Into the Wild

I decided to go hiking without really planning too much where I was going. I headed in the direction of Signal Hill and Lions Head and eventually ended up climbing Lions Head. It turned out to be a 5 hour hike by feet. To give you a sense of my route here is a map (I started at Greenpoint on the top):

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It was nice to get away from the craziness of the city, take some time to breathe, and enjoy the other side of what Capetown has to offer. Since we didn’t hike Table Mountain, I thought this would be a nice alternative. Other hikers on the trail were geared up with their hiking shoes, windbreaker jackets, and small backpacks. I wore jeans, running shoes, and a light jacket, which I ended up tying around my waist because it got so warm. I was sweating a lot just mid-way through the hike. By the time I reached the bottom of Lion’s Head it was already over an hour of hiking. I kept going, forgetting that it had slightly rained earlier. The rocks dripping water and there were little puddles of mud. How authentic! South African mud!

I was getting so close to the top, then I approached all these ladders, chains and staples. I was not expecting it to be this extreme, but I climbed them somehow and made it to the top. I met a group of locals, who were graduates from UCT. I ended up hiking down with them. It was good that I did because it was so slippery on the way down. We were basically sliding down the mountain. The view was just incredible from everywhere on the mountain.

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By the time I made it down, I was in the back of Camps Bay. I said goodbye to the new friends and I decided to walk back to Greenpoint from there to catch the sunset along the shoreline. Part of the route, I jogged and then by the time I was right out of Camps Bay I walked. I love the feeling of the ocean wind blowing on my face. I probably looked horrible by then, but I felt great. I turned around and saw the mountain. It is crazy how I was up there just a couple hours back. I guess the sky and clouds aren’t as far away as I thought.

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Framed Art, Rugby, and a Little Dose of Nature

Everyday I am surprised by how fast time goes. The hours we spend at the Social History Centre each day feel so short and I am surprised by the amount of progress we make each day on the collections. I started off continuing to unpack items from boxes into the storage. I took a trip up the eighth floor to work on local and German tools. What shocked me what the beauty and history of these rusty chunks of metal. Large bellows stacked up across the floor next to shelves of small wrenches, blades, and knives. These were the supporting tools to help build what South Africa is today. The rest of the week, I was able to work with Bradley closely with the art collection of the Social History Centre. On the fifth floor is nearly 700 framed artworks hanging in racks. Our task was go to through all of these paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors and collages, and take a condition of the works. Though this might seem quick and easy, identifying and finding each artwork in the digital catalogue can get tricky because the database is still so new and improving. Through doing hundreds of these already this week, I am picking up some of the basic conditioning terms such as fading and yellowing of images, acid migrations, foxing and other conditioning terms. The language of conservation is still so new and working with the art collection is helping me get a better grasp of it. No matter how much I study these terms, being able to see the damages on actual works makes all the difference in understanding it.

This weekend was filled with sun, good food and nature! Friday, I took a trip to Woodstock to see a friend’s show. Woodstock reminded me a lot of Arts on Main in Joburg. Walking through the street there was a sense of that “roughness” too. There was something nice about that and getting lost while traveling. I was approached by homeless and waved to by passerby-ers. It felt like a community of people who were trying to revitalize a neighborhood, forcing a gap between the “outsiders” and “insiders.” The gallery was even probably the most welcoming one I’ve ever been to. When I walked in, the gallerists brought me a press release (and price list) and when I left, they gave me a free copy of Art Review and some posters…Who would’ve guessed!

I didn’t have much time to explore more in Woodstock, but I did make one last stop at a natural history store. The one-roomed shop had skulls, bones, to bird eggs. I ended up buying a deer horn and a springbok horn. The lady at the shop asked if I was traveling internationally. I let her know I was going back into the U.S. and she issued me a form from Cape Nature, saying that the horns were legally collected. This way customs would not give me any issues. This small detail reminded me of our park ranger, Patrick, at Pilanesburg, who described the huge issue with poaching rhinos for their horns. I brought the horns back and put them against my window sill, thinking about this fact.

