‘Tema Tsa Dinoko (excerpt) – Nate IV


[date and location]

From outside his loft is your typical abandoned factory. Now, I heard that decor has to make your home rise to meet and greet you. His didn’t bother to rise. Its ‘chaste elements’ shushed me. I entered to find it in deep meditation (trust me on this). Pointing to my shoes, it waved them off, and resumed the Feng Shui – one understated theme that packs a visceral punch.

(I’ve always wanted to use that line in a sentence. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, a gnat’s bite won’t hurt).

As much as art is the language of the heart, this space could use some CPR. I mean, gosh, occasional grace notes go a long way. Grey everywhere.

Before we go any further, you can’t go wrong with a glass curtain, slanted nogal. A point for that.

Three hefty floor-to-ceiling acrylic walls partition the loft into a spacious gallery haunt. Each acrylic wall is two slabs that can be pried apart to insert large Stencil Art foil. One side gives you an unadulterated glimpse, and the other side – achieved by a montage of frosty, magnifying, cubic work – gives the stencil the Picasso optical illusion. Just think glacial ‘girl with mandolin’: the first wall is embedded with Esther Mahlangu; the second with an ode – Hell’s Teeth by Diana Ferrus printed with varying sizes – that forms Sarah Baartman’s silhouette (somehow, this reminded me of Emma Lazarus’s poem at the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty); and the last wall is embedded with a mammoth traditional Chinese character for love (愛). Below is this hardly noticeable annotation lifted from Wikipedia:

Ai, the traditional Chinese character for love consists of a heart inside of accept, feel, or perceive, which shows a graceful emotion. It can also be interpreted as a hand offering ones heart to another hand.

These installations engage you on so many levels. Any slight movement of your head the stencil undergoes an imperciptible metamorphosis, surprising you. If you move about, you discover more renditions from the same installation.

The rumble of their hidden wheelies on wood, as he pushes them up against the grey walls. I can feel the space exhale from its subject-for-painting pose, back to a loft, stopping short of being welcoming. The absence of portable canvasses, complemented by the airier space, dwarfs even the cubic acrylic benches. It’s as if this space is curated for something larger than life.

His loft is the size of a basketball court with light grey, reflective floorboards. I had this crazy urge to skip pebbles across this placid lake. The far end quarter descends into a cozy transitional deck, a spacious Aztec gas firepit. There are no couches, but black and white scatters, all Hieroglyphics/Runics printed, to cushion the steps leading into this love nest for a Zen garden. Crap… there goes my love for Mahjong out the Windows. I thought it was a concentric squares affair. He took me by the hand to the mezzanine (oh, behave…) for the bird’s eye view.

– Litema tsa donoko, he said.

Indeed, its three tiered steps are interlocking L’s. Nestled midst a rippling, circular bed of naive pebbles are four megalithic blocks of wood diced into L-shapes from a sun-bleached (making them grey) slice of an intimidating tree trunk. They are covered with Crops Circles-like Aboriginal art, a barely visible relief that looks carved by bionic Bark Beetles from outerspace – a Woodhenge.

This cubic coffee table (sadly sporting only Hype and Mass Appeal street-zines) both frame and protect a box-bonsaied Kelutral from a thin ring of fire licking the pebbles. There are no couches, but black and white scatters, all Hieroglyphics printed, to cushion the steps leading into this love nest for a Zen garden. Crap… there goes my love for Mahjong out the Windows.

Something just crossed my mind: isn’t this cultural misappropriation? Or, would that have been the case if this was my loft as a, er, white woman? I know I’m still a teen, but I consider myself a Wonder Woman’s understudy. Thank you very much.

I have to admit, this simplicity oozes of uber cool, but it’s devoid of warmth. Yet, again, a brilliant solution to deforestation. Also, when a room lacks a single kitsch, be concerned. Worse, for an African I was surprised to spot not a wooden sculpture he holds dear on sight. I teased:

– No graven image? Clearly, you’re not the artist you make yourself out to be. Well, it’s your lucky day. You can tend to my bust.

