NIROX Foundation, Benji Liebmann, Mary-Jane Darroll, Beathur MGoza Baker, Allen Laing & Heidi Fourie, John Nkhoma, Maria Mwase, Stephan & Tammy Du Toit, Trent Wiggle, Niel Nieuwoldt, Prof. Francis Thackery, Prof. David Lewis-Williams, Prof. Bernhard Zipfell, Dr. Sarah Wurz, Dr Mpho Matsipa, Manthe Ribane, Mada Sthembiso, Pieter Burger, WAKE, VATIC Film, Brett Rubin & Nicole Van Heerden, Tom Glenn, Kieron Jina, Joni Barnard, Mametja Moshe, Solly Tsmamabolo, Ted Moyo, Artist Proof Studios, Kim Berman, Sara-Aimee Verity, Nathi Nladla, Dumi Sani, Bevan de Vet, Danie Nel, Didier & Fiona Presse, Anthea Pokroy, Kayombo Magadla, David Adjaye, Jonathan Liebmann, Shruti Nair, Colin Dalton, Prof. Minhyong Kim, Dr. Dominic ffytche, Dr. Balazs Szendroi, Aymeric Peguillan, Richard Forbes & Kate Bailey, Angus & Reena Taylor, Alex von Klitzing, Francis Goodman, Ruann Coleman, Anna Nordquist Anderson & David Svensson, Mohau Modisakeng, Hannelie Coetzee, Primitive Magazine, Akira Wang, Daniel Liebmann, Monna Mokoena, Anton Taljaard, Helen Pheby, Carrie Scoville, ERJ

Sunrise over The Cradle of Humankind, Guateng, South Africa

Sunrise over The Cradle of Humankind, Guateng, South Africa

Arriving just ahead of sundown at O.R. Tambo airport, I wait in the limbo zone before security and take the opportunity to put some thoughts down while I am still on African soil. Thinking back to the opening of ‘Altered States’ a few nights ago, in my mind’s eye I go over the experience of walking around the space after the opening, alone with the work that I had installed there: the flyers advertising penis, breast and buttock enlargement on the pillars; gun related graffiti, signs and tags; drill marks in the floor that uncannily echo the marks in the stone, masked spray marks that riff with marks in the prints; harsh expanses of flaking dry concrete and peeling paint; the countdown of workstation numbers that string a rhythm around the space; the incessant stream of traffic crossing the overpass; a spatter of blood on the wall in the space where the party was held; the stench of burning plastic mingling with the sweet scent of food and sweating rubbish on the night air; and close-by the sound of a late bar pumping a deep throbbing beat that I can feel in my solar-plexus, are all part of what is already coalescing into a memory. It seems to me that the space was a fitting counterpoint to this body of work evolved in the openness of the bush, in the Cradle of Humankind

My residency at NIROX has been an extraordinary opportunity to experience first hand how our evolution as a species has been supported by the geophysical environment within which those changes may well have happened. Also, how the constants of nature have had an influence on the development of our consciousness and continue to do so. Looking at the way we are making now in the digital moment it doesn’t seem so far removed from those early marks. We are still working with the same fundamental forms that are constants of nature, or rather those constants are working through us. As a result of engaging with the materials of the place – of thinking, through engagement with materiality – I have been able to go deep into the condition of the site. Rather than having arrived at any definitive conclusions, it feels like questions have been posed and a conversation started

A lot of South Africans have been asking me during my time here if I have been to such-and-such a place to which I have always answered no, because I have simply moved on a path between the Cradle of Humankind and Johannesburg for nearly five months. Backwards and forwards – the route between the two locations acting like the energetic bond between two atoms – the sum of which is billions of years of planetary evolution. My time in South Africa somehow reminds me of a book I read many years ago – ’The Rings of Saturn’ – where the protagonist meanders on an internal odyssey whilst on a walk of more prosaic proportions. I know that I have travelled nearly to the other side of the world to be in Africa but since being here I have attempted to focus my attention on getting to know the relationship between the deep geological past that is so palpable in the Cradle of Humankind and the present reality of the continents main city. I have travelled a fair bit in my life so far but I have felt something in South Africa that I have not experienced to such a degree before – that of a sense of potentiality or immanence – Africa may well be our past but my intuition tells me that it is also likely to be our future

