Cnr. Melville & First Street

In the quiet and unassuming streets of Hyde Park, Sandton – Jhb, you will find, at the corner of Melville & First street, the most hideous of sites. No, its not that the building itself is ugly….well okay, maybe it is, but one can sense albeit with dismay, that a certain message was meant to be conveyed. For months now, I have driven, jogged and walked past this particular crack in the order of all things harmonious in spatial design and always found myself slowing down, as if due to the sheer gravity of its imposing  disposition, and wondering what exactly the objective was intended to be.


We must, of course dear reader, pay heed to the aesthetic missives of this building that stands ironically resolute in its deplorable state. As it seems to be the case  every time the interpretation of concepts such as  ‘authority’, ‘wealth’ and ‘affluence’ are striven towards, they engender the Romanesque, Renaissance, neo-Classical and Baroque – the use of statuettes and busts of Italian Renaissance inspired artists is appallingly evident and does nothing but violate one’s visual senses. Why not go for the modern [or is it post-postmodern?] I wonder, instead of hiding the lack of imagination behind the concoction of recycled ideas? Who knows?

Let me leave you with these humble words dear reader – avoid, by any means necessary, doing anything like this if ever money delivered itself to your doorstep. Just as Albert Camus said that “at any street corner, the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face”.  I have certainly endured my own share of the blows.

Mediocrity: New Revolution

There are things that one can appreciate but cannot celebrate. In music, talentless individuals whose worth is determined by money rather than ability. In art, delusional ‘blue-chip’ artists who believe they own pre-existing forms. The very people Ellsworth Toohey* warns us against but readily sells as knowing proof that we will accept them regardless.

We live in a world of pastiche, continued borrowing and oftentimes theft. Of ideas. And in this world, through its ‘popular culture’ pastiche has become the norm. It is celebrated as originality and its users, originators. The point we miss however, is that these originators are in fact parasites. They feed off the genius of others and set themselves apart in shadowy-light – as associates of genius, but are they really? The idea of original thought strikes fear in to the heart of modern man….or woman, if you please. In heaven’s name, what and who are we?

History has seen itself repeated far too many times and now sits forlorn and without purpose. And what of the present? Now, the future strangely resembles the blend of a manifold past. We can predict it so well that it can hardly be thought of as worth looking forward to.

Does it matter anymore, that a musician is someone who through their talent affects the world with song? That words are but base metals to be transformed in to melodious verses of gold and conveyed with a voice that resists ubiquity. The artist has been swallowed up whole by the money that stole God’s throne. Exceptions, few as they maybe, remain and continue reassuringly.

*a character from The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

The Shadow of Progress

There are times when it seems that human beings are not fallible by nature but rather by choice. Understandably, this is far too optimistic a stretch on my part but it is at once attractive as it is overly optimistic.


I am reminded of an essay by the late and great Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges when he penned, The fearfull sphere of Pascal. The title provides the hint that he was referring to Blaise Pascal, the mathematician, inventor, scientist and philosopher. But the essay has less to do with Pascal’s abilities as it does with what I interpret to be an insight into human fallibility. To surmise, Pascal, through his curious mind came to this thought amongst many others: “Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Through his immaculate analysis, Borges throws in the suggestion that this sphere was in fact originally deemed as ‘fearful’ by Pascal, as opposed to ‘infinite’ which was nothing but an afterthought aimed at easing the anxiety of uncertainty.


To put it loosely, let us equate Pascal constantly inquisitive mind to that ironic word we humans call progress. The more questions Pascal asked the closer he got to a point when he could not bare to imagine what the answer would be. A similar trait can be seen with Schopenhauer, something which Nietzsche chastised him heavily for.

So what does this have to do with progress or its shadow? Consider the opening paragraph. I said that humans can at times seem to be fallible by choice rather than by nature. What I mean is that as human beings it is often our collective decision whether or not our lives improve for the better or worse. We know what needs to be done but often prefer not to do it.

An example. At some point in our contemporary history, car-maker General Motors created the electric car as a response to rising concerns over carbon emissions cum air pollution and inevitable global warming. However, reality was never going to be accepting of such an ideal, what with oil companies and the paper chase. And so it was, that General Motors, turned on the very ideal which it had put forward as a path into the future. The result was simple. All electric vehicles were recalled, crushed and destroyed as if somehow to hide the evidence of what the human mind can achieve when set to a task. The fear that propelled these actions was equally simple: electric cars mean no use for oil which in turn means no money to be made in ridiculous terms.

Of course the GM example reveals something else and that is, the idea of information control. Not many knew of the advances that were made regarding the electric car and of those who did know, GM simply denied their existence, hence “there is no demand” to sustain the continued manufacturing of the vehicle.

