Cape Town walking residency 6-12 December 2015

Four letters and some new words about a walk.

Photo by Barry Christianson

1. Post and lintel - a letter to Barry 

Dear Barry

Its the first week of 2016 and I finally have a moment to view the image you sent me on the 18th of December. When the email came through that day I saw it briefly on the screen of my phone and thought: ‘ok .. it must be part of a bigger image, I’ll look again later.’ Now I see it in its full glory on a bigger screen on the computer in a better resolution. No, its not a fragment of a larger image. It is a focus on a small part of a bigger space, a shot that highlights a detail of the larger architecture. It is a ‘detail shot’, or at least this is what we call it in archi - lingo, (lingo that both repel me and endear, depending on my mood on the day that I encounter such an image). Normally ‘detail shots’ are taken to highlight specific innovations that the architects are keen to show off when publishing their work. One famous architecture journal called ‘DETAIL’ is focused specifically on publishing these small moments of genius in buildings. In this case it is a detail of a post and lintel. We are taught in architecture school that it is the fundamental element of architecture. The point where the gravitational forces of the roof over your head are transferred to the ground under your feet. 

But your image shows detail of another kind. I remember the day that it was taken. Nick and Christian invited me to present a talk about forced removals at the site of the Red Hill ruins, the site where your photo is taken. Their brief to me was appropriately open and vague. (Thankfully, as too much specificity makes me panic) Nick’s emails reads: ’Would you be interested in talking to the group about this site and forced removals in general? I don't see this as involving major research – maybe just a little reading beforehand and some talking from background knowledge. Does this sound OK? Are there other/ different topics you might want to talk about? The mountain camps that we will be staying in? Ocean View? Spatial apartheid? Postmodern tourism in CT? 
Any and all contributions would be welcomed…’

I responded, in part, by reading excerpts of the short stories that my father wrote about his memories of Die Vlakte, a forced removal site in Stellenbosch. It was a story about the elderly Sies Roefie and how she would sit on her stoep in the late afternoon and wait for a hapless young child to interrupt from his childish missions and send to the shop to buy ingredients for that evening’s supper. My father, in the story, titled ‘Groente vir die pot’, described Sies Roefie as a chameleon-like figure, still and unmoved in her shaded stoep facing the street, then suddenly spitting out her long tougue to capture a passing child to coerce into this chore. 

I looked up from reading this excerpt and I remember your reaction: nodding with a smile as if to say: I know that feeling, I was once that kid.

Thanks for the photo, Barry - great choice.

Talk soon


2. Stoepdreaming - a letter to Sies Roefie 

Dear Sies Roefie

I have never met you before but I know about you from the stories that my father, Wilfred Damon, has written about Die Vlakte, the Stellenbosch neighbourhood in which you lived. Part of me hopes you never get a chance to read the stories: some of it you may find is unkind towards you. Never the less, I read about you to a group of people -, some of them strangers to me, others close friends - during what we all comfortably called, a residency. Residency - a fancy word for creative time outside our usual 8-5 work activities and everyday humdrum existence, in order to produce or reflect on current creative preoccupations. The internet describes artist in residency programmes as: ‘creative residency opportunities exist to invite artists, academicians, curators, and all manner of creative people for a time and space away from their usual environment and obligations. They provide a time of reflection, research, presentation and/or production. They also allow an individual to explore his/her practice within another community; meeting new people, using new materials, experiencing life in a new location. Art residencies emphasize the importance of meaningful and multi-layered cultural exchange and immersion into another culture.  

The luxury of residency programmes is that one travels to another location and gets absorbed in the novelty of the place and this then potentially induces creative thought and action. But this residency programme is different to others that I have been on or heard about. Firstly, it was not in a location that I was unfamiliar with, yet at the same time it was. It was in my home town - Cape Town - the place that I have called home for 35 years, but it was a walking route along Table Mountain, a space and terrain that I have never explored - I am not sure why, but it shames me to say this. I have never walked among the Red Hill ruins, yet I found the space profoundly familiar, I have never swum in the Kleinplaas dam before but I have imagined many times a similar space. I have never viewed Ocean View, Slangkop or Kommetjie from that vantage point, yet I knew the construction of its architecture and its layout as soon as I saw it. It was at once both new and familiar to me. 