Maybe it’s cultural. Maybe I’m not funny. My guess is, he has a horrible sense of humour. Can you remember the last time a guy let a line sagging with innuendo go over him? My thoughts exactly.

Most things double up here. The wall installation of the molecular model made of Vinyl records of both sizes, are actually world clocks. Nativity of the eclectic choice of artists is representative of their time zones. On a wall to my right, a vortex of transluscent butterflies, stenciled out of LP records, burst out of a gramaphone on the floor.

Heavy steel stairway without rails lead to what must have been the manager’s office. Though it’s now repurposed into a music studio, looking at it from the floor it still looms as ominously as its long vacated, chain-smoking occupants whose piercing eyes – through the geekiest eyewear and a hazy menthol – used to lord over the scurrying blue-collar on the floor below.

For the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to propose that the boss wasn’t necessarily a swastika flag hoisting fellow during the night. Unwittingly immortalized on vignettes in the foyer is a different story. Though, I was really taken aback when I saw among these, photos taken post-apartheid. This time around the owners are brimful in a group hug with the staff. They are the most haggard and unhappy employees. The lens – society’s vice.

Adjacent the office is a ‘long-ass’ mezzanine – look, it’s one of those vague expressions from Phylum Ink I can’t rid myself of like a bad song, so I’m purging here – which used to be a storage area. It’s now his sleeping quarters. At the head of a platform bed, a discreet (below the knee) bookshelf runs lengthwise to the mezzanine. Of course it wouldn’t be a complete library without a few titles on a white man’s supremacy complex, and a handful TED-ish titles. A blurb from the latter induces this irrepressible urge to pick up the phone, call the author(s), scream “BS!” and hoo-saaah.

A prove of how just way leftfield he is – Acorn by Yoko Ono, Lute of Jade by L. Cranmer-Byng, just to name a few. Having leafed through some of them, particularly Hugh Masekela’s snuggled inside his bean bag like a hatchling, I’d say his most priced are bios and poems. Before I could say anything, he quiped:

– Crappy bios to you. History 101 to me.

Well, most bios are, you know, crappy. There are exceptions. Chinua Achebe’s bio, for one. On the wall, a little above this book-shelf train, is a stencil on thin acrylic almost the size of the mezzanine. A horse with fiery eyes is entangled inside barbed wires (a still from War Horse). Some areas of the canvass look grainy and washed out and horizontal streaks run across the middle, giving it an impression a printer running out of a toner. He said he wanted to invoke the silent film era look with sense of motion, hence the flickering hologram style, a signature he calls ‘StillReelin’.

Those in the know say that Wabi Sabi is not a style defined by visual cues per se. It’s a state of mind. Over-wrought subtlety if you ask me…who is she any way?  [she backspaced the entire paragraph.]

Aloft, exposed origamic conduits and ventilation system with a chrome finish. Suspended from these are pendant industrial lights from the riotus 70s. Just minutes ago this place was an illuvut – until he turned them on. There’s something ostensibly ironic about this space. You can tell that during the renovation phase they went for that ‘industrial look’ galleries are famed for. It’s a caricature of itself.

Phylum Ink gives you a slice of a geek culture, but stop short of joining ‘may the 4th be with you’ clan. First of all, he said, I don’t find moding a PC box rad. Whatever. Personally, I think the millenials’ era is a milestone. It’s now ‘cool’ to boast both street-cred and tech-insight when they used to be worlds apart.

I asked disapprovingly why was he so thrifty with his palette. I’m talking about your greyscale theme of the interior, I said when his eyes searched about with confusion.

– It’s called Grissaile.

He corrected, pronouncing it as if ‘greyscale’ was some artsy fartsy misnomer. Only if I knew how young still the night was.

Now comes the focal point of his space. Vinyls that runs symmetrically lengthwise to the bricks-exposed eastern wall. Their original covers are removed and replaced with wintery grey (grissailed, lest I forget) holographic versions. The whole installation gives an illusion of shiftlessness. It sorta defeats the purpose for some of them. I just spotted an LP titled ‘The Pink-Print’ with, well, a fuzzy gray large thumbprint. Interpreting the cover art, it’s fair to say it’s woman’s statement. That pink was the whole point!

