Archive for the ‘Lien Botha’ Category

Of road trips and earth hour…..
At 6am I was up and just started the coffee when the frantic cries of the Cape bull bulls warned me of impending doom hovering outside. I know their voices, this is how they tell us that there is a snake or a mongoose or a cat. Not a belonging cat such as a rooikat or a genet but the domestic types who do not belong in a biosphere.
The cat got away and I had to start picking the salads and herbs we deliver to a local deli on Saturday mornings. At about 9am we made the delivery and returned home for a little bite before leaving for Stellenbosch with one of Rupert’s clients. Once in a while we visit the slow food market at Oude Libertas for a great food experience and also because lately we make a point of getting out of Beacon Bay over week-ends since it usually becomes an outpost for city degenerates thus rendering it quite unbearable till late on a Sunday afternoon when the calm is gradually restored and the veld animals are able to return from their hide-outs. Sitting down over a fresh croissant and second cup of coffee for the day, I glance over some headlines largely dealing with the Malema factor and with disillusionment i put the newspaper away. Rupert’s client and his wife arrives and we set out on our journey. The first signs of autumn are evident in la- la land, where people are seemingly affluent and forever young as they wander along oak-lined pavements past cut out Cape Dutch. The language, according to Breyten Breytenbach will be extinct in his lifetime. He is seventy.
We browse the stalls, greet Gaspard Bossuth the chocolatier from our neck of the woods, he has a long face today since apparently trading is everything but brisk. We taste some of Adie Badenhorst’s smooth red release – the secateurs label. Ironic, I think, but then I have a vision of pruned vines and the absence of tannins resonates on my palet . We purchase thai pesto from the coriander princess, taste lots of condiments and eventually relish a falafel for lunch. The client and his wife will be meandering their way back to Beacon Bay and we are proceeding to Darling for a family matter and thereafter to Philadelphia where we are to attend an earth hour event in the evening. From Philadelphia it is another half an hour or so to Darling if you drive through Atlantis. Atlantis remains as an apartheid barometer, a desolate hell of expansive dissipated industrial aspirations. As we drive past a vast stretch of rooikransveld with nothing in site, Rupert mentions that you could be murdered and left here here never to be found. Soon after this we encounter the pound. The hungry dogs will get to your bones first, is what I think. Somewhere near the seven eleven store are five modest blocks of flats – each with the charming name and logo of an indigenous bird: Loerie, Kokkewiet,Rooiborsduif, Windswael, Wielewaal…..the signs have begun to disintegrate, the streets are suspect. This is not Stellenbosch, it’s another country and the road out of here is called Athens.

Leaving Atlantis you pass Mamre and soon the rural landscape of Darling starts unfolding. It is a pastoral reminisce, you could nearly forget where you are, you could imagine that you were in a place without its harrowing memory and its continuing grief. You could imagine that in another life a painter such as Constable would have set up a canvas on a south hill and that he would have painted cumulonimbus clouds hanging low over the autumn landscape. But the broken car and family of six next to the road shifts the reality gear. Almost always fucked up cars that are breaking down. We don’t stop.

The family meeting concerns Rupert’s parents who are thinking of selling their flat in Mekbosstrand in order to relocate to Darling where his sister has been living for the past three years. We greet everyone and are offered coffee and muffins. A fairly emotional discussion ensues because there are few options here and the options that exist are cared for by Rupert. The opinion of the other children has become diminished because they do not contribute to the option. Is this not how it works in nature? Time with Rupert’s family is something I never enjoy. It is excruciating to say the least. To my mind they are largely joyless. Worse: His siter harbours cats, about thirteen at this stage, and even though I have stopped discussing cats altogether when in her company, I cannot avoid the hayfever attacks which usually ensues soon after arrival. This at least propels me outside where I can sit on the stoep and listen to the lively conversation of the vinke in the palm tree. The vinke who will die one by one at the paw of my sister in law’s cats until not one is left and until one day in the future this time in the afternoon not a sound will be heard.

Eventually we leave, Rupert having attempted to find some kind of solution to the habitational quest of my disenfranchised in-laws. We travel back the way we came but somewhere near that rooikrans section we miss the Athens turn-off to end up in a detour via Melkbosstrand and by the time we arrive in Philadelphia for the earth hour event, the street lights are blazing and four by four’s are pulling up on either side of the road. We enter without party spirit and I head for the nearest bottle of wine. The first glass of the day is like a sanctuary. Sulphite sanctuary .

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June 19,2010

A short story of my residency on an island

Wading through Westerland

For nearly a year I have looked forward to this event: an invitation to spend one month on the North Sea island of Sylt as a resident artist at kunst raum sylt quelle. Sounds quite magical not so? What came to mind soon after that day in April 2009 when I received a phone call whilst sitting at Cut above : the one and only hairdresser in Bettys Bay (and from which I departed in a weary state of orange hair, the result of a colour treatment gone excessively wrong); was the image of a remote island and kindred encounters with the spirits of painters from the art books of my student days; Caspar David Friedrich, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde who once lived and worked on the island. I consulted the website and spoke to other South African artists who had previously been there : Paul Emmanuel was discreetly evasive and Strijdom van der Merwe mused that it was one of his all time favourite residencies. This made me feel carefully optimistic about the trip.