Apologies, I am rambling about strange things to you, who would prefer probably to be left alone to dream on your stoep. But one last think that I would like to mention is that the stories that my father has written, with you as a central figure, talks to me about a place in his imagination that reaches far beyond what one can read from architecture, ruins and the lay of the land. It talks about a space that perhaps one can inhabit in various ways in our dreams and in memories. 

On that note, I leave you in peace to continue your stoep daydreaming unhindered.

Best wishes


3. The ghostly homestead in the distance - A note to the Wanderer of Red Hill

To the Wanderer of Red Hill

Fellow walker, Barry Christianson has sent me a photo depicting a detail of one of the Red Hill homes. The photo is perfectly symmetrical: the left half of the image is taken up by a brick wall, roughly plastered and sharply in focus. On the right is a part of the surrounding landscape out of focus and divided in three horizontal bands: a flat, lowlying foreground, a lush, green middle ground and a rocky, hilly background. Between the middle ground and the background, right at the centre, is a structure: a simply constructed homestead with the front door facing the camera. A chimney to the left of the front door marks an end to the flat profile of the house. The focus on the homestead is blurry, it is easy to miss the structure and think that it is a large rock or another part of the natural landscape. But its position in the middle of the frame makes it hard to unnotice it once its been discovered.   

Why am I pointing this out to you? I am not sure but its presence in the image made me think of you, wandering in the landscape of the ruins, dreaming of a return even though your presence marks the landscape in inescapable ways. You dream of returning with your family, the Kallis’s, of rebuilding your family home. Kallville. You dream of swimming in the Kleinplaas dam, of finding the rock with mythical powers, and you dream of dwelling, yet again in the spaces of your childhood dreams. 

I wonder to what extent these dreams haunt you. And to what extent do we allow the structures of these dreams to remain spirited moments of the past that could tell us something deeper about our present.

Any thoughts?

A walker.

4. A single nail on the wall - a letter to Ma Rose

Liewe Ma Rose

Iemand het vir my ’n foto gestuur. Dis ’n mooi, maar vreemde foto. Daar is niemand in die foto nie. Daar is net dele van mure en kosyne. Daar is ook ’n landskap wat mens deur ’n venster, wat  sonder sy  raam of glas is, kan sien. ’n Klein spykertjie steek uit langs by die kant kosyn van die venster. Mens sal dit nie kan sien as iemand dit nie vir jou uitwys nie. Die spykertjie het my laat dink aan Ma Rose en die eerste dag van ’n staproete van waar ek ’n maand gelede terug op was. Hulle het ons gevra om ’n voorouer te kies en dan op hierdie manier iets oor onsself aan te bied aan die groep - ’n mooi manier om met ander, meestal vreemdes, kennis te maak, het ek gedink. Dit was laat in die middag, op Smitswinkelbaai, ’n rustige, weggesteekte baaitjie aan die ooste kant van Kaappunt. Ek het daai oggend nog haastig reëlings gemaak dat die kinders, Heinrich, my ma Brenda, en die huis in orde is vir die tydperk dat ek sal weg wees. Ek moes winkels toe om kos te koop (ek hoop Ebrahim kom maak ’n draai met sy bakkie vol vrugte en groente), ek moes betalings maak (vir Kersfeesblomme by Karen in Adderley straat vir die kinders se klasonderwysers) en ek moes last-minute goed by die kantoor uitsort. Heelwatse gerond hardloop (in my kop) en ry voordat ek in die bussie kon klim, oppad na my week lange stapkursus op Tafelberg. Dit klink vreemd om te dink dat voortebereiding vir ’n staproete kos meerendeels ’n haastige rondgerhardlopery en rondegeskarrelry voor die tyd. 

