One Of Six

In my previous post I spoke about one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice (1988). Another that I love is The Crow (1993).

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I mention this because I managed to get a copy of the movie on blu-ray recently and then watched it last weekend. This weekend I took the time to watch the extras on the disc, one of which was an interview with the lead actor, Brandon Lee. Lee died whilst making the movie which is kind of tragic and ironic and creepy all rolled up into one because the movie is about returning from the dead to set things right. This is also made all that more poignant because of the fact that Brandon was the late great Bruce Lee’s son. Bruce Lee was one of the few male role models I had as a teen and I would often spend hours in my bedroom training, trying to perfect Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was Bruce Lee’s personal style of kung fu. In the Warner Brothers film, Enter the Dragon (1973), when Lee is asked, “What’s your style?”, he simply replies, “My style? .You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

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He often referred to it as “the art of expressing the human body”. Lee believed that martial art styles had become too rigid and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”. He believed real combat was spontaneous, and a martial artist could not predict it, but only react to it. A good martial artist should “be like water”—move fluidly without hesitation. Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 from a brain aneurism. Lee had just completed making ,

Enter the Dragon, the most successful martial arts movie of all time.

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On March 31, 1993, 20 years later, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died of a gunshot wound during the filming of The Crow in an accident involving a prop gun. The Crow, like Enter the Dragon, was tremendously successful and became a cult movie. Like father like son.

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In the interview that I mentioned (Brandon) Lee is tremendously engaging, and really speaks so eloquently and passionately. He quotes a passage from Paul Bowles’ book, The Sheltering Sky, which I really love and that I want to share with you:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless…

It was a quote that was to appear on his wedding invitations and instead now appears on his tombstone. Take what you will from this, as you must from whatever life throws at you. And with that I return to my life and what is going on.

So my first week of six weeks of fasting is done and dusted! This in preparation for my performance piece, 40RTY. I have to admit it was a bit of a slog. I have cut out all processed foods and animal products. So no dairy (man, I miss CHEESE!), no meat (I don’t do meat anyway), no eggs, no soya even, as soya products are processed. That leaves me with raw vegetables and fruits and their juices. In the first three days I felt as if I had the flu which is quite normal as your body detox’s: headachey, tired, cranky. In addition I developed cold sores on the sides of my mouth. But by Friday I was feeling a little better if somewhat lightheaded. Lots of cravings also and cursing myself for putting me through all of this. I went for a run on the Saturday after work and really struggled, just no gas/energy. I am here to tell you that fasting sweat really reminds you that you are just an animated meat-shape. Then on Saturday night, like a switch clicking on,suddenly I was no longer tired, I was the opposite. This means that I have barely got any sleep since then because I am all of a sudden seriously hyper! That’s bad because I am normally like that anyway, so I am literally hyper-hyper! So now it is Monday and I have 34 days until my performance! In reality though the performance has already begun and it started the moment that I began fasting. The idea is that by doing this, when I walk into the gallery space and present my performance, my mind will already be so focused (40 days of fasting will achieve this) that I will seamlessly progress from one to the other (fasting to performance) with the exclusion of all else. I will be, quite literally, a work of art. In addition I have been working on my installation which is really coming along nicely. I am excited to see it in the gallery space. I imagine it will be quite something!

Strange & Unusual

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One of my favourite movies of all time is Tim Burton’s cult classic 1988 movie, Beetlejuice. It is honestly a work of art. Burton’s vision is just spellbinding, Danny Elfman’s score is perfect and the wonderful ensemble cast, including a hilarious Michael Keaton as bio-exorcist and “ghost with the most”, Betelgeuse, and a young Winona Ryder as Lydia, the original emo Goth teenager, are delightful! While at the 61st Academy Awards Beetlejuice won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, I thought it should have won a lot more. It is a virtually perfect movie. I have watched the movie way more than eleventeen times and it never grows old!

