

I don’t know. I am disappointed and intimidated by the art scene here. I am more and more tired of it, because I have come to realise the large role that class actually plays in it, and that is an stiflingly boring situation to say the very least. There are a few very good South African artists, I admire how very hard they work at their shit. I vacillate between the phantasies of becoming a librarian and abandoning making art altogether on the one had, and on the other just sequestering myself in an open-ended hermitage of ceaseless creative work until the moment I collapse dead. The ecstasy of two painful isolations: Art in South Africa, nothing altogether special or unique. Art cannot save this place from the fire that is coming, it can prefigure it, and commodify it, but it cannot change it. The strange thing is that ‘relevance’ still has so much relevance here.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

The right music – and this should be understood to include a film-long absence of music, too – makes a good film come alive. It is the breath of the film. When a director allows the music enough space to play an equi-valent role to the visual (text), the film is transformed into an experience: the viewer also becomes a listener. To be a listener of a story, of a progression of events or disconnected moments, repetitions, silences is to be a very different kind of witness. I remember seeing – and in this case one should rather say ‘hearing’ – Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue’ as a teenager when it came out in the early nineties, and it was transformative. As with all your questions here, also the question of the sound-track has been theorised to death in the course of the 20th century, I seem to remember reading Barbara Flückiger for instance years ago, but still the mainstream audience seems to want to privilege the role of the visual in conscious perception, and leave the audio to manipulate from below, in supportive obscurity. This is odd, though, because the greatest films also have exceptional music, music by composers that have shaped music history outside of the womb of the theatre, for instance Ennio Morricone (and I know he is not the greatest, blah blah), whose music was reinterpreted so grandly by John Zorn. I have forgotten all the big words of film theory by now, and without them it is easy to say that music, beyond at base lending film as entertainment a life-like liveliness, it can make a film into a work of art that transcends social and historical context.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

I don’t know. I still don’t know what I can think about Adorno, poetry and Auschwitz. I haven’t arrived at Marikana, I am not sure I ever want to. Who wants to? I can’t really say anything about it. I listen, I look, but what can I say? We can try to be part of building something and of tearing something else down, of exposing something, and of veiling something else. Death stares us in the face through every truthful effort fuelled by unshielded desire, this is always in a sense a tasteless point. We don’t need to trample anybody’s dignity with programmatic works that add nothing to the project of social and political reformation. I am certain that in one way or another there are a number of art works being made right now with no conscious intentions of referencing the massacre of South African protesters by the South African police upon orders by the South African political-industrial complex, and that by some twist of fate they may suddenly become emblematic of a discussion of that very event. Can art illustrate and comment, indict and reimagine? Yes. Does it have to do any of those things in order to be a vital part of “democracy” after Marikana? No.

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tokolos stencils on art and politics in south africa today

Filed under: art,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 12:24 am

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

It can be though it usually is not. It can be didactic if it is part of a revolutionary culture of resistance. Anti-apartheid resistance art, with its pitfalls, was still didactic in a good way.

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2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

Documenting forms of struggle is important because the documentation can be a tool of popular pedagogy. For us, the key question is how can the documentation be used to further the struggle? Your documentary on the battle for hangberg was wonderful – we loved it. But how can it be used to connect and strengthen struggles of blacks taking back the land?

THE UPRISING OF HANGBERG from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

directed by dylan valley and aryan kaganof, 2010

3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

What is “the” truth? Maybe not but maybe it can help build “a” truth. History is always a competition of various subjectivities and who has the power to tell or enforce these truths. We are looking to construct a specific kind of truth that is more fair and just.

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

We have no fucking clue! We’re not artists and we don’t know the art scene.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

There is no democracy. We don’t live in a democracy. 1994 changed fokol. Art is only as good as the movement or movements to overthrow this mirage. Our main stencil, “Remember Marikana” is used as a catalyst for the recovery of historical memory of the recent past because in this age we live, all memory is ephemeral and people forget struggles around crucial events.

