11 Dec 2014 HIGHLIGHTS // The Interviews
Yesterday we shared the trends and themes in design and art that we’ve noticed over the course of the year. Today in part 3/5 of our Highlights of 2014 series, we’re turning the spotlight on the words that accompany the pictures to give you our highlights from the 100s of interviews that we’ve conducted and published over the year.
A major part of what we love about our job is being able to interview creatives across a myriad different fields to learn about their views, thoughts, processes, inspirations and challenges, experiences, opinions, backgrounds and hopes for the future. This year we’ve had the privilege of hearing from some of SA’s creative greats, newcomers, up-and-comers, rebels and professionals. They’ve shared their work with us and let us get to know the people behind the work.
Through our interviews we’ve gained firsthand insight into the projects that’ve shaped and defined the local creative landscape this year, and we’ve loved sharing this with you every day. These are the interviews of 2014 that stand out for us.
Award-winning novelist Lauren Beukes tells us how starting out in journalism gave her a backstage pass to the world and an open invitation to follow her curiosity.
In pursuit of a story, I’ve spent time with electricity cable thieves and township vigilantes, but also got to interview Aids activists, doll collectors and one lisping dominatrix, dive with sharks, hang out at fancy rehabs and jump out of a plane.
It was awesome and I miss it – although I use the skills I picked up for my novels. Transcribing hours of interviews teaches you how people speak and what dialogue sings, because the line tells you deeper things about the person or their perspective on the world. I make a point of visiting the places I’m writing about and trying to get as deep as I can into them.
Francois Knoetze shows us how our trash speaks volumes about us through his sculpture and video art.
By sculpturally appropriating objects deemed useless, obsolete or out of date, into performative enactment – a form that itself originates within the fleeting present – the work aims at redramatising the acceleration in the willingness to discard unwanted matter. This trend is often mirrored in the hurriedness with which human beings are marginalised and rendered as waste in South Africa. Colonialism and Apartheid’s residual boundaries of socio-spatial exclusion, between a populace treated as surplus and an affluent consumer class, are (arguably) nowhere more noticeable and geographically defined than in Cape Town. The growing gap between rich and poor – exemplified by the heights of skyrocketing property value and depths of the city’s longdrops – is paralleled by the growing mounds of garbage that lie scattered around the peripheries of the city.
SA design legend Garth Walker speaks to us about his iconic experimental design publication ijusi, which pioneered an authentic visual language rooted in South African experiences.
Real graphic design (not this digital shit) will return when people realise that digital looks crap. Technology may change, but human nature doesn’t. But it’s gonna be far harder to be heard (seen) than when I started out 35 years ago. Everyone is now a designer/photographer/musician/whatever, so one needs to find a client who understands you can do what they can’t. I think there will be a return to ‘hand work’ – we humans need beauty in our lives and that is the concept we designers need to hang onto. It will be a rough ride, but worth the journey. In the end, graphic design is what I do. It’s a way of life – not a job. It’s a calling (and we are very lucky to get that call).
Nicholas Eppel gets narrative about story telling and photography, and the magic hidden within the banal.
A common theme that runs through the work is the focus on the lives and experiences of ordinary people. For me, Life – grand or plain – is storied. It is as much in the ordinary and unspectacular, as in the greater tragedies and joys, that these stories are found. There is a remarkable texture contained in everyday experience and in our constant determination to survive the passing of fortunes and time – in those points at which personal stories intersect with the larger political and socio-economic forces. For me these are the histories that are important. These are the histories that should be recorded. Not only the histories of the powerful, the famous and the victorious. Despite any changes in style or aesthetic that I might have, I think that this point continues to influence all the work I do.
Nolan Oswald Dennis shares his uncertainties about popular memory, sanctioned history and information systems, and how this influences and manifests in his art.
In 2009 my housemates were a brother and sister who would do something like this: they would argue about the merits of Mbeki’s recall by evoking Ghost in the Shell, the Treatment Action Campaign, Octavia E. Butler, three six Mafia, the Kenilworth Spar, The Sandman, WWE wrestling, Cowboy Bebop, Wu-Tang, Lesilo, Ronald Suresh Roberts, Naruto, Bram Fischer ad infinitum. This way of moving between fiction and fact, with the blurring of time, space and authority in their construction of a South African subjectivity completely changed my view of what is going on here in this place, and how I relate to it.
Richard Finn Gregory talks to us about The Boers at the End of The World, a tiny community of Akrikaner descendants eking out a life in remote Patagonia.
Being there was similarly surreal. Patagonia is a dramatic, sometimes harsh place where it certainly felt like being on the far side of the world – but at the same time, it reminded me of the Tankwa Karoo. The way the old guys looked contrasted with how they sounded was also odd – they often dress like guachos (South American cowboys) with neck scarves, berets and bombacho riding trousers – but as soon as they started speaking to me, they sounded like Karoo farmers. It was a strange mix of nostalgia and novelty.
