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

 

BLOU STEEN/BLUE STONE (2018): REFLECTIONS

It’s just over a week since I dismantled my performance installation in Pretoria , and 4 weeks on from the actual performance of the work informed by my Master’s dissertation. Both were immense tasks of endurance, physically and mentally. The rising of the frosty new stubble on my head marks the passing of this time, these 4 weeks. The entire process, commencing with my insular waxing performance on January 1st, , and including a 10 month, 286 day fast, and culminating in the huge physical task of dismantling my installation on November 2nd, laid waste to me. In part this explains why I have not written about my experiences as yet. I find myself still trying to get to know the creation I have become. The best example, or metaphor?, I can offer to give you an insight into my lived experience is this: in 2012 I performed a shaving ritual (Gaze) removing the hair from my head and body, since then I have grown my hair, rarely even trimming it so that it became this thick, heavy, protective and insulating mass on my head. During the Blou Steen/Blue Stone performance I again shaved my head, planning it, much like the military barbers did, as if it were a piece of wood. In an early evening thunder storm (the High Veld in South Africa is known for these) that followed my performance, the shock of feeling rain on my bare, nude, sensitive head was both truly unsettling and otherworldly. The sensitivity, vulnerability and dislocation I was feeling internally after the performance was exemplified by this physical moment of experiencing the weather in direct contact with the flesh of my newly-exposed scalp.

In performance art the blood is real. My scalp bleeds minutes after the performance.

On the 7 hour drive back to Durban the next morning, I had plenty of time to reflect on the performance experience, and the past months leading up to it. And yet I have still not put it into actual words what it was all actually like. The fact is life and people do not give a damn (about art and sacrifies) and remain demanding. And bills have to be paid, so that Monday I was back in the factory working. As the King (Elvis) said, I was TCB-ing, taking care of business. And before I knew it, 3 weeks had passed and I had to return to Pretoria and the gallery to dismantle my performance installation. This was an endurance performance all on its own. I began at 9 in the morning and only finished at 3:30 in the afternoon. It involved shovelling up 1.3 tons of sea salt, putting it in bags, carrying them some 50 metres and then loading them into a van. After that I still had to load my metal structure and all my relics. When I climbed into that behemoth of a van which I had hired to carry my work back down to Durban my right knee and my back were aching like rotten teeth. A further 7 hours later, after driving through the night, (and being pulled over in a massive police roadblock, a story for another time) I arrived back in Durban, and 4 hours later I was back in the factory working. TCB!

TCB indeed, because as I write this on this Sunday morning I am in the factory, working. TCfreakingB! It’s a little less hectic today being a Sunday so I am taking the opportunity to reflect while it’s still relatively fresh in my memory. I remember that the actual installation process went quite smoothly and within 3 days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) my performance space was ready. By Friday, the day before the opening of the exhibition, even the dying of my hair to the correct colour I wanted (electric blue; after many attempts and using a number of different products) had successfully been concluded. But of course, then along came gallery politics and academic constraints/dictates. Firstly, I was informed that my performance (at an estimated 40 minutes) was way too long. This was a valid point though, people having miniscule attention spans these days as a result of social media and the internet. I was told that I would need to keep it under 20 minutes. This is all very fine and well, but this is like 2 days before a performance I have been planning and working up to for over 3 years. But!  I didn’t panic because I allowed for these worst-case-scenario events, and so I spent the entire Friday coming up with a new soundtrack for my performance and was still ready by Saturday. Or so I believed!

What do they say about the best-laid plans? Or about learning that God has a sense of humour by proclaiming your plans out loud?  For a performance I do my best to control everything I can, and for me, key is being in my space long before the performance so that I can mentally prepare. Some 600+ kilometres from home and being locked out of the gallery until minutes before my performance is not ideal, to say the least! Nor is having to rush in, check the sound, lights and video, and then don my uniform, only to find out that the order of events of the programme have been changed. Spending 30 minutes behind a screen and having to urinate into a box is definitely not conducive to getting one’s mind centred and prepared. But performance art is kind of like jumping from a plane, once you are out there, there is no turning back, and what will happen, will happen; you have very little control or choice. This is the adrenaline-pumping rush and beauty of performance art. The combination of chance and the interaction of artist and audience/viewer result in a totally unique, temporal, ephemeral artwork.

My performance, I felt was almost-frantic, with me, at one stage, hacking at my bleeding head with the razor. As always, I felt exposed and vulnerable, and yet barely aware of the audience (some 40 people).  I was aware of really only my soundtrack and its cadence, dictating when my various rituals should take place and their rhythm. I was also acutely aware of the sea salt crunching firstly beneath my army boots and then later under my bare feet. Its aroma permeated the entire gallery space, enveloping my senses, rising from the luminescent white mounds on the floor. Afterwards, although there was a sense of cathartic resolution, I was, as always, shy, withdrawn and reflective, perhaps even shameful. But, as always, I am forced out, because people want to speak to me, whether it is for me to acknowledge their presence or for them to acknowledge mine I’m never certain. This is a good thing. Men wanted to talk to me about their military experience, one even burst into emotional tears. This is very good and something I strove for! Activism: art as a tool for change!

Blou Steen performance: I’m wearing my Mask of Masculinities headpiece.

So what happened then? Well, after arriving home and TCB-ing I sorted out the documentation of my performance. I am pleased to say that despite all the problems on the day I got some really amazing video and photographs. These I sent to the postgraduate examinations department thereby meeting all my requirements for my Master’s degree. Now it’s all about the work and dissertation being assessed by the university, and me waiting to hear my grade. In the meantime I will be working on editing the video for an exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery. This will include my installation and a new performance informed by the old. The work does not stay static or final, it grows, transforms, spreads… This is good. This is very good!