This is Pierneef’s Station Panel called Rand Gold Mine. We believe it is the old City Deep mine (Thanks, NJ Coetzee) I’ve tried unsuccessfully to locate this, but that’s not why I was in Joburg. It was for the opening of ” A Space for Landscape” – the Pierneef show at the Standard Bank Gallery in town. Meticulously and thoughtfully curated by Wilhelm van Rensburg, it is a must-see. But don’t go into town anywhere near rush hour. People arrived late for the opening, in a slightly shattered state, having churned their way through the gridlocked cbd traffic. Stephan Welz and his wife, trapped in their car, were the subjects of an attempted robbery. In a rare case of instant Karma, the robber was immediately thumped down and handcuffed by alert security manne. Fear and loathing, stupidity and heroism – ah yes, the Joburg story.
I had an exhibition at Hodgins House, Sarah Ballam’s art space in Parktown. (It went well, thanks mense.) With that behind me, I went for a curry on the balcony of the old Lilian Rd studio in Fordsburg.On the way through Mayfair I saw women in burkhas, semi-derelict shops, down and out men eating crusts of bread, elegantly-dressed Somalis. There was the familiar honk of urine outside the studio entrance, the usual smell of oil and cooking rotis wafting up from Mohammadis down below. Lou Almon and I sat on the stoep eating our felafel and gingerly tasting a pulped avocado and date drink. (Why the hell did I order that?) Minibuses in the street and pigeons dotting the sky.The city looked good in the midwinter light. Fred de Vries, the writer, once asked us ” Is this place on its way up or on its way down?” The question remains, in ever widening circles. Joburg. South Africa. Up one moment, down the next. Going sideways. My sense of Joburg – and this is just a view from the leafy suburbs – is that, like the winter shadows, things are getting starker: more crime, more desperation, the gulf between the haves and the rest ever-widening. But there are wonders of modernity to counter the darkness – the Gautrain, the neon hoopla of the Sandton skyline, new stuff, money.
On my out of the studio I met my mate Multi, a security bloke who has his beat nearby. While we were talking, a large and very at-home looking rat picked its way through the junk across the road. “You could shoot that with your gun, Multi” I said. His eyes lit up at the thought. ” Yes, I could, one time! Dead!” He pronounces this like there was a T after the “d”, which underscores the termination of the matter. And then again, gleefully, “DeadT!”
I visited my friend Brian Green in Forest Town From his stoep you look out over a fine old Joburg garden to the northern suburbs. There are big trees, a pool, and the odd chicken scratching underneath hedges. Brian is one of the good guys. He’s worked out how to turn around urban spaces like 44 Stanley Avenue and make them into going concerns. He’s also collected a good deal of art over the years, and I managed to finally take a digital image of a painting of mine. Its called “Dump Bacchanal” and is a shambolic view of the sad and happy highveld, circa 1997. Not the kind of ending, I guess, that orderley Henk Pierneef would have wanted to see.