Juanel de la Forêt explains working with her romantic and creative partner, Jesse-Leigh Elford as photography-production team Elford/De la Forêt.
We’re not afraid to simmer and boil in order to arrive at a distilled clarity. Our polar personalities come together in this way, and that’s how we arrive at images that can have seemingly contradicting forces: strong yet delicate, composed yet perturbed, constructed yet mercurial. It takes work to find the common thread, otherwise the result will be schizophrenic. It also gives us the opportunity to create something together that we wouldn’t separately. During this process we don’t waste time candy-coating observations or dancing around each other’s sensitivities. What we do and what we have in each other is too precious to us to let egos erode it.
Jenna Bass and Hannes Bernard relate tales of the bizarre and thrilling adventure of starting Jungle Jim, a bi-monthly African pulp fiction magazine that pushes the boundaries of cultural mash-ups and cheap, creative DIY publishing.
If we want to copy anything from the West, I think it should be the focus on critical design, contextual awareness and a fuck-you-attitude to what we think is interesting, urgent or even popular, instead of importing aesthetics simply because their euro-ness, celebrity or association with big brands give us some sense of global recognition. I think the ultimate defining characteristic of the creative industry in SA is the ability to radically redefine how we imagine, see and produce ‘Africa’, and we should take advantage of that as it will have greater global currency in the long run.
22 year old photographer, filmmaker, musician and writer Sibs Shongwe-La Mer speaks to us about teenage angst, boredom, young love and how creativity keeps him sane.
I’ve left my life open to experiences instead of trying to normalise my life or condemn my curiosities. I think that’s a really important thing to aspire to as an artist. I know as much about Christmas at cheap strip clubs in Hillbrow as I do about falling for a girl in a boarding room in Paris. These dualities I cherish.
Gavin Elder tells us about his wild career that’s taken him around the world shooting for the likes of ACDC, Duran Duran, Pink Floyd, Springbok Nude Girls,Felix Laband, Cypress Hill, Violent Femmes, Bush, David Bowie and artists Brett Murray, Jeff Koons, Friday Jibu, Giles Walker and Shepard Fairey. And he’s worked with the David Lynch.
I started filming with a video camera and used to do basic editing using 2 VHS machines, pressing stop/start to make an edit (seems like the dark ages now!). I then got a job filming events and the company had an AVID editing system which I Iearned how to use. I picked up lighting and directing skills by just doing it, lots of trial and error of course. The skill set came out of necessity – when I am on the road and I want to view and create short edits it’s not realistic having an additional person, so I learnt to edit. If you love what you do, you find a way to gather the necessary skills to enable you to keep working.
Dave Southwood shares the lyrical stories behind his photographs like meeting the Tanzanian stowaways who live under Nelson Mandela boulevard.
Boot prints, bottle tops, a sabre-tooth shard of metal featuring a handle made from wound-up plastic, the remains of an official travel document, the lower mandible of a cow, a half-submerged white packet flagging the spot. So this is what it feels like to be a Mars probe.
I come across what must be a bed and begin to read the scrawled notes at its foot, which supports a highway.
All of a sudden I realise that a ghostly armada of ships floats on a sea of graffitti. I can see inside the ships.
God bless da sea
Rashidi mwanza to sea
neva afrika again
Professor ngaribo Mzala
i like ship no like pussy Sea never dry
Opportunity never come twise
Escape from cape
Sex man chateka, from vingweta
Tegan Bristow introduces us to interactive digital art, educates us on the buzz term ‘Afrofuturism’, and checks in on the local tech art scene.
I suppose I’m an artist who has always been a geek at heart. I love maths and programming, technology for me is a medium. It is the place where I get my hands dirty, experiment and have fun. In addition I think that it is vital to look critically as well as creatively at the medium that really has become an everyday event for most of us. We take too much of what is given to us in technology at face value, I believe that creative people should be challenging technology and how we use it, every day.
Young photographer Hanro Havenga takes us on a custom jaunt down the streets of BestRand.
Sarita Immelman gets real about being a freelance illustrator and designer – making f*#!-ing cool friends, winning metal birds and choosing to disco.
I was hooked on illustration the first time I managed to draw a picture that wasn’t a stick figure. It was a horse. I thought it meant I was going to be a painter with a loft studio, nude models and temper tantrums. The idea that artists get away with certain taboos because they have a “gift” was a very attractive one for me. Turns out that in the real world, the ability to draw a decent horse, usually gets you into an advertising studio where there’s only slightly less nudity. But the tantrums are glorious.
Guy Neveling and Paul Cocks share snapshots from their long-term photography project chronicling the varied characters and characteristics of Main Road in Cape Town as it meanders from the city to the sea.
I think sometimes the hardest part of keeping a project like this going is to go shoot when you are feeling completely uninspired. Not only uninspired in your subject matter but also uninspired with how you are shooting it and the images you are producing. There are times where you feel like everything you are shooting is cliché or boring or just trash and you have to learn to push through those times.
