For 358 days of the year, the Tankwa desert in the Northern Cape is a desolate, windswept Martian wasteland of brittle scrub, metallic rock and dust. But for one week in late autumn each year, a glorious out-of-season spring occurs, transforming the landscape into a mirage of shifting shapes, colours and sounds.
The AfrikaBurn festival, now in its eighth year, is a shared experiment in radical inclusion, participation, expression, decommodification and self-reliance. It’s a celebration of immediacy, where no programme or line-up dictates the flow of events; rather, the festival takes its own organic course, created by the people who attend it.
Large-scale artworks dot the landscape and punctuate the skyline. This year, the towering spires of Subterrafuge dominated the backdrop of the festival and created a false horizon against the klein Cederberg mountains in the distance. “The size, the aggressive shapes and the piercing of the earth…refer to the potential damage done by fracking and other industrial exploits of the Karoo,” the rationale explains, “while the juxtaposed soft gradient colour and floating appearance at night refers to the attempts to ‘sugar-coat’ such industrial ventures”. Adjacent to this and reflecting the geometric shapes was The Offering, the third manifestation of Simon Max Bannister’s desert Temple. “Where Solace (2012) ‘held’ and Compression (2013) ‘opened’, The Offering ‘gives’”, he explains.
Standing watch over the Binnekring was this year’s Clan – a manifestation of the theme The Trickster – a giant mechanic hare. The crew’s rationale for the piece describe it as: “A synthesis of opposites: the duality of nature/technology; light/dark; male/female; life/death. The arm is raised in honor of Nelson Mandela. Rolihlahla: the troublemaker, the visionary. Robotic logic can compete with traditional values. Technology seduces ancestral wisdoms. By virtue of lessons, often convoluted, sometimes contradictory, it reminds us that we cannot shirk the spirit”.
Within the Binnekring innumerable smaller artworks were scattered, inviting passersby to stop for a moment and engage, or simply look: A telephone booth with a direct line to God, a ‘Masheen’ that fired LED-lit messages along a suspended line, a swaying Kissing Tree, a galloping giraffe zoetrope, a cog-and-wheel timekeeper, a papier-mâché tableaux of the cycle of life and death entitled Lilith and the Garden of Eden, a procession of sheep…
Each of these artworks – whether monumental or barely noticeable – was conceptualised, funded, schlepped over 100 kilometres of treacherous dirt road and assembled by someone like you or me, inspired by the guiding principle of radical participation. “The burn was born out of impulse – to create freely, to experiment, to express, dare, do, celebrate”.
Scandinavian-based photographer, Lukas Renlund (who we had the pleasure of meeting and doing a Hangout with recently) was headed to Tankwa to document the construction and destruction of Lilith and the Garden of Eden (an Official WDC Project), and kindly agreed to team up with us too and share some of his photographs of the festival. Look out for his exclusive photo-essay of portraits and other oddities coming soon.