What can art tell us about Marikana? It can tell us what happened, by asking us to remember, but it can also tell us who and what are using the memory of Marikana to fight, like Mambush, to get rid of this white supremacist capitalist society we live in. Art can use Marikana to champion movements that aspire to rid our country of colonialism and white privilege once and for all.

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more about the tokolos stencils collective is here: http://africasacountry.com/we-send-our-tokoloshe-to-battle-with-those-trying-to-make-us-forget-the-atrocities-of-marikana/

November 14, 2014

KHWEZI GULE, chief curator: soweto museums on art and politics in south africa today

Filed under: art,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 3:18 pm

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

I think art in the broadest sense exists in two worlds one is what I might call “art for life” which is everywhere and then there is “art for reflection” which is maybe more about contemplation. I think the former does the task of education and consciousness-raising a lot more effectively than latter. But we need both.

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2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

I personally do not see the need to constantly document. There is nothing that a photographic image tells us these days that we don’t already know. More than that it has become extremely dangerous because (a) I believe rather than merely observe conflict, it fuels it and (b) it creates amongst the consumers of images (who are often located far away from the events being depicted) a false sense of knowing as well as the false assurance that whatever intervention they propose will be the appropriate one.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

It is moribund like the rest of South African culture. It is incapable of producing anything that lives. In short it is mostly just entertainment and titilation for the senses and occasionally for the mind.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

I think it determines the pace of the viewing, not just the “mood”. If a scene is silent, or has a a dramatic orchestral score or a driving hip-hop beat the music can make a long scene longer, it can make a short scene longer.

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6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Art can no longer tell us anything. Its privileged space in public discourse is extremely overrated. What it can tell us in most cases is where the money is going. The kind of art I spoke about earlier “art for life” does not need to be hyped. It just is. The other kind of art is just a pretender to the title. But ultimately I really don’t think Marikana can be told. It is too soon. The ones that feel it are the ones that know it (isn’t it??) and they don’t need to be told anything.

khwezi gule
10 november 2014

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economic freedom fighter member of parliament andile mngxitama answers six questions about art and politics in south africa today. a kagablog exclusive.

Filed under: art,politics,six questions — ABRAXAS @ 10:24 am

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1. Do you think art can be didactic in a good way?

There have been moments in history when art has assisted a great deal towards unveiling societal ills and thereby inspiring to greatness. It is instructive that the black people who helped us towards a better understanding of White Racism were poets and artists. I’m thinking here specifically of Frantz Fanon’s teacher and mentor Aimé Césaire and his often forgotten partner in crime, Suzanne Césaire. Negritude helped us to concretise and globalise both an understanding of, and resistance to, white supremacy as a total system. The Césaires are black surrealists who, when meeting white surrealists, were generally surprised at how similar their projects were, even if developed separately. It felt like how both Karl Marx and Frederich Engels discovered each other and the closeness of their work or Sartre and Camus, I think also Mazizi Kunene and Ngugi wa Thiong’o did similar work without an actual collaboration. Aimé Césaire’s classic RETURN TO THE NATIVE LAND is a surrealist text. The epic poem is a clarion call to battle against whiteness by imploding the very language of the oppressor. I’m thinking again here how Lesego Rampolokeng takes english and tortures it till it speaks black, it’s a kind of decolonisation by imploding the language of the oppressor and forming it into a weapon to throw back at the unjust order.

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Visual art has also assisted in the decolonising of the mind through visual assaults on the ideological edifice of oppressive systems. I’m thinking about the association of the creatives of the 70s and Black Consciousness in South Africa, cats like Lefifi Tladi, the late Motlhabane Mashiangwako, Thami Mnyele and host of others who basically painted against the white system. Of course one has to be careful because most of these guys are involved in multiple media, they aren’t just poets, painters or musicians – often they all in one and then they also gather rocks to throw at whiteness.