Die lug was koel toe ons by die baai aankom, na omtrent 40 minute se stap van die kampterrein. Ek onthou dat die water nie onmiddelik my aangetrek het nie, maar dat ek liewers eers op die sand wou lê met my kop teen ’n rots. Christian Ernsten, iemand wat ek geidentifiseer het as ’n tipe van ’n leier van die staproete, het ons nader geroep en gevra dat ons ons moet voorstel aanmekaar deur ’n storie oor ’n voorouer te vertel. Walking with Ancestors - om te stap met die bewusheid van jou voorouers - was ’n tema wat aangebied was deur middel van tekste wat aangestuur was en informele Facebook gesprekke met die res van die groep. Die 12 van ons staan toe in ’n kring, ons deel stories oor ander lande, intieme perspektiewe word gedeel tussen meernedeels mense wat jy nou net ontmoet het. 

Ek praat toe oor Ma Rose, die een storie wat Anty Josie my vertel het toe Ma Rose vir daai madam on die dorp gewerk het. Anty Josie het gesê Ma Rose het goed oor die weggekom met die oubaas en sy vorige vrou. Daai vrou is toe dood en hy het toe weer getrou. Die nuwe madam het nie vir Ma Rose gelike nie en het altyd goed gedoen om Ma Rose se tyd by die werk te versuur. Ma Rose was toe eendag besig om groenboontjies te trim en voorteberei vir daai aand se skaapbredie vir die oubaas en die madam. Mamma Eunice was ook in die kombuis. Die nuwe madam kom toe in die kombuis en begin skoor soek. Ma Rose sit die klein opkapmessie stadig neer en lig Ma se kop op van die enamel bak water waarin in die opgekapte boontjies lê. Ma Rose kyk die madam in die oë en sê: ‘Ek het nou genoeg gehad van madam se genag, ek kan dit nie meer vat nie. Ek sê nou vir madam dat ek vat my goed en ek loop. Dan moet Madam en die oubaas maar sien en kom klaar.’ Ma Rose stap to uit die kombuis, trek Ma se overall uit en daar loop Ma en mamma Eunice uit by die deur, huistoe, na julle skakelhuis in Banhoekweg. 

Hierdie storie spook gedurig by my. Ek het baie vrae. Ek wonder oor wat kon Ma Rose gedryf het tot daai oomblik? Om ’n vaste job optegee in die 1930s was baie onverskillig, veral as ’n mens sewe kinders by die huis het. Was daar ’n opmerking van die madam oor die manier hoe die boontjies gesny was wat Ma Rose opgevryf het? Of was daar ’n jaloesie oor die goeie verhouding wat die oubaas gehad het met Ma Rose, ’n rol wat die nuwe vrou gesukkel het om te vul? Of was dit die teenwoordigheid van Eunice, jou dogter wat seker nie ouer as ses kon wees nie, wat haar gekonfronteer het met iets in die toekoms, ’n skrikwekkende herhaaling van gebeure, ’n herhaaling van menslike verhoudings wat terselfdetyd intiem en verlangs (indifferent) kan wees. Die dag met die groenboontjies was duidelik vir Ma Rose, soos hulle sê in Engels,: ‘the final nail in the coffin’. 

Ek kyk weer na die foto met die spykertjie en ek wonder: was dit dalk iemand se ‘final nail’? Wat was die omstandighede? Wat het op daai spyker gehang? ’n Hoed, ’n foto van ’n familie voorvader, dalk ’n kruis. Wie weet?

Ma Rose, ek groet end dalk skryf ek gou weer, miskien oor minder somber gebeurtenisse, volgende keer.



5. Some new terms 

disposable cutting                                 - Daniela
death-road                                            - Christian
shitty photos                                          - Barry
methodology or the natures of things    - Gcobani
adamastor                                             - Hedley & Meghna
cave                                                       - Nick
whale shit                                               - Christine

Ilze Wolff
7 January 2016