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Saturday, we went to the Springbok’s game at Newland Stadium. We wore our scarves that Marit and Nate bought us. With little to no clue about how the sport worked, we went and just took in the experience. Surprisely, it was pretty easy to catch on to the game’s rules. It’s so much simpler than football and so much more exciting because everyone is just tackling and wrestling each other. At some point, the teams almost got into a fight. The crowd was roaring as the Springboks beat the World team. We even did the wave several times around the stadium during the game.

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Today, we spent most of the day at Kirstenbosch gardens. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I can only let photos tell our experience. Nature is incredible. (The restaurant Moyo was also so so good, wehad kudu bobotie, peri-peri chicken, and Malva pudding).

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Sweet Sweet South Africa

We started our internship this week. Ashley and I spent the week at the Social History Centre working under Tessa and Bradley. Tessa is a collections manager and Bradley is a conservator. We did more than we had expected, from deinstalling and exhibition at the Slave Lodge, to looking at broken objects, to unpacking objects into the vaults. I feel like I’m getting do to things we never would be able to do in any other internship. There will be plenty more stories from here to come!

But in other news, I wanted to share more about our group’s dessert insanity since we’ve arrived in South Africa. There’s something about the way sweet things are made here that just hit the spot.  Things are never too sweet, which tends to be my problem with American desserts. Anyways, here’s a quick look at some memorable things we’ve had so far:

Morning Pastries

We had these super fluffy and buttery croissants in the cafe across from us in Melville in Joburg. A french person would probably scoff at this pastry because its not flakey or whatever. This one is more like a cross between a brioche, a croissant and a cloud. The plain one with a coffee was just a perfect breakfast.

Malva Pudding

We just all had our first Malva pudding today. Jim recommended one from Woolworths so we got one and tried it at our meeting in the afternoon. It’s so soft and caramel-ly. We followed the package instructions to heat up, so it was warm. I don’t usually think anything of bread puddings but wow…

Tiramisu

Ashley bought this great Tiramisu. I think it was also from Woolworths. The espresso that was in it was so intense. Once it entered your mouth, it was like an explosion of ground coffee, following by super creamy marscopone and then more coffee in the madeline. We don’t know what happened, but the entire package was gone in like less than two days.

Ice Cream

Ok we’ve had ice cream a lot since we’ve been here. There are just so many magnum bar flavors and ice cream shops! I also had the biggest soft serve ice cream at the bus stop next to the Table Mountain today. It was like 20 rand (less than $2) and it was like the equivalent of 6 scoops of ice cream. It was man vs. cone for a while until the bus came.

Milk Tart

We had our first milk tart at the Odendaal dinner a week ago. It’s is close to the egg tarts they sell in Chinese bakeries, but these are much lighter. Bread, Milk and Honey, by the Social History Center have these mini one’s that were also so good. We saw the most beautifully decorated one at Woolworths with a cinnamon dusted pattern on it! (Soon to be ours)

Cakes

Marit and Nate also dropped off a red velvet cake for us before they left as a goodbye present. Needless to say, we pretty much inhaled it… But otherwise, we’ve also been having some amazing chocolate cakes after restaurant meals too.

We’re just finishing our 3rd week here in South Africa. There is so much more to eat so stay tuned!

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Finding Space Between Community and Market

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Our second day Capetown started out with a visit to the Capetown Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), a space that seemed to blur the line between the community and market. CCDI is fosters the “business sector.” Among hosting numerous workshops for design entrepreneurs for them to develop and test their products, they also have begun to work with elementary schools in the US to support arts and visual education at an early age and also produce public art installations. Several interesting concepts of design were brought up in our conversation, which included: what is the difference between art, craft, and design? How museums can serve a role in this? How can design be socially engaged?

It was interesting to hear that CCDI does not try to distinguish between art and design. They found this argument pointless to engage in because there is so much overlapping. Their dialogue with museums and cultural institutions seemed to be very distant too and their attention was focused on product making and innovating. Design was always relatable to me. TV shows such as “How It’s Made” on Discovery Channel, and exhibitions in the design section of MoMA, make the concept of design interesting because it brings objects from our daily lives into discussion. Everyday things such as cellphones, video games, CD players, toothbrushes can all be examined as design objects. Even these notions of design are interesting for museums to address and CCDI could potentially start these conversations with museums.