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Steve Biko seems to have been acutely aware of the power of art to conscientise towards decolonisation. I have heard a few times Lefifi Tladi narrate the weekend they spent with Biko, I think in Mamelodi, he came down to see and recruit the artists to join the black consciouness movement, but they ended in. spellbound black radical thinking weekend. Biko taught as much as he was taught. There was cross pollination between the political movement and the art movement, often the two becoming a single force of black power!

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So yes, art can play this progressive role, but that’s not the main vocation of art. Art serves power. Art is part of the ideological apparatus to keep the people asleep. Art essentially whitewashes the oppression. I’m thinking here again of the great founder of Russian literature Pushkin, who at first served justice and then defected to serving the feudal system. He spoke against the Tzar went to jail for it and later used his great talents to serve the very same brutal Tsarist regime. The majority of artists are mere cultural workers producing artifacts for the market and aren’t aware of their actual ideological role. It’s like farmers on poppy fields who don’t know the end product of their labour is opium. So they are unconscious producers of ideology to naturalise power and the often sheer brutality of oppression. They play the role of the clergy during feudalism, they replenish the ideological order that often comes under assault as people seek freedom.

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This role of art as the opium of the masses, was recently displayed by Simphiwe Dana’s defection to power just like Pushkin. First she spoke against the lash and whip that tears the backs of serfs. Then uses the same art to cover the still bleeding open wounds and, like the feudal clergy in defense of power, points to god as the creator of all and naturalises oppression as the will of god. Serfs, like most black people, revere god, so the best defense of power is to invoke god, that’s what Dana has done in her latest video on the Marikana massacre titled Nzima. She whitewashes the blood of Marikana in defense of the ANC.

Another time I would like to meditate on what such shifts signify and the spiritual confusion it inaugurates. I now wonder how to read the music Dana produced as an artist of truth but now performed to promote lies. How do I listen to her great Biko Street now?

Can it still be a medium to help us to higher levels of consciousness for the emancipation of the self? I’m interested in the question, can fascist art be calibrated for revolutionary ends? Or more pointedly, can a reactionary artist produce or perform works which help us see? Here I’m not referring to obvious adverts for power such as Nzima, but art conceived from a different ideological and spiritual nourishment now performed to buttress the thing it was created against. I wonder if, under such conditions, such art does what hymns do to us? I’m no church person but am seduced by hymns. They have this placebo effect on my troubled black soul – they make me forget the world for five minutes before the world shakes back to my blackness.

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a sphinx by the late motlhabane mashiangwako

2. What is this “need to document”? Of what use is it?

The west told us a lie, that if it’s not documented it doesn’t exist. the Trouble is, documents can be doctored. I mean white people shot the flat nose off the Sphinx so that the truth of black civilisation expressed in the African nose structure lies in dispute.

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Blacks in this white supremacist reality can’t produce “documents” that stick under the white gaze. Blacks only carry these for verification (which master) and re-allocation to which plantation we belong to. Documentation of the black experience is too fraught with the troubles of representation, truth and threats. Often documentation simply means reproduction and entrenching our status as the excluded unwanted children of God. Because we have been at war with an adversary that relies on documentation to legitimate its claims, there is this pathological need by blacks for documentation. Go to any township with a camera and see how, we all want to tell you our story. The children running next to a tourist bus shouting, “shoot me, shoot me!”. Its a recognition that our souls have been erased. Our speech muted. It’s a cruel way of being alive. Our documentations can be erased at a drop of the hat. See the massive scholarship known as Egyptology, again and again black claims are fobbed off with such ease by mediocre white scholars. We labour for decades to build pyramids of evidince then comes a moron like Steve Hofmeyer or some such white hobo with stinking breath. who blows our evidence away back to the desert. The problem here is not a question of fact or science, it’s a question of power. The symbolic power of whiteness makes the lie of terra nullis, a scientific truth for instance. The temptation when we are confronted with so much lies, distortions etc, is to think, if only we had kept records. It’s a vicious circle and a trap. Those who hold the power of falsification do so again and again to establish white hegemony.

