THE LONG BLACK ROAD

OK, so I often talk about taking the less travelled road and also the scenic route in my posts. And for better or worse my life as I have lived it and where I find myself is as a result of this inclination to follow these paths. By most accounts I am a huge failure, having not amounted to what most people would consider much. I have no wealth and have received no accolades of any sort. I’m not the CEO of a corporation, I do not own my own business nor do I have a career. I work to pay bills, that’s about it and I hold no illusions about it. I have few friends, no family of my own, that is no wife nor have I ever had one, that is to say, no shared future with anyone. I believe this is because of my less travelled choices. I have lived a life that would be considered “not the norm” by most. And yet I have lived a life!

In one of my favourite movies of all time (definitely on my list of awesomeness), Blade Runner, the replicant Roy Batty played by Rutger Hauer, delivers the iconic tears in rain monologue. The dying Batty delivers the speech to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), moments after Batty has saved his life. This is despite Deckard having being sent to terminate him. Enveloped and shrouded in heavy rain, Batty reflects on his life experiences as Deckard witnesses his passing:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

I often imagine myself delivering those lines when I consider my own life; I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe despite living an almost isolated life. Perhaps that’s why I commit myself so utterly and obsessively to my art. Perhaps it is because I fear that all my moments down those less travelled paths will be lost, like tears in the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in a scenic route moment, here is something to wrap your mind around! The movie, made in 1982, was set in 2019! How freaky is that?!!! And now 2019 is almost upon us and I’m still in this factory TCB-ing (taking care of business, paying the bills). Wow, I remember seeing that movie as a teenager and thinking how far away that was…the future! 2019!

Anyway, 2018 has been on hell of a year! And I’m not saying that fondly! I welcomed it in with a ritual performance in a deserted factory space, tearing hair from my face with hot wax. Followed that by commencing an almost 10 month fast, which culminated in another ritual, but this time taking place in a gallery space before an audience. Between and around these 2 performances, January 1st and October 13th…tears in the rain.  I will give you an example of what I mean. On November 2nd at about 3.30 pm I headed back to Durban from Pretoria in a hired panel van loaded with 1.5 tons of salt and my performance installation. I know that have mentioned this in a previous post. What I have not mentioned is how unseasonably cold it was or how filled the roads were with large cargo trucks. The first a result of global warming, and the second a result of this country’s failing parastatals (in this case the railways) pillaged by the ruling political party, the ANC, and their cronies. And of course our rampant consumerism.

The sun was sinking as I left the environs of the Johannesburg metropole and its surrounding towns, and headed into the darkening vast farmlands one has to travel through to get to Durban. Stretching ahead of me as far as I could see, necklaces of taillights and trailerlights snaked and wound their way into the night. Despite my exhausted and aching body I was filled with a sense of well-being. I remembering thinking that in order to observe the beauty of the stars and the moon we need the dark and similarly it is the dark times that bring out the true wonders of life. Around me the music flowed and reverberated through the cavernous interior of the huge vehicle I was traveling in, my senses enveloped with the spices released by the crystal salt. Playing was a good old 80s band, the great Simple Minds. Made famous by their anthem for the movie The Breakfast Club, they are a lot better than that song, as memorable as it is. I was enjoying revisiting them on my trip home.

Above: the final moments of the movie as Don’t you (forget about me) starts playing.

I was making really good time despite all the trucks on the road. That is until just about the halfway mark. Did I mention that it was a Friday night? Well, in these farm areas it seems that for entertainment people tend to gather around the highway petrol stations and restaurants, like moths drawn to the light. These highway oases (yes, that is the plural of oasis) serve as the equivalent of the shopping malls of the suburbs, a place to hangout. And between these nodes the police setup massive roadblocks. And yes, you guessed it, I got pulled over…with my load of arcane accoutrements (magical ritual thingys). Now you must be wondering how did I explain to the police why I was transporting this huge amount of salt, as well as a very realistic looking AK47 and other military equipment. Believe me I don’t know. As I pulled over all I could imagine was how it must look (Durban drug trafficker hiding his merchandise in salt), and I could imagine them making me unload the approximately 50 bags so they could check them all. Even worse, I could imagine them discovering the AK, and me suddenly face-down on the wet, cold tarmac with 20 firearms pointed at me, a sniffer dog’s snout between my legs and somebody’s boot on my neck.