It appears at last, that money has come to be our highest idea of progress although we will never admit. It is the shadow that looms large as we make-believe that we are progressive. And so, like Pascal we turn away from finding out what is in store because we fear loosing the comfort of normality.

[just a random thought]

In Love with the Old

This is a bicycle. My bicycle to be more precise. I love it. It reminds me of childhood. It reminds me of my grandfather. We used to have nicknames for each other but I have since forgotten what they were or how they came about. Perhaps, as compensation, I carry with me the most ironic yet vivid memory of him: he could run really fast for an old man.

I bought my bicycle out of nostalgia. At the time I had no clue about the history behind its simple frame. Its called a Humber, after the Englishman, Thomas Humber. He was a cool sort of man, history tells me. History is oftentimes a spectacle. In those early days of the Humber it was not a surprise that this two-wheeler came to be known as the ‘Gentleman’s Roadster’. I wonder why I thought it was German?

Context: The Black President Magazine Launch

The artist and his work!I decided to swing past the Goodman Gallery in Woodstock last night to check out the  launch of the magazine, The Black President by artist Kudzanai Chiurai. The magazine in question is an interesting publication of which only a limited number has been produced thus the selling price of R250. Did I buy it? No! I am broke. However, seeing that the launch issue was volume 2 of what began as and still is ‘Yellow Lines’ and I happen to have volume 1, I figured that I can do without……for now. Why I say this? Well the artists himself, and one of the gallery curators, told me that it is best to hold on to the copy I have because it is certainly worth more than the latest publication. My eyes grew wide with excitement! Of course at the back of my head I wondered how exactly does the market go about setting prices? Yes, I realise, this is a magazine and it is actually no different from many types of self-published magazines that are out there – their saving grace being how true to their subject they are, little as they may be!

Black President I

I love encountering people like this. The first thing that strikes you is their sense of style – they have to be creatives right? Yes, they are, well to some extent. The lovely lady on the left [I couldn’t help but wonder if she was wearing a rain coat but I loved her hair] is a shoe designer, soon to be boutique owner. She quit advertising to follow the dream. The dude on the right had me thinking about random but hauntingly beautiful Bon Iver music. His is a trade in coffee beans, in crushed form, plunged and pressed, with hot water added. He made me feel good about being a coffee snob. Apart from that, they both stood out wonderfully!

Random Beautiful People

On Jazz On Art

I have always been drawn to Jazz. I have equally been drawn to Art for as long as I can remember. Of course Jazz and Art are one and the same thing except in so far as the former is a branch of the extensive tree that is the latter. If you are a Jazz lover and by lover I mean one who appreciates the artistry that is Jazz, the aim of it, its challenge to the listener and its very uniqueness, then answer me this – how would you represent it without words or sound?

This is the part where I suddenly give context to my chosen title of randomness and indeed I shall. The catalyst behind my randomness is the latest exhibition by South African artist, Sam Nhlengethwa simply entitled;   “Kind of Blue”. First of all Nhlengethwa is one of the few living South African black artists to establish himself as a force within the SA contemporary scene. You may remember him from those ‘grandpa’ adverts depicting the painting of a mural. He is, to say the least, accomplished and seems to be bent on accomplishing more.

From the title of his exhibition you may have noticed that it is the same as that of one of the most succesful Jazz albums of the 21st century courtesy of arguably, one of the most revered personalities of the Jazz world, the late and great Miles Davis. Of course we should not make the mistake of omitting the sextet that recorded this album with Davis amongst which was legendary saxophonist John Coltrane (‘a love supreme’ echoes in my head as I write this).

Nhlengethwa’s reason for the exhibition is an expression of inspiration and paying homage, not only to a Jazz album but more importantly the idea behind it. In many a Jazz collection it is the one album which has an almost obvious presence. Its legend is derived from the status attributed to it following its release and given how succesful it was, to the surprise of even its makers. Of all descriptions, Miles Davis’ is perhaps the most notable when he said it was, ” a return to melody” and who can argue with that, afterall it marked a drastic shift from Davis’ own previous bop style to something that ‘wonderful’ can only describe.

As if aiming to capture this very shift and give it praise at the very same time, Nhlengethwa’s technical approach takes the form of lithography and etching, the use of colour limited only to the basic yet symbolic black and white. I say symbolic because, in my humble opinion, it is from dark and light that creativity springs eternal. I admire even more the commitment of artists such as Nhlengethwa, to give still representation to something as fluid as music, dare I say in one of its purest forms expressive genius, Jazz.

I  look forward to hitting Joburg city in a weeks’ time, so that I can pay my very own homage to the masters of the Arts, both past and present. If you have not seen it yet, then check it at the Goodman Gallery Rosebank from 26th August – 29th September 2010.