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I have often wondered about the impulsive need by blacks to tell their stories. We went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Tutu, Mandela and De Klerk and told our story, when it was supposed to be story of those who committed unspeakable things against us. We ended with blacks telling the truth of our oppression (a by product of the real story). Then, once we spoke or confessed, we had to forgive. So the whole thing became a long monologue of pain to absolve white culpability. We blacks desperaetly want to tell our story, but our story has no space on the white canvass. We would have blacknened the thing out of existence. Can u Imagine a black document? We defile documents, we threaten the record. This inability to have our story documented safel,y or our speech heard correctly, precipitates this anxiety and impulse to be documented, and it seem to me we are much more eager to give our story to whites, the owners of the archive.

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Generally, documentation of the black experience never serves blacks, it’s a process of enriching white documenters and those who own the archive. Fame and fortunes are sculpted from this massive documentation industry. It’s the irony of white supremacy, that the white world gives back to us an image of ourselves according to the white gaze, then we strive to fit into this white image of ourselves. I’m thinking here about our film makers and white academics from the left. I mean, see what whites have done with documenting abahlali baseMjondolo. They projected their fantasies onto a black community and when some blacks insisted it’s not them, hell was brought down from the high seats of the academy. I mean a whole PhD is being disputed, that’s besides books, journal articles and columns of news paper articles. What you see in those documents is nothing like the truth. So such documentation rarely serves blacks.

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Just to return to the impulse to tell our story as blacks. You remember the night after Zim Nqawana’s memorial service? Kyle Shepherd was there, the late Dr Wadada Mdluli, Athi Mongezeleli Joja and a few of us. There was the man who beguiled us with his boring tales of his journey from Soweto to New York via London and back to Soweto. It was three hours or more and he was still at 1975, the guy returned in the late 90s. Utter abuse from one point, but from another the desperation of finding a listening ear. You know that chap also has since passed on? The capacity for documentation successfully is a confirmation of life and a history. Two things that are under assault from white white supremacy. So black life is like an insignificant flicker that comes and goes. By the way even black documenters are not safe from the same white ethic of distortion. For instance the work of Santu Mofokeng, Mthethwa and Zanele Moholi find themselves no less under similar contraints and tribulations. This is true of black film makers. Their work has to conform to the requirements of documentation standards, but documentation is constructed on the basis of black erasure, so often such works are co-opted into the service of whiteness as soon as they are produced. The challenge is to produce documents that can defy the fire of whiteness.

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3. Can art be a means of historical elucidation, an apparatus for constructing truth?

I try to explain this in Part of my answer to question 1. Yes art can and has served this purpose. But we have to always remember it’s a double edge sword. Art has served power more than it has served the people. Personally, I don’t have great hope in art, I think art mimics generally. So in an atmosphere of hegemony without counter-hegemony art accommodates itself to power. We haven’t spoken about the challenge of art patrons etc. I mean in SA the Spier Foundation keeps art going on the back of colonial violence. Think of the Rockerfellers or how Brett Kebble was a great patron of the arts. Today we see the Guptas moving in that direction. The relationship between power and art is the zone of reproduction of ideology.

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4. Is South Africa a productive field for art today? In what way? How would you describe the art scene here?

The South African art scene is a captured scene! There are flashes of resistance, but generally it’s art for power not art contra power. There seem to be lots of noisy clutter that is so superficial it’s forgotten as soon as it’s viewed. I think we must try read the socio-politico environment within which this art is produced to understand what’s going on. We have in the past twenty years been experimenting with a fake freedom that proclaimed itself too loudly as the real thing. I think our art generally reflects this delusion. Rarely do we get attempts to break free from this superficiality. But in the clutter is also lots of scripted resistance, in other words a performance of resistance that doesn’t resist. One of the examples of this was how the streets of Cape Town were populated with Marikana Massacre references in august. I liked the paper motif, how the renaming was done so that it can be easily removed, erased. No desecration of the face of the city was permitted, it’s a kind of remembrance without remembering, pretending to remember basically.