Tomorrow the show opens at Hallmark and there is still a lot to do. Solly drove by NIROX after picking up Mada and Manthe and we went into town together. Every journey into Johannesburg that I have taken in the past months has taken me past Zandspruit informal settlement. What would formerly have been known as a township – now supposed to be called an informal settlement or simply a ‘location’, Zandspruit is a highlight of the journey for me. Colourful signs and graffiti adorn the sprawling but tidy assemblage of zinc-clad shacks and lean-tos that border the eastern side of the road and spread down the hillside for many acres. Early in the mornings and late in the evenings, the lanes throng with people on their way to, or coming back from work. Most of the rest of the time, from the my perspective on the outside, the whole place has looked like a constant party, with crowds of brightly dressed residents gathered in groups talking, shopping, hanging out listening to music and walking the red earth roads and alleyways that thread through the settlement. For me, Zandspruit and the glimpses that I have had of the Central Business District of Johannesburg feel the closest to the idea of ‘Africa’ that I had before actually being here. Interestingly, any attempt to pull up a Google maps road view of Zandspruit doesn’t yield any results

We had left in a rush and were running late but all agreed that it was a false economy to keep going without any breakfast, so happily for me we pulled over in Zandspruit. I had been warned off stopping here, allegedly due to the history of aggression from the residents and the strong history of protest associated with this location, but the welcome that I received, as ever, was completely the opposite to any that I might have been led to believe. We drank strong sweet tea and ate doughnuts with mango pickle and avocado. It was a solid working breakfast and we drove off needing to work

Zandspruit

Zandspruit

Breakfast at Zandspruit

Breakfast at Zandspruit

Prints on the wall

Prints on the wall

When we got to Hallmark Towers, the prints had just arrived from the framer. As I worked with MJ and Neil to hang the beautifully framed images, Manthe and Mada went through the first stages of ‘Bassline’ inside the metal framework, yet to be filled with a tonne of red soil from the site in the Cradle of Humankind where we have been practising up until now. As we made the final decisions on the sequencing of the works on paper I went over to watch them working through the final sequence for the performance. In the days since we had last met, we had been in close conversation about how we might evolve the last moments of ‘Baseline’ so that they embody movement that will – in conjunction with the constant binary on-off of the stroboscopic light that will be sole illumination for the work – have a digital quality. They quickly went through a sequence of material where they stood side by side breathing for a few moments, then followed a series of swift movements with their hands and arms that described a geometry of points and lines in, and out into space after which Manthe slumped to the ground. After another moments pause Mada left the space walking away through what would be the audience, followed by Manthe lifting herself off of the ground and exiting from the performance space in the opposite direction. It was complete

Ideas in the space

Ideas in the space

Fitting the body covers

Fitting the body covers

Marking the senses

Marking the senses

Body covers

Body covers

Mada and Manthe then worked through the piece from the top to the bottom, inhabiting the dimensions of the space. Pieter arrived with his colleague and we went through the final fittings of the tailored body covers. The geometric grid pattern looked extraordinary as it expanded and contracted over the contours of their bodies. Pieter marked the openings for the eyes, nostrils and mouth on each of the head covers to take away then deliver back in time for the opening performance. We then worked together to fill the five by five metre steel framework with soil, slowly sieving through to remove thorns and roots and break down any of the large clumps of earth still bound together with moisture. After raking the earth flat it had an incredible quality, expressing light and colour at the same time as it absorbed it. The transferral of this primary material from its original location to this new urban context seems to accentuate its inherent qualities. Finally the strobe light is fitted, centred above the square of earth