Fortunately I told the truth, entertaining those men and women in blue at the roadblock for at least 30 minutes, which is all I’m sure they’re looking for on a Friday night in the boondocks, some entertainment. So I explained why in my drivers’ licence I have this mass of hair and no longer do, and how the salt and the mirrored installation were tied to that. There was a moment when I opened a bag to show them the salt where it all could have really gone bad. Alongside the bag was a duffel bag containing my AK47 in it. One of the policemen began to feel it, testing to see what was in it. Fortunately I had wrapped the rifle in bubblewrap (let’s hear it for good artist practice) so he couldn’t guess at what it was and soon lost interest! My heart eventually crawled out of the pit of my stomach and back into my chest…but it took a while. Anyway, so after a few laughs I was sent on my way, my story being something they felt I really could not have made up. So an attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion moment, ammarite?

I recently came across the song, Long Black Road, and it made me think about my really tough…well, quest is probably about the best word for it, that I undertook this year, and especially the nocturnal journey/adventure I have just described. The song is a really obscure one by ELO of all people. And what an awesome song too, and totally not like what the band are known for. It definitely finds a place on swany’s list of awesomeness! Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) are probably best known for the Xanadu soundtrack (the Olivia Newton-John movie) so when you hear Long Black Road you’ll know what I mean! What a gem-of-a-find! One of my new favourite songs! Anyway so I’m going to end off with this last post of 2018 with the lyrics of the song. Merry Christmas, dear readers, and here’s hoping for a new year filled with making a difference and changing the world for the better. You gotta get up in the morning, take your heavy load and keep on going down that long black road!

Long Black Road – Electric Light Orchestra:

They used to tell me boy you ain’t goin’ nowhere

With your cheap guitar and your big long hair

You gotta realize all your responsibilities

You gotta get out to work and face reality

You gotta get up in the morning take your heavy load

And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road

So I drifted for a while down the road to ruin

I couldn’t find my way I didn’t know what I was doin’

I saw a lot of people coming back the other way

So I kept on goin’ when I heard them say

“you gotta get up in the morning take your heavy load

And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road”

I made a lot of money I was makin’ quite a mess

But they all told me money wouldn’t bring me happiness

“you gotta work like a man in a real man’s life

You’re gonna have to take all the trouble and strife”

You gotta get up in the morning take your heavy load

And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road

Songwriter: Jeff Lynne

 

CONABOR

A caution, dear reader, a warning from the outset that this post is a return to the characteristics of my earlier writings on this site; scenic route verbal meanderings. However, do not despair though, as I do, as always, eventually get to the point. You see, I agree with Mary Oliver’s observation that “attention without feeling is only a report.” You see, there must be an “openness”, an empathy, for me the attention must matter.

Impartiality is something I have struggled with in the academic world. Impartiality is just not me because I am certainly no removed observer. The reality is though, that none of us are. We colour everything we see and experience with…well, ourselves… and who we were and who we are and who we are to become. There must be an openness about how we affect what we report, and I’m not even talking about empathy here. Our points of view are unique and there is no impartiality. We need to admit that.

My art practice is definitely evidence of this, with my body and lived experience always being at the centre of it. Therefore my attention to even an academic field of study is coloured with feeling, not merely a point of view but my feeling! This translates into my writing, which although academia has often frowned upon it, I have pushed the limits of by embracing the personal. My Master’s dissertation is an example of this.

You see, if personal writing is telling one’s story, then academic writing analyses and evaluates that story and comments on it. “I” is at the centre of storytelling while in academic writing, the “I” is observer and commentator. I never could understand why the 2 could not live in harmony in academia. Certainly personal writing contains the writer’s experiences and personal views and feelings. But I believe academics were fooling themselves when they believed in an objective observer and writer. Hell, artists having been saying for years that art is subjective, and feminists supported this, claiming that the actual body is political.