Raymond accompanied me for the first two weeks and we had a splendid time with lots of discussions amongst some of the other residents who included the German poet Dieter M Graf and South African artist Alexandra Ross. Another South African , the poet Lebo Mashile spent three days on the island as part of the German launch of her book  In a ribbon of rhythm. True to the bohemian illusion of unbridled time, our late nights merged into never- ending long days of sauna and swimming in the North Sea waters, long walks along the dykes and in the small contained forests and prepairing superb meals such as seasonal asparagus, new potatoes and fresh salmon accompanied with a bottle of Baron Grogzwig. For this small chapter we were adamant to forget about reality as we knew it, we were in another country, far away from hunger and poverty.

One Sunday morning  we  decided to take the bus to the most southern part of the island called Hӧrnum. We had anticipated a quaint fishmarket with little fishing boats bobbing in the North Sea harbor, but alas not so. First of all there was no market whatsoever on this particular day, and the trend which seems to behest most of the island was prevalent: wealthy Germans with dark mercs and volkswagens and porches and Ferraris and Harley- Davidsons park their vehicles and parade up and down to be seen. You can eat crepes and drink beer and swallow herring. All good and well but for the more adventurous this place becomes dismal. So we bought some liebensmittel at the local store and waited for the bus back to Rantum Nord.

This is where premonition entered: there were only a few people on the bus, but one person in particular emerged significantly: a man of between forty and fifty who was visibly odd with short cropped greyish hair seated diagonally behind us and every time I glanced at him he grinned,blinked and quickly looked away. I noticed that his attire was not the usual slick designer apparel worn by most of the island inhabitants, but that instead he was wearing tatty shorts and tan coloured stockings with sandals which meant that his big toes were pushing through the fibre of the stocking. It is a most distressing way of being clad, similar to the tendency of camel’s foot when a girl wears jeans that are too tight.

I tried to avert the man’s quiziccal gaze but he remained insanely adamant at making some eye contact with me. At the Sansibar stop, three  unusually overweight German women boarded the bus and took up seats near him but soon they proceeded to giggle about his exasperated state. He muttered along, probably oblivious of his own condition, which in turn made way for the pitiless response of the three women . This made me think of the persecuted Jews, how many are left in Germany today? Did any of them ever return? How do they manage to live here? And then I thought of home and home has its own historical detritus.

Eventually we arrived at our stop and I was relieved to be rid of the madman, the three women and the ghosts of the holocaust.

Contrary to nonconformist belief, and in order to make sense of the journey’s contours, everything does have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Hamburg was our middle and the place from which Raymond would return home.This median with a certain weightless presence along and between the Elbe river, revealed exquisite city skapes of ingenious contemporary architectural manifestations sensibly balanced between ancient structures from the Hanseatic league. Ironically, the Hafencity development with an ever increasing budget remains a bone of contention for the city fathers and mothers and children. We could not be bothered, for us the sound shaped windows of Herzog & de Meuron’s opera house meant the epiphany of classical composition woven into built form. From here we continued our ecstatic meandering through the Museum fϋr Kunst und Gewerbe until frozen in front of an extraordinary Ming collection from the Harold and Ingeborg Hartog bequest where behind impenetrable glass cases a small famille rose pillow will never be broken.,

After Raymond’s departure I embarked on numerous projects in order to make sense of my time on the island. Long walks with my camera were interspersed with interior portrait shots of some of the people I have encountered here. A waitress, a chef, a poet, a painter and an administrator who used to be an ex nurse an ex biologist and an ex politician. Talk about multiplicity. The new series would have as working title re-turning the gaze and as the images were being collected I could anticipate a diptych format which would function as a guestbook of sorts.

Visitor or not, it was inevitable to avoid the soccer which was followed in between one’s  waning optimism and in the face of German efficiency and industriousness I was holding my breath for further news of a power failure which left 2000 fans stranded, robberies out of hotel rooms or striking security guards. About our team little was spoken.

On the subject of this particular residency I need to share with you the fact that the four guest apartments are situated between a restaurant and a water bottling factory. So you could say that Sylt Quelle is the Evian of Germany. Sort of. This is where every illusion of a secluded and quiet artist’s cove falls away completely. At any given time of the day you would sit there working or attempting to make contact with an elusive muse when all of a sudden there would be this loud “sweeesh pop” sound – I guess it has something to do with the gass exponent in the bottling process. Every time this happens you’d miss a heartbeat. Then again it could be quiet for at least half a day or so. Two nights ago an alarm went off inside the factory and all night long there was this slow flashing geen light accompanying the menacing sound of the alarm. Eventually I closed all the windows which are double glazing and just a faint bleep was audible. Nothing on a vuvuzela, I thought before I finally fell asleep.