As I move along its base the holographic covers appear to rise a few inches from the wall in a Mexican Wave effect – just think neo-Cubism. He must’ve been watching me move back and forth, ’cause before I could say anything, he piped out:

– Trompe l’Oeil. We saw an installation ad of a Mini Cooper crawling on the side of some building in Joburg. Behind it was a busted wall, like Murdock and the A-Team on a rampage straight out of the nuthouse. We’ve been running with it ever since.

Thanks for the testosterone laden info-dump… dumbass. I caught a glimpse of what he says many discover a month or more after having familiarized themselves with his ‘crib’. Of course my ego did scale the rafters at this bit of info: LP Covers are reduced to pixels of a whopping composite image.

– Whoa, that’s a helluva Montage, I said.

– Pho-to-mo-saic.

His voice coming from a source my ears could not locate, he just had to stretch those syllables, making me feel dumber than I already felt. The whereabouts of my ego? Don’t even ask.

I almost toppled him from what used to be the supervisor’s sentry station, but now ‘his throne’. He opnened his Loft’s app on his smartphone. My jaw dropped. Li.te.ra.lly. The installation collapsed into zig-zagging isles that hover few meters above the floor. He could tell that I don’t quite grasp its sentimental value. Look, I’m from the iTunes era, alright?

I’ve always dreamt of making out in some arty loft apartment in Cape Town (this is Free State, but we’ll make do) ribald riffs issuing from the mezzanine above, as the record hiss and crackle like rain beneath something accoustic. All to culminate into a spatial harmony wrought by jungle-like room ambiance.

Loft? Check.

Music? Check

Man? MIA

Catching a glimpse of the LP installation from the mezzanine, I realized that there’s more to it than meets the eye.  It’s a photo-mosaic of the silent film release poster, The Artist, depicting an African couple wearing dreadlocks.

I loathe to admit it, but this grescale – yes, I said it – grew on me to the point that it piqued my muse:

I find myself staring at a flank of a dessicated ramshackle cabin. It’s in a secluded alcove somewhere inside morning-mist cloaked woods. The parched hinges of its makeshift window eerily creaks at long intervals to the breeze, and claps wildly like a distant gunshot at buffeting gusts. Long vacated, and now sighing, gothic nest sits on its chimney.

This place reeks of alpine. The waist reaching grass has long swallowed the rutted footpath that leads to the cabin, subduing airs of a few floral species with strained necks. The soft rustle of the breeze-brushed grass is music to my ears; it gives me images of powdery pastels carried by the wind. Next to me, one flower stands tall with broad clover shaped petals that makes my skin long for the caress of their plush texture.

Perched on the long pole jutting from the middle of a defunct horse stable, now covered with much richer and taller grass, is a small big billed bird. The black and yellow feathers verges on aposematic. Its feral eyes, and the way its hackles rise, as it jerks its head back and let out a majestic cry. The call travels beneath the trees and well beyond the treeline. Even long after the cry, its beak remains open, calculating the distance. It waits listening to its own stretched echo tapering off to the distant snow-capped mountains with tortuous dark cliffs – a grace note to the soughing nature.

Another gust would stir things around me, as if the area harbours a spirit. And if you listen carefully, you can hear the long dead man’s sad harmonica still echoing the solitude to trappings that outlived him.

Somehow, this sylvan ambiance registers as a happy place. I’ll dare even say a re-consecrated groove. I’m hesitant placing a character here (I can hear her throat-clearing in the woods, maybe a backpacker/novelist.. I don’t care), already fleshing itself out at a back of my mind.

Tempting, but even a minimal presence would spoil this picture. There’s neither sense shattering epiphany, nor new age perspective with three-sixty degree view. Nope. Just a good old cenotaph to aborted anthropocene. A natural epigram, like an ancient city buried beneath the vines.



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