Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: art

Art as Life

As an artist who plays in many different forms – performance, writing, directing, marketing, facilitating, teaching, I am always preoccupied with whether the work of the arts can make a real and powerful difference, and can bring about fundamental, systemic change.

Art, especially theatre, can be a potent way to deliver commentary on the human condition. The arts change, often with the use of emotion, how audiences think and feel about many things. It’s what happens to those thoughts and feelings afterwards that I am interested in.

This current version of the world is full of distracting fake everything. It is a rigmarole to find out who really said what, and when a thing happened if it, in fact, ever did. It is distraction of the highest order and it makes us feel bogged down, immobile, and also unable – dis-abled. In art we are unburdened by whether something is a fact; we are made to believe the ‘what if it were true?’ notion of things, and then we see the consequences of it, as if it were true.

We test things out in this artist space. We examine these ideas – and they can be anything, from how to rise above childhood trauma, to the apocalypse, to politics and their intersection into community. We rewrite the common view of history, we invent people to go through hell on our behalf, and we make radical choices and ask our audiences to make decisions based on what feels right. The theatre, the gallery, the darkened cinema is an emotional dissection space where politics, science, history, psychology, and the deeply personal are portrayed in a such a way to elicit a response.

This is powerful stuff. This stuff is the emotional juice of any revolution. It is the potential glue of genuine uprising. It is how Vaclav Havel rewrote the history of the Czech Republic. It is how Woodstock was the expression of a shift in the new world order and a total discarding of the old narrative.

Right now fake news on social media, manipulated by big business politics, is our greatest distraction because it keeps us locked into an outrage that feels both helpless and impotent, and then we suffer outrage fatigue. I believe ostrich head in the sand or even true despair and depression come next. We don’t see the point of voting, participating, or even telling people to pick up their litter. In this state they have us where they want us; we are consumers. We consume their information and their products.

This is where art – theatre, film, literature, stories can be the great shifter. Art can introduce a new possibility. It is the least we can do.

 

Story

I am thinking about stories, telling them, remembering them, listening to them, sharing them and even being in them. They are my work, blood, passion and entertainment.

And, I want to write about them. I am writing lots of stories at the moment, but none are in first person, even though everything I write is informed by me. But I also just want to write about my stuff. So this is a true story about last night.

I pitched up at my friend Leonard just before 6pm. He lives close to town, and we were waltzing off to What if the World gallery in Buiten Street to an exhibition opening. We decided to walk; something I don’t do often, especially in the evening.

We did a brisk trot down Long Street; avoiding looking like tourists and the accompanying people who have a long story of their own about why you need to help them.

The gallery lights spilled down the ramp way/steps of what used to be where people drove their cars for fixing. It’s a gorgeous clean space, with levels and grey floors, and special gallery lights. Pink bubbles were served in short stylish cylinders. Brilliant and provocative art (from white men) bounced off the walls and filled the spaces and were viewed by a slick, chic and exceptionally gorgeous segment of Cape Town’s white art viewers. I had a moment of feeling I was in Norway.

Then we scurried further down Long Street to Church Street for another exhibition opening; a friend of a friend’s friend. Another space, this time darkly lit with the focus on the finest lined drawings by Marsi van der Heuwel. I liked the tiny lines.

We crossed the pedestrian road to AVA. At last. Actual black people; both artists and attendees. I fell in love with Nkosinathi Quwe‘s work; huge brilliant paintings depicting rituals. This is what he says about himself and his work. “Nkosinati Quwe is a painter who considers himself a visual messenger carrying the ancient story of the people – telling stories that have been told before, but from his perspective…”

Upstairs I got sucked in to watching a video installation. I think the artist was Mexican. A man collected bricks from rubble, built a kind of wall, made wooden squares, set them on fire, then smashed the wall. I became entranced with the sounds. For the first time I understood the weird and pervasive contemporary phenomenon of the people who make those brushing, licking, scratching videos – ASMR – autonomous sensory meridian response.

Then, from the balcony I played a delicious mime game with a toddler on the ground floor. We pretended to throw and catch things to and from each other. We laughed.

Leonard and I spilled back onto the street and walked with purpose, ignoring the woman who needed me to get her milk and bread for her toddler please mam, not for me mam, but for my child. The irony was not lost. We entered the safe and most absolutely Cape Town Royale Eatery; for me a vegan burger, and for Leonard a bunless meat but no carbs option. The irony was further not lost.

It was a huge and delicious meal. I was so glad to have been there after such a long time. Afterwards I said to Leonard that we would have to run up the road I was so stuffed full. We started a brisk walking jog. A big black man shouted out “Easy!” I told Leonard, “I think he thinks we are afraid of him.” On the next corner another young black man approached us. “Hey, why did you guys run? Are you scared? Are you Jewish? I can see you are Jewish!”