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One of my favourite quotes is from Winona Ryder’s character, Lydia:

I read through that Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It says, “Live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.

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I suppose I find resonance with those lines because you could definitely put them on my headstone one day when I am laid to rest – He was strange and unusual.

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I was a strange kid and I am a strange adult and that is the truth. It once concerned me, however, strangeness becomes less concerning when you allow your creative output as well as your persona, both public and private, to revolve around that fact. In fact, the most interesting and creative artists, it has been my experience, border on lunacy…and, yes, I have been known to howl at the moon on occasion! I have found my peace with who I am in my pursuit of, and involvement with, art. My acceptance in the mainstream world has always been tenuous and provisional even when I was playing first team rugby or in the military or employed in corporate South Africa. I am, by all accounts, a failure by many of the standard requirements demanded of society:  unmarried and solitary, and a financial failure for most of my life. I do not say this to show you, dear reader, how magically eccentric and off-beat I am. What I am saying, using myself as an example, is that you should, to quote Molly Crabapple:

Focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your fucked-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.

I wish I had done that early in life instead trying to fit in, instead of allowing people to tell me what I could and couldn’t be. But in saying that, it is never too late! I am a good example of that! So now I take all that “fucked-up damage” and I allow it to fuel my vision and drive my art. This does not mean that I am a success; being an artist in this world and in South Africa is tough. And failure in art is so very, very personal! It is a failure of self because that is what all good artists do, put themselves out there; their intellect and their passion and their vision. With this in mind how does anyone working in art ever get up in the morning? Well, it takes courage and endurance and tenacity, but most importantly, it takes a belief in what you have to say, a belief in your own, very unique artistic voice.

I want to end off with a few points from Neil Gaiman’s now-legendary speech:

  • I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.
  • Do the stuff that only you can do.
  • The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
  • The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
  • Make up your own rules.
  • Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
  • 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.

 

Love it! If you have not watched it, do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI&app=desktop.

And then go and make mistakes! I have been a mistake my entire life and that, as my old friend Robert Frost says, has made all the difference.

PS. go watch Beetlejuice

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Beetlejuice!

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Act Accordingly

I really enjoy this quote:

“Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio,” Teresita Fernández said about being an artist, “the way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote … will also become the raw material for the art you make.”

This is what it means to be artist and people in an artist’s life should proceed accordingly. As the great Jack Nicholson, in his role as Irish gangster, Frank Costello, in The Departed says:

Frank Costello: How’s your mother?

Man in Bar: She’s on her way out.

Frank Costello: We all are, act accordingly.

I am at the moment preparing for my next exhibition…well, it is actually a performance piece and is a one-night deal, so perhaps exhibition is the wrong word, a performance then. It is in response to my work on my Master’s dissertation. Although I love the process of researching, reading, analyzing and writing, for me it is just the beginning of my practical work, it merely informs my making. First and foremost I am an artist and therefore I am taking all the cerebral and translating it into action, making it visual.

This is my artist statement for my performance:

40RTY by swany

What is the significance of the number 40?

In Western ideology forty is closely linked to Christianity and its beliefs. In Christian scriptures Christ is driven into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he is tempted three times by the Devil while he fasts for the period of 40 days and 40 nights. The number appears numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments and has come to symbolize a period of testing, trial or probation. In addition, forty years is considered to be a generation. For the men of my generation forty days was the ritually celebrated day of the commencement of our final 40 days as conscripts in the South African Defence Force.

These various readings of the number 40 inform this performance piece. I am at present busy with my Masters in Visual Arts for which I am researching white South African masculinities, specifically those of my generation. This performance is a practical realization of some of that research. In 40RTY I will interrogate masculinity and our perceptions of it utilising a performance within an installation and within a gallery space. To prepare myself I will fast for 40 days and 40 nights prior to the performance. The work will be documented by both photographer and videographer and viewers are welcome to do the same.

40RTY – masculinity as a performance.

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40RTY invite