All this time, I couldn’t help but question the need for making more and more stuff. Thinking back to our visit to Kliptown last week, the products that are made from this program seem to be so far from what people need. Basic necessities are barely met, and yet, more “stuff” needs to be made. I was surprised also by the amount of government money they receive. The language in their marketing materials seemed to translate well with these government funders. If their practice is generating jobs at incredible rates, then why not get the support that they need. Even though job numbers are high, are they ensuring proper wages and good working environments?

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In the afternoon, we went to a very different space in the same neighborhood: the District Six Museum, which documents the forced removal of families from the neighborhood during Apartheid. Walking into the museum, I immediately felt a sense of warmth that reminded me of a local church in my neighborhood back home. The smell of the old wood, the photo frames and welcoming staff made this a very unique space that preserved heritage. This is the strongest sense of “heritage,” I think I’ve experienced on this trip. Despite the number of tourists that were visiting, it felt in no way touristy at all.

We did an activity where we had to select one curatorial decision in the museum and discuss the relevancy, transparencyIMG_2329 and community of this decision. I chose to talk about an embroidery project the museum did with women from the district about family recipes. This was shown right outside the cafe, so we heard sounds from the silverware and smelled the cooking from the kitchen. These recipes represented something that these people carried with them wherever they went and they were sharing this family recipes with us visitors. Every family has their set of recipes and this felts like intimate pieces they were sharing us. Next to each of these recipes were also hand written profiles that illustrated the journeys each of the contributing women experienced, adding another layer to the installation.

Our final museum visit for the day was the National Gallery. There we saw a several exhibitions including William Kentridge’s Refusal of Time and Omar Badsha’s Seedtime. I remember seeing the Kentridge piece at the Met last year, though the experience was entirely different. Here, the audio was much louder and we could feel the bass in the music in our chest. We also had the chance to visit his studio last week, so seeing all of these megaphones and props in progress for other exhibitions also let me piece together the work.

Badsha’s retrospective contained photographs, drawings and prints, which mainly documented the complexity of apartheid life for minority groups. Based on one of the wall texts, it was interesting to read that he did not consider himself an artist at one point and dropped his artistic practice to pursue political activism. The resulting images are just a part of what he felt like documenting and preserving moments from this time. According to another small wall label, we found out that apparently the drawings and prints were considered damaged and the National Gallery held a policy, which noted that they do not show damaged works. This is an odd rule that I’ve never heard of. We found that Farzanah Badsha, Omar Badsha’s daughter was the co-curator and we were also meeting tomorrow. It will be great to hear her perspective on exhibition making.

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In the evening we had dinner with the Odendaal family. It was a chance to hear about their family’s involvement with art and politics. We heard in more details about the removal of the Rhodes sculpture on the campus of University of Capetown several months ago. The protests to the administration were entirely student organized. We learned the media reduced the event down to a student protest that led to taking down the sculpture, even though there was actually a whole lot more to it. Beyond just the removal of the monument, students were also pushing for changes in curriculum. They hosted weekly seminars and events that gathered faculty and students together to discuss greater issues of black consciousness and gender. Wherever we are there is tension between students and administration. In the US, the first issue I thought of was sexual assault on campus and how it is often covered up by the administration. Beyond universities, similarly we saw in the US a dispute about the waving of the confederate flag. This flag, like the Rhodes monument represented an outdated and painful history.

Market Photo Workshop, Artist Proof Studio and Galleries

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Today’s site visits explored community based art organizations that focused on education and career development for the youth. Our stop was Market Photo Workshop, a photography center that trained youth in analog and digital photography. Their courses ranged from foundation 101 classes to in-depth photojournalism fieldwork programs. The workshop aimed to offer younger students the chance to practice photography, without the worry of high costs of equipment or improper instruction. The community built around the workshop offers better critiques. I found this space to be very similar to ICP in New York, where there is a school and gallery. The workshop is more community oriented and engages very well with social issues in Africa.