Fortunately, academia is changing and becoming more inclusive and accepting. You see, there is very little point in writing something if nobody is going to read it. Imagine reams and reams of postgrad dissertations yellowing, gathering dust and fishmoths in every academic institution’s archives across the world, most only being read whilst being assessed and then never again.  So there is a movement now to make academic writing more readable and more relatable. So less jargon and less dense convoluted thinking and sentence structures, and more involvement, and, you guessed it…emotion! More relatable! This does not mean that as academics we cease to gather information from other sources in order to support and provide evidence of our personal points of view. We do, but now we are acknowledging the personal.

“Learn a little about the man and I guarantee you will look at his art differently,” I said that, and that is the value of writing critically about art, especially one’s own art. To quote one of my favourite authors on what he has to say about personal writing, Neil Gaiman:

Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.

Having a place the story starts and a place it’s going: that’s important.

Telling your story, as honestly as you can, and leaving out the things you don’t need, that’s vital…Because we all have stories. Or perhaps, because we are, as humans, already an assemblage of stories. And the gulf that exists between us as people is that when we look at each other we might see faces, skin color, gender, race, or attitudes, but we don’t see, we can’t see, the stories. And once we hear each other’s stories we realize that the things we see as dividing us are, all too often, illusions, falsehoods: that the walls between us are in truth no thicker than scenery.

I always hope that my writing is evidence of how to write reflexively and with emotion. Certainly my battles with my academic lecturers/mentors/assessors have left me with the self-belief that, for better or worse, I do write mostly with a pen that has been dipped into my innards. This is not to say that I do not adhere to the rigours of academia. I most certainly do, and thrill at the challenge. To be honest, the identifying of a problem and constructing a way to possibly solve it, and then arguing the hypothesis, is something I have become addicted to. In fact, having just completed my Master’s I am already contemplating my doctorate.

In the past, the study of Latin was considered the best suitable foundation and preparation for a life in academia. In fact Latin was once the universal academic language in Europe, and was even taught in middle and upper class schools to those who aimed for the highest level of education. Even today this so-called dead language continues to haunt Western academic traditions like some musty old ghostly schoolmaster. Many of our schools are emblazoned with Latin credos (even out here in Africa). Think of that movie with Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, and the Latin phrase, carpe diem. Even the working class high school I attended, Queensburgh Boys’ High, incorporated a Latin word, conabor, in its badge. A verb, first-person singular, future active: I shall try; I shall attempt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite it being described as a dead language, Latin didn’t actually die. It changed, evolved, as languages do, in this case into the so-called Romance languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. So why was it still taught at schools? Well, largely to instil academic rigour. Firstly, learning another language teaches one to understand one’s own language “better”. Having studied Spanish I can certainly attest to this. So learning Latin was important because it taught one to read, write and speak English “better”. Studying Latin forced one to focus on grammar, syntax and parts of speech. These are things we do without any reflection because we have learned to speak English from birth by imitating. Latin, however, is an exercise in concentrated thought. It has a rigid sentence structure and rules which must be applied: nouns are declined, verbs are conjugated, and adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number and case.  Therefore for every sentence we must consider whether a word is a subject, a predicate, a direct object, an indirect object or part of a prepositional phrase. In short, we have to learn sentence structure and parts of speech, and have to therefore use the language reflectively, with consideration and forethought, rather than intuitively. Awareness of language and how we construct and express our realities through its structures is at the centre of most modern/postmodern thinking.