Dinika Govender talks us through the many, many things that make up her day – from baking bespoke biscuits to crafting new media strategy, and pretty much everything else in between.
Learning and growing in a democracy that is also trying to grow into its grown-up shoes is a tandem journey – and one that I try not to take for granted. This is a country blessed (#soblessed) with All the Beauty and the Beasts – which makes it a position of creative privilege for anyone with an interest in adding something meaningful to the world.
Charles Harry Mackenzie speaks candidly about finding his creative voice in photography and writing and his current journey as “chronographer”, his title for someone who records life.
For a long time I felt an unbearable amount of self loathing. Just as I have illustrated before, everything I do is all over the place, great for experimentation…terrible for a distinct style. I tried everything…and enjoyed everything. I would gloss over greats like Kent Andreasen and was always ready to throw a loaf of bread at my computer screen. I mean, it wouldn’t matter if I travelled into the obscure far reaches of the deep dark web, hopping between silk road and terrorist forums…if I saw a Kent Andreasen image lurking about I would immediately know that it was him. I felt jealous. Why is that mother fucker so cool?
Jordan Metcalf tells us about being on the ground floor of an emerging design movement and a frontrunner of custom lettering.
The biggest challenges are ones that the entire industry faces. People working in creative jobs are often led into believing that they are so lucky to be doing what they do that they should somehow bend themselves around impossible budgets, changes, requests and timelines, take on ‘opportunity’ or ‘portfolio’ jobs for free, or take one for the team now under the promise of future work. It’s a pervasive issue that often tilts the scales of value exchange hugely in favour of the employers, agencies and clients. I think the challenge for both young and established creatives is understanding the value of your skill, experience and expertise, and how it will be used by your clients and learning to quote accordingly. Creatives don’t have to think of money as an embarrassing, or shameful part of the process that they’d rather not think or talk about, or feel self-conscious about quantifying the value of their skills. You can be humble and do good work, but still make sure you’re building a sustainable living for yourself.
Tristan Holmes chats with us about the transition from being in front of the camera to behind it and how limitations can often improve an idea.
I like images that push and pull at the same time. Images that lull you in with their beauty but have an unsettling undercurrent brimming just beneath them. Some examples of this are more obtuse like in some of my music videos, others less so, but when given the freedom to, creating images that appeal to both the light and shadow in us is something I find appealing. I suppose I most definitely am not a resounding optimist nor a disillusioned fatalist, I find both points of view have their merits and inherent beauty, and I like exploring this.
Grant Payne talks shooting fast on the streets of Cape Town and learning to roll with whatever the moment throws at him.
I would say my first gigs were the courage parties that used to happen in Durban. Two friends of mine used to throw them at the Winston hotel. The majority of the crowd were teenagers getting totally obliterated and doing things that Musgrave mom and dad would never approve of. I couldn’t believe these kids would get dropped off by their parents, and get picked up later looking like gutter shit. I thought it was gold. I wanted to shoot that kind of stuff anyways and then people started paying me to do it. I saw some weird stuff go down in the dark of Durban. It was great. I think in terms of growing, I now have goals with my photography that I want to reach and that means I can’t stay out all night anymore.
Roberto Millan shares a wry laugh with us about being a satirical cartoonist in SA.
My favourite comic strip thus far is the one I’m currently busy with. It is for a monthly LGBTI publication (lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) called the Pink Tongue. It’s called Squeers and is about two gay squirrels living in the oldest cultivated pear tree in the Cape Town Company’s Garden. The ‘rumoured to be dating’ couple live just above Squrew night club – a reference to a very popular gay bar on the Cape Town Pink Strip. The comic strip makes a legitimate and underrepresented social commentary within the context of South African cartooning, accompanied by various political references to LGBTI culture.
Gaelen Pinnock explains his hybrid creative mix of architecture and photography and the conceptual possibilities this ‘grey area’ opens up.
I spend a lot of time reducing and distilling. I want to tell a story using less, which I find quite challenging because the world is full of clutter. For the last few years I’ve sought out these scenes in the world and approached them with quite a static, straight-on composition, like they are elevational studies.
Thommo Hart challenges us to get real by presenting us with a snapshot into the life of Siya Nzama, a tattoo artist finding innovative ways to express his creativity in the disadvantaged Copesville Township.
I am not a fan of the South African clichés that portray South African society as this 1st World utopian nation light years ahead of Africa which our government and corporate businesses love to represent to the rest of the world. It gives a false sense of reality or a hyper reality in which most ordinary South Africans can’t live, thus creating an identity crisis and conflict within our society. The other clichés I tend to stay away from are the poverty and violence stricken stereotypes that riddle the visual displays of our local media and international media. As a result, I try and portray the visual representations of reality as if through the eyes of the people within that space and time that I am capturing.