Our afternoon visit was to Artist Proof Studio (APS), an education center dedicated to the teaching of printmaking. APS IMG_2072offers very structured program. In our discussions we learned they are applying for accreditation and are hoping to soon offer certificate programs. Along with our earlier visit, these workshop spaces seemed to offer a kind of alternative education that worked much better than what is offered in normal schools. APS has also had a long history, surviving through a fire that took away one of their earlier spaces (which included a number of prints by artists that had gone through the program). It seems to be extremely challenging to start an organization, as we heard throughout our visits. It really takes inspiration and motivation to work towards those goal that have kept these organizations running for so long.

In the evening, we took it easy and stopped by two openings: one at the Stevenson Gallery and another at the Hazard Gallery. Both were in fact very different exhibitions and scales of galleries, though they seemed to have an overlapping crowd. I found the Stevenson gallery to be closest to a Chelsea gallery in New York. The works being shown were by a painter named Ivan Grose. This body of work used a soft pastel palette to depict materials such as classic greek sculptures and retro-leopard patterned fabrics. The press release did not really help us in interpreting the works, but felt very distant from the political art we were use to seeing. The second show at Hazard Gallery was a group show that explored protest and politics.

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A Full Day: Printshops, Studios, and Museums

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The community of arts in Johannesburg started to piece together today as we delved deeper into art making spaces. Our first visit was at the David Krut project space at Arts on Main. Here, we were guided through the printshop by master printer Jillian. She introduced us to the collaborative process that occurs in a printshop. Preparing a print, unlike what most people think, takes time and great technical skills. Jillian stressed the importance of mark-making by the artist during the print process, which is why she chooses not to make photographic prints in the studio.

IMG_2054Throughout the space there were prints on display, including works by William Kentridge, Diane Victor, Stephen Hobbs and Maja Maljevic. The time spent here helped me appreciate the labour and process that goes into making prints. Jillian also
offered insight into the “world” of printmaking. This included the challenges of building printshop and educating younger people to get to practice printmaking. In our discussions, it seemed that there is a lack of teaching of throughout universities, including those in South Africa. It was not even due to the lack of equipment, but to the lack of teachers and enthusiasm for the practice. There, we also met students who study at RISD and Wits University, who came to David Krut project to study printmaking. The space acted as a communal space to keep the medium alive.

Afterwards, we had an impromptu visit to the Studio of William Kentridge. Yes, THE William Kentridge! His space was right next door to the David Krut project printshop. The studio was massive and held large scale sculptures and installations. His studio assistant showed us around. We saw early prototypes for new works that involved kinetic sculptures with large megaphones, that would (when finished) read out loud Trotsky’s texts. Many of the works here demonstrate his background and continued interest in theatre. I found it extremely fascinating to learn that there are so many dimension to his work, especially after learning about his prints at David Krut. The many props we saw were an extension of his playful, witty and dark sense of humor in storytelling, and also a way for him to integrate this theatre sets into the market.

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After quickly popping by iwasshot in Johannesburg, a project that aimed to promote photography in the township youth, we made a visit (also surprise) to Stephen Hobbs’ studio. Hobbes is interested in the “razzle dazzle,” which was actually a camouflage technique in the second World War. He has applied this concept to large installation works that bring together light projections, mirrors, and architecture. He emphasized the power of failed works, especially in relationship to buildings. I found that this seemed to be extremely relevant to the commercial buildings he is decorating – large high-end condominiums in once run down neighborhoods. Hobbes furthers his interest in art in the expanded field, by organizing public art projects with his studio-mate  and collaborator Marcus Neustetter in an organization called The Trinity Session.

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After lunch, we headed down to the Wits Art Museum for a tour with special projects curator, Fiona. Fiona is not just a curator, but someone who has done a little bit of everything for the museum, including business plan writing, fundraising, collections manager, and even art conservator. She described the start of the museum as a room full of curators trying to get money to build a building. It sounds crazy, but it happened. She gave a great tour of the two exhibitions up, one by Penny Seville and the other by Peter Shülz.

IMG_2058We headed back to Arts on Main, stopping to see more prints at Kruts project and then to see the Museum of African Design. The Museum of African Design is interesting because it is just an open warehouse space. It feels much more DIY with its open back and experimental project space. Although it is new, it seems to be very promising. I was most fascinated by the four-channel video installation, which was a stop motion of a performance, where a man was in a blue lit body suit, juxtaposed with women getting their hair braided. The video was celebratory to street style and evening gatherings