It was Tebogo, a young Sotho man from the North West. We chatted on the corner, getting to know each other. We explained our full tummies, and he explained his love of Jewish people. Leonard and I also had to explain that we weren’t a couple. It was a complicated, confusing, fabulous and fresh chat; on the corner of Kloof and Rheede.

I jumped into my car. Talk radio was all about fynbos. I switched off so I could listen to the world while I drove. I was remembering what Leonard had reminded me of; the Chinese scientists who had come to Sutherland, known for its pristine skies and also for its quiet, so they could listen to the sound of the world turning.

Brett and Exhibit B

I have been properly unsettled by the many thoughts I have had over the banning of Brett Bailey’s performance art piece Exhibit B at The Barbican in the UK. I don’t think any art should ever be banned. But no, that isn’t entirely, 100% true. A starving dog was once on exhibition. That needed to be banned. I was convinced that the pig-cutting-up exhibition could have done with further curating. So I have blurred boundaries too it seems.

I need to say that I have not seen Exhibit B. I have seen (and loved and hated) lots of Brett Bailey’s work. I have experienced his work in turns as extraordinary, brave, outrageous, creative, radical, passionate, inappropriate, scandalous, successful, flawed, beautiful and even boring. His work is controversial. So is he. He likes challenging an audience. I like that too. I know that Brett is brave and strong, and when he makes work it is to shake things up a lot, especially notions of colonialism, black politics, identity, slavery, Africa and women. His interpretation of Medea was magnificent. Big Dada might have been one of my best ever theatrical experiences.

So, should we take Brett’s history into account when we talk about Exhibit B? Can we? Does the work need to stand (or fall) on its own? Is his work different in a South African context? If it is, is this its flaw? These are just questions I pose without answers, and here is the reason. You can’t tell people how to feel. I know that Brett is heart sore that the very people he was hoping to represent, to express, to give voice to in his piece are the ones that have formed the angry mob against his work being seen. Young, black and angry, some people in this mob have not even seen the piece (although, contrary to a lot of Facebook rage a lot actually have). And here is the deal. They don’t like what the piece says, for or about them. Should this make it banned? I don’t think so. It destroys any possibility of robust debate. it destroys any freedom of expression. It destroys the possibility of actually calling Brett on his stuff; intention, result, execution. It means that the artists (performers) do not get a chance to speak for themselves, outside of the silence they uphold during the exhibition. And we don’t know what they would say, in answer to the outrage, the accusations of racism, the calls for Brett’s scalp.

So, we don’t get a chance to decide whether the work is great or terrible. We don’t get a chance to analyse, debate, criticise, disagree. We effectively don’t get a chance to engage with the artist at all. What a waste.

But, I there is one thing that keeps niggling me and that is the nature of the work. It isn’t theatre. It is an exhibition. There is no story. So the audience is required to interpret, to give meaning to this thing. There is no actual narrative, no beginning, middle, end, no journey of characters traveling. It is in the eye of the beholder. And, certainly in my experience, you can tell (and show) people how you feel, but you can’t tell people what and how to feel. They will feel things, and it may not be what you want them to feel. With Brett’s other work, what he feels and the journey he is taking you on, however obscure, is still more visible, deliberate, accessible. That’s because it is theatre. There is a story. I wonder.

What do you think?

 

Surprising, outrageous, extraordinary artist Casper de Vries

Face Like Potato

Face Like Potato

So, Casper de Vries was our celebrity guest on our regular Monday night improv night at The Galloway Theatre last night (and it was totally fantastic by the way). Before the show we were chatting and I found out that he was actually in Cape Town because he was exhibiting his paintings, at Artscape. I had seen one of them, of his gorgeous hound Halfrieda, on twitter or facebum, and I remember being suitably impressed. After our chat I realised that I had some time this week, and so this morning I popped into the Marble Foyer at Artscape to take a look.

Euphoric Cavewoman

Euphoric Cavewoman

So, honestly, I was curious, and nervous. I mean, what does hilarious performer Casper de Vries know about painting? I mean, I dabble. And I enjoy myself, but I am not very good and I know it. And I was totally blown away. Casper’s work is extraordinary, for many reasons. First of all it is particularly honest and unpretentious. It is also hilarious. And he is really, really skilled. It is layered and detailed and full of meaning. It is curious, and strange, and diverse and highly original.

I was treated to a live in-ear radio guide in the form of Casper himself who took me through each work. It was delicious, and moving and so clever, and totally hilarious. It was an inspiring hour and I want everyone to know, and for those that can to go and check it out. The pics are of my favourite favourites.

Rockdog

Rockdog

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