That was to be my last good night as the person I used to be. The very next morning I was up early, ready for a long walk down to the beach including the prospect of a swim in the North Sea waters. As I made my  optimistic exit out of the apartment complex there was a sudden loud explosion, the next moment I was hit by something damp and sharp. Damn sharp I thought as I went down, hitting the hard paving, feeling the blue sky falling through almost every image I have ever had, the sky should be somewhere else I thought and then the mad man joined me on an island far from home.

Lien Botha

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Imagine waking up from your own murder. Would this be possible. Is it not possible for a murdered person to be dead but awake in another reality recalling every aspect of such a demise.
This I know is true but I cannot write it, cannot send a message to anyone to let them know that I am murdered but not dead. As my dismembered body lies, washed up amongst the translucent sargassum strands which I always fondly referred to as the mermaids with the secret sea hair, I am dead and already decomposing. Lifted by the ebb and embraced by the creatures I have long admired, many of them which I used to photograph in meticulous detail, always in awe of some or another aspect of the subject that would grasp the shutter. Dead as drowned but hovering with an unknown breath and as such not quite dead. I feel nothing thank God but I sure as hell don’t recognize myself, one side of my face is a mucilage of purple blood, missing a left eye, the right eye is fixated upwards to the infinite sky but I seem to be unable to spot any birds. My hands are gone, most of my stomach, already fed away by amphipods, shore crabs and shy sharks, in fact a lot of excess has been cleaned up so that there is a certain clarity in my new deformed condition. I Have become what used to intrigue me: the detritus rotting away on the beach at which I could stare for hours, the maggots inside skulls, the cleaned out bones of wild animals in the veld, the curious vigour inside the compost heap and all its steaming disintegration; here I am it. Floating with an illustrious array of fish that the anglers would indeed kill for: zebras, red steenbras, poenskop, dageraad and pangas. That’s it, it was a blade that sliced me clean and articulate like a rhyming couplet. But who held it? There is a smell I recall because my sense of smell was always very good. It was a pleasant smell, similar to the smell of the visiting academic from Qatar whom we took out for lunch in the autumn of 2010. It was the smell of privilege, of crisp clean clothes, of someone who is always immaculate, no flatulence around the body, no bad breath, age and its infirmities does not touch this kind of person for some or another reason. Maybe they are vegetarians or they never stress or something like that.

Who wanted me dead?
Quite a few people actually .The Dutchman wanted me dead almost a year after we moved here. He often envisaged it, I felt it in the way he looked at me with contempt and malevolence for what he perceived as a disruption of his unchallenged existence in the area. He was deluded into believing that the entire Blesberg area was an extention of the farm he once owned in Zimbabwe. A pig farm I think, it makes sense anyway. First he was our friend of sorts having poked his nose into our building affairs right from the beginning, then he used to pitch at our house on a daily basis, always uninvited and then through various unpleasant fits and starts we ended up having disagreements until these became quite severe with the final straw when he sided with the loony tune across the road Jose Rodriguez. His Dutch hypocricy excelled in the company of his fellow colonial wash-out. The two of them a sight to behold: the one unruly with way too much hair, a face that Roger Ballen would want to photograph with his eyes closed, and then the slender uptight looking man from Madeira who actually walks as if he is pinching an apple between his inner thighs. The real crux came when the Dutchman’s dog continued repeated sojourns up into Blesberg, chasing buck and baboons and wild birds and after numerous requests to curb his dog, he simply remained insolent and indifferent. Eventually we contacted law enforcement and the fines started coming his way. But after all the ill will and hard feelings he was not sufficiently moved to follow me down to the deserted beach, and slice me. Neither was the man from Madeira who just isn’t man enough.

Someone else who wanted me dead was the lady with three cats who drove her husband to suicide nearly two years ago. It was me who got rid of all three her cats and she must have known it. First I harassed her by throwing all the dead birds, mice and lizards caught by her cats over her wall, then I used to leave flyers under her door: my favourite was the one about the extinction of the Stephens Island wrens – a rare bird species all killed by the lightkeepers cat.With my Revlon animal instinct lipstick I drew hanging cats on her car windows. To no avail. Then I snapped. One day I simply picked up the black cat and drove it all the way to the animal welfare in Grassy park. The white one was caught in a trap and disposed of by Lester the nature conservation man. Number three I simply ran over with my car one night. It was an accident.
It’s my own fault that I evoked this sense of hatred in other people. I Should have gone to tai chi or yoga or something where meditative skills could be invoked in order not to lash out at individuals whom I have come to believe to be infringements on the environment. My new mission, my long lost sense of activism gained a certain degree of militancy and it started turning on me. Often at night when I was outside in the dark, perched on a ladder underneath a local resident’s outside light which was left burning for days and nights, there I was – complete with a kit of gloves, headlight and a sassy screwdriver. My heart would pound with excitement and once back home, under the critical gaze of Reuben, who has given up on these bisar excursions, I would actually feel quite ridiculous – until the next time.

So who killed me?
The fact is I don’t know. I never saw the face, only the hands with long articulate fingers like that of a pianist, and I remember thinking that a murderer could not possible have hands like this. Killing me softly to the touch of music and then I was dead.

Lien Botha

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Candy On the Road at Lien's place

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Lien Botha

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