I went to Spier Contemporary 2010 last Saturday. It's a visual and performance art exhibition underwritten by Spier, usually held on their wine estate, but this year held in the Cape Town City Hall. The idea was to make the 132 artworks and 101 artists represented accessible to all. Whilst I was there it was mainly single woman and gay blokes. All white. So very Cape Town.
As I wandered through the warren of rooms I became more and more gloomy. Art doesn't usually do that to me – and this exhibition hadn't provoked a grey response last year. Nor the year before. But there was little joy in any of the exhibits. Perhaps a reflection of the year that has passed? Either in the art that was submitted or in the hearts of the curators – who knows. But, apart from a moment where I walked into a room and a jackhammer slammed into ear splitting motion scaring the shit out of me, the only thing that raised a glimmer of a smile was a collection of photos representing SA presidents past and present with their emblems. Thabo sported a black Aids ribbon, PW a 'sold' rosette, die Groot Krokodil – an ass-about facing lacoste croc. Joe Zuma's portrait was unadorned. Perhaps in hope, perhaps in anticipation: the artist hadn't commented.
I did love one piece – Matthew Hindley's “I Meant to Have but Modest Needs” … a real oil painting on a grand scale. If I could have afforded anything at the exhibition – I would have bought this. As much for the title as the artist's abilities. I've been spending a lot of time recently considering what I really need. A job I had thought would bring regular work wasn't panning out that way and my cloth needed recutting to suit my needs. I just am not absolutely sure what those are. A new friend had told me that when she was really sick, and she couldn't get out of bed to walk to the bathroom – she didn't think about needing another pair of shoes in her closet, or a trip to Asia, or a bigger house. Things she had always thought she needed. All she could think of was how badly she needed to walk on the beach. Her parameters had become clarified. Focused by her illness.
There was cheering outside so I moved over to the window to see what was going on. A man was walking on a wire strung between two palm trees. He was barefoot, chubby, shirtless- cirque de afrique – and hamming it up mercilessly for the crowd. I took out my camera and a security guard was over at my side in an instant. When he saw what I was shooting, he smiled and said – “Watch, he will put fire into his trousers.” Which the man did, to the delight of the kids who screamed and ran about in deliciously horrified circles. People darted through the smoke to drop coins into a tin pipe he had laid on the ground. He shook it in thanks and coloured feathers puffed out. The guard watched with me for a while and then said: “Where does a person go to learn to know magic? I would like to go there.” I shook my head. Sorry mate, been a bit short on magic lately. The man, said the guard, was from Zimbabwe. It could be that he learned magic there. I told him I was born in Zimbabwe and he smiled – “maybe you know magic too”.
I walked back through the exhibition thinking about his words. It's not so much about magic as about knowing what you need. The man on the ground needed to make money. He used magic in service of his needs. He serviced the crowd's need for entertainment with his magic. Was it magic or was it need. It all depended on how you looked at things. All I need now is the right pair of eyes.