Mada, Mat & Manthe

Mada, Mat & Manthe

‘Altered States’ exhibition installation view at Hallmark Towers

‘Altered States’ exhibition installation view at Hallmark Towers

Trent and his team arrived with their truck equipped with a crane capable of lifting five tonnes at ten in the morning just as it beginning to get hot, to sling and lift the finished sculpture from its home of three months. The slinging is a complex procedure and I am grateful for Trent’s experience and diligence. The weight distribution in the boulder is hard to judge and I feel an immense sense of relief when the five tonne block parts company from the bearers that have been supporting it and lifts up into the air

After the sculpture was safely strapped to the bed of the truck, we drove into Johannesburg to the exhibition venue at Hallmark Towers. Johannesburg is one of the most wooded cities in the world, and as we drive over the ridge and look out to the south, the city rises shimmering in a late summer haze from its astonishing green foundations like a Ballard-ian construct

Going

Going

Joze

Joze

Self portrait with Johannesburg railway and the Mandela bridge

Self portrait with Johannesburg railway and the Mandela bridge

Hallmark Towers

Hallmark Towers

Unloading in Siemert St

Unloading in Siemert St

Rigging the stone into the space

Rigging the stone into the space

Rigging the stone into the space

Rigging the stone into the space

At Hallmark Towers the slow process of getting the work into the space started by unloading the sculpture onto the street. At that point a fifty metre traverse of an alleyway using two two-tonne pallet trucks, brought the work to the foot of the ramp leading up to the exhibition space. From there, Trent’s team used a complex sequence of rigging with ratchet straps and slings and deft control of the boom of the crane to navigate the incline. On the other side of the exhibition space, Allen Laing and I had been working to assemble the steel framework for ‘Human Nature’ and drill and fix the steel perimeter framework for the performance space to the floor. Four hours later, the massive stone sat poised at the threshold of the room

The floor at Hallmark Towers is only rated to carry a three-hundred and fifty kilogram point load, so after negotiations with the engineers overseeing the space some days earlier, a web of scaffolding had been established in the shop underneath the area that the boulder had to pass over to get to its location. The pallet trucks were employed to roll the sculpture across the floor and after hours of jacking, levering and wedging, ‘Changing My Mind’ was in its place

Even though it was poorly lit by the orange glow of the sodium street lamps filtering in from beyond the overpass and through the traffic-grimed windows, in the early hours of the morning the work hummed as it seemed to levitate off the floor. When I was making the work at NIROX, it had been supported on two massive timber bearers that kept it a fair distance off of the ground. Here, the work sat on three small points of connection directly onto the floor tiles marked with years of use, and for the first time I saw the way the boulder was loaded so that a large section of the block looked like it was defying gravity. The amount of space underneath the sculpture coupled with the whole form seemingly impossibly balanced on three points, resulted in conveying a powerful sense of density to the sculpture

On the the hour drive back to NIROX with Allen we stopped, exhausted, at a late-night takeaway. Eating our meals off of the bonnet of his pick-up, we were questioned and then frisked by police doing their rounds of the suburbs. I produced one of the small adjusted stone components from ‘Human Nature’ by way of explanation of what we had been engaged in. The cops looked intrigued, passed the object between them turning it over and over in their hands, then passed it back, got in their car and drove off

Cast wings

Cast wings

Clearwing with point markings

Clearwing with point markings

Just before John and I finished polishing the last of the two hundred-plus concave forms in the surface of the two planes, the sun dipped below the horizon. As we finally circled the boulder looking at the finished object, the space was filled with a barely audible whirring sound as hundreds and hundreds of small insects spun around the white room. Every surface was covered with a field of arched tremulous bodies, wings vibrating incessantly. It carried on like that all night as I sat looking at the stone. In the morning they were all gone. Piles of wings were strewn over the floor and any flat surface – of the insects themselves, there was no sign