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I believe a strong radical movement against capitalism and racism will give birth to new artistic concerns. I say this fully aware that people like Kgafela wa Magogodi have been battling to get at the root of the rot. I’m talking movement level artistic expression of rage against the machine.

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5. What is the role of music in film?

I’m musically uneducated. Music upsets me so I generally stay away from it. Often for me music in films has un-accounted for emotional effect, with the consequence that I don’t trust music in films, music is the device that lulls me to drop my guard and just accept what’s being offered. There is this born again christian song, “dumela fela”- just believe! That’s what I feel. Of course I often hear musically educated people say great things about music and film. I’m suspicious, but I suspect more because of my ignorance than the damage I believe could be contained in music as filmic strategy. Your new film “Black Souls Wits Masks”, is a very effective blend of music and film. I have to keep myself awake on those moments.

Black Skins Wits Masks from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

6. What can art tell us about Marikana? What can art do with Marikana? With “democracy” after Marikana?

Art will feed off Marikana till there is no more blood to be had. Art is served by Marikana but I doubt if Marikana shall be served by art. Books and films shall come, journalistic awards will be given, even a Marikana Massacre industry proper launched. In between the cracks we may find artistic moves trying to stay true to the spirit of Marikana, such works shall help us see our “democracy” for what is – a system of power that won’t hesitate to murder people for profits. For Art to be authentically resistance art it has to be able point an accusing finger at those who murdered for profits. Here the halo of power must be stripped naked and the african national congress must appear as what it is- a brutal force of neo-colonialism. The piece created by Ayanda Mabhulu on Marikana was one such great attempt. It is instructive that the piece was considered not acceptable in a beauty contest of art pieces on display in Sandton. I was furthermore, interested in how the focus shifted from the piece and Ayanda to the white man who played messiah to keep the piece in the art fair. To understand white power and its strategies we have to look away from it to see it sometimes. The search is on this “looking away” to see more clearly. Can art do this? For instance gender based violence, murderous homophobia, so called xenophobia, if you look at the actors you miss the source that produce those situations. One ends up blaming the victims. What art should do here is expose the invisible hand of “democracy”, expose the invisible hand of white supremacy causing havoc with black lives. Here in south africa art has generally failed to expose these violent and exploitative relations between power and money that manifest as “democracy”. The need to show cash flow charts as arteries plugged on open wounds to suck blood that feeds the vampires in suits who run the stock exchanges. Marikana was one opening to the real world of how democracy works, a window of opportunity to peep into the intestines of power. It was a shot at the ideological edifice of democracy.

Threnody for the Victims of Marikana from Stephanus Muller on Vimeo.

Marikana is likely to be the basis of the total breakdown between the rulers and the ruled. I believe there is a revolutionary upheaval on the way in South Africa. The trauma of Marikana is suppressed into the sub-conscious. The people are stunned into disbelief by a government they generally love. They postponing the moment of truth, a little like discovering that your father is a serial killer. Denial is followed by intense hurt and finally rage and rejection. But since these things go deep into the souls of a people only a ritualistic dance of rebellion can cleanse the troubled souls and appease the ancestors. What happened in Burkina Faso, the splendid act of burning down a parliament was perhaps the most brilliant artistic performance of our time in black Africa. When people make revolution they remove art from galleries and few experts and constitute themselves as artists painting their own history. Ah! I see we’re back to documentation, I saw a charred picture of the Burkina Faso parliament, that is art at its purest. We can say, they burned down “democracy”…

andile mngxitama
9 november 2014

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the art works used in this interview are taken from the book “At Virtue’s Zone” written by kroti tjobolo matela oa sekoli and illustrated by motlhabane mashiangwako. published by pine slopes publications in 2004 in an edition of 1. you can contact kroti here: tjobolo.khahliso@gmail.com

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