Many of Western civilisation’s schools of thought originated in the cultures who spoke Latin. Philosophy, medicine, science and art as we understand them today all sprang from Latin’s users and were expressed through its structures. In this soundbite, screenshot, image-grab, social media-obsessed, contemporary society we live in, many people confuse information with knowledge. In an era where we have such easy access to vast amounts of information our attention spans have drastically shrunk, and therefore our ability to focus for any extended period of time. Knowledge is the casualty. As a lecturer I have been witness to this through my students. Believe me when I say that I do not mean to imply that they are stupid, no! But intelligence is no guarantee of wisdom, or knowledge. I hear of these matriculating high school kids receiving multiple distinctions at year-end and I am very sceptical. I believe that they are learning to regurgitate information rather than gaining any real knowledge, or in fact, instruction on how to think, to analyse, to critique. I have had to deal with what I call the cut&paste generation in my tutorial groups. Both visually (in their making) and in their writing (essays) this lack comes across, and as a result I often I struggle to see the person, the artist. It is all very superficial, surface level stuff. My immediate admonishment is always, “make it personal”! I want to see the artist/author in the making and in the writing. Reflexive, self-aware, authentic creating is what I want to see, and I don’t just talk the talk, I walk the walk because I hold myself up to that standard as well.

And here is my point, dear reader, Latin was exercise for the brain, in the same way that working out with weights exercises your muscles. Similarly I like my art to be rigorous and to provide me with a workout. If it’s not doing that, if it’s not challenging me, if it’s not taking me out of my comfort zone and transforming me as well as others, then it’s likely to be decorative and mundane, and that’s not the type of art I want to be making. Hell, I will be the first to admit that I’m not always successful, that sometimes I crash and burn! But I always try, yes, conabor (I will try), and I make wonderful mistakes, glorious in fact, because I don’t hold back! To quote that most celebrated of Latin aphorisms: Carpe Diem! Seize the freaking day indeed!

This echoes my celebrated buddy, Neil Gaiman’s exhortations:

I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful…And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

You see, making any good art, or any real art, is about a conscious ignorance. It’s about knowing that you do not know and the wonderful irony/incongruity of that. And then going out there and, more than just learning from, but growing from, glorious and fantastic mistakes!

SWEET SOUL BROTHER

Over the last couple of days I have found that my heart has been aching. It’s as if I were grieving. And the truth is I have been, and today I have been particularly miserable. There is no mystery to the source of my pain however. Six years ago to the day, on the prophesized day of the Mayan apocalypse (the so-called end of the world) my best friend passed on. So although the world did not actually end on 12/12/2012, for me it was particularly catastrophic. The fact is, 2012 was a horror show for me, and losing my beloved friend felt like a painful emotional climax to my torturous life at that time. I’m not going to go into the events culminating in the death again, but if you’re interested go back through my posts of 2012 which deal with my nightmarish relationship with an American woman and that hellish year.

This is about my beloved friend, Champers. I have to tell you that I continue to miss him terribly. I hope to be reunited with him one day when it is my turn to say adios to this earthly plane and I move on to wherever we go to. You see, I don’t need some church/mosque/temple religious leader to tell me whether animals have souls or not. Yes, Champers was an animal, my furry buddy; a beautiful champagne-coloured Persian. To most people he was insignificant but to me he was not only my best friend, he was family. He made my world a better place for being in it, and as I said, even 6 years on I miss him.

Now as deep as my feelings are for him I believe so were his for me, and like animals do, he loved unconditionally and asked for very little in return, only my company. Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) concluded: that the variations between humans and other species in their capacity to feel and express emotion are almost non-existent. It varies between individual creatures much like it varies between individual humans. Similarly animals have personalities, and they have lives. The sheer arrogance of humans to decide which should live and which should be slaughtered and served up as meals angers me beyond words. There is NO difference between eating a dog or cow…or another fellow human. The only difference between the animals you love and the animals you eat is your perception of them and your attitude towards them. To quote that most excellent band the Smiths: meat is murderMeat is all murder!

Getting all biblical on you, consider this, damned meat-eaters:

“For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath [spirit] of man ascends upward and the breath [spirit] of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.

So this post and my little rant are in memory of my beloved Champers. Rest in peace, buddy, you are remembered and loved. 12/12/2012.