Sunday, October 2
An early morning flight to Luanda, Angola, connecting through Windhoek. Have been invited by the organisers of the forthcoming Trienal de Luanda to come up and conduct a seminar on contemporary art and artists as an introduction to next year's Trienal, together with Laurie Ann Farrell of the Museum for African Art in New York.
The Trienal offices are just gorgeous - located in a cool, spacious house leading out onto a terrace where everyone lunches together. Everything is white except for the pale beige of the Italian designed tables ('bought here in Luanda', says Fernando Alvim, mastermind behind the Trienal) the silver of the Macs, the red chairs and the bright orange backed files which fill the bookcases. Orange is the theme colour of the Trienal. Bluetooth offers instant access to the internet, and Bose speakers emit soft music. In these relaxing surroundings, one can work all day and all night, and the dedicated staff do. Albano Cardoso, the general coordinator, Marita Silva, the coordinator of projects and Tiago Borges in charge of design, are all at their desks. Not seeming to notice that it is Sunday today.
Monday, October 3
My hotel is the Tropicano - much like business hotels all over the world. Breakfast buffet. Swimming pool. Perfectly comfortable, but not cheap at US$188 a night. In my bathroom, an emergency cord marked with a red S.O.S. hangs over the bath. In case one meets an unwanted visitor in the shower?
First morning of the seminar. This is held in a recently refurbished gallery which is part of the extended offices of the Trienal. In a sponsorship deal, Eskom is paying for this and for the rent for two years. About 18 local artists come to the seminar, which will run every morning this week.
In the afternoon, Fernando takes me on a tour of the spaces that have been already renovated - one in the Hotel Globo (love the name) and another which is in a derelict 19th century building on the waterfront, but which is going to be great when it's done.
I am so interested to see Luanda for the first time - I had imagined a city on a stretch of ocean, once thriving but now after the war with many of the buildings seriously broken down and without amenities, filled nonetheless with people trying to scrape out an existence - a bit like parts of Havana in the early 90s. It's not really like that. Throughout the city, the government buildings are of classic Portuguese colonial architecture, substantial and well proportioned. There are also a number of modernist buildings from the 50s which spice up the urban landscape. The city is quite hilly, and the streets are filled with life - students, hawkers, people going about their daily business.
Tuesday, October 4
Laurie was supposed to have arrived on Sunday, but her New York flight was turned back on the runway, and then she missed the next connection, so she finally arrives this morning. Without luggage.
The seminar room is fuller today, and my presentation on contemporary art in South Africa seems to be received with interest. The inevitable question comes up at the end: does the South African government help the artists with money? With artists, it's always about how to get money to live and work.
Wednesday, October 5
In the grounds of the Trienal offices there is a small studio, where three young artists are working. Some of their photographs and paintings can be seen at an adjoining gallery, SOSO LAX, but I am invited to go and see their work where they live, downtown. Thursday would be a good day for this.
Thursday, October 7
And so Thursday afternoon, after the morning seminar session, I find myself walking down the hill to the apartment of Kulanjani, a young photographer whose subject is his city. Until now I have been driven everywhere, and it's a real pleasure to walk through the streets, taking in the city.
Kulunjani's apartment is a fifth or sixth or (I lose count) floor walkup, and he shares it with other young people. I like his photographs of debris strewn beaches and other city images, though some have that yellowed look of being processed in old chemicals. Getting good quality printing is a problem here.
Friday, October 7
My last morning in Luanda - it has been a really good experience, seeing the city, and the exhibition spaces taking shape, spending time with the Trienal team and with Laurie, meeting the artists here. I have high hopes for the first Trienal next March and. I am glad I will be coming back then to take part.
Monday, October 10
Back in the studio in Cape Town, with far too much to do before I leave for California next Monday.
Thursday, October 13
The publisher of Contemporary magazine, Brian Muller and his wife Tory are here visiting the city from London. I am the Cape Town contributing editor, so this is an opportunity for us to meet over an excellent dinner at The Millers' Thumb. Contemporary is one of the few international art magazines that is fairly easily obtainable in South Africa. We talk about the art scene in general, and ideas for future articles.
Saturday, October 15
Paul Edmunds' show at Joao Ferreira looks stunning. Missed the opening because I was in Luanda, but I am glad that I have the gallery to myself this morning to really see how the show looks in the space. Each of Paul's intricately cut and worked pieces in industrial plastics or paper takes months, and I thought there might not be enough work to adequately fill the gallery. I was wrong. The word is that a German collector has bought the entire show. Great news.
Another show I won't be here for the opening of (is that grammatical?) (No, but I'll let it go - Sub-ed) is Sanell Aggenbach's, at Bell-Roberts. I'm sorry to be missing that one. At Roger and Karen van Wyk's sunfilled Deer Park Café, I wish Sanell the best over a lazy farewell lunch with her, Brett Murray and my family.
Monday, October 17
Hand over a commissioned artwork I have been working on for months and an hour later, leave for the airport. Fly to Amsterdam.
Tuesday. October 18
Fly to Minneapolis. On to San Francisco. Picked up by Andy's Shuttle Service and was delivered one hour later to the Montalvo Art Center where I will spend a six week residency. Near San José, 50 minutes south of San Franciso, the Lucas Artists' Program provides each visiting artist, writer or composer with an architect-designed living and working space. There are 10 studios altogether.
I arrive about 9 pm, to find the visiting artists and director Gordon Knox relaxed and convivial around the dinner table in the Commons Building, where the artists are served dinner every night. After a 32 hour journey I'm exhausted, but not so tired that I don't enjoy the salmon dinner and several glasses of wine.
Wednesday, October 19
Unpack. An inadequate supply of clothes, but bags of cords, chargers and other technical stuff. Arrange my studio space. While I am here, I will work on a new collaborative piece for a show at The Light Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, next January. My collaborator is American photographer Pat Ward Williams. Talk to her on the phone. She has a new idea for our piece, and will fax me drawings. It's very quiet in my house.
There is another South African artist here - Cobi van Tonder. Everyone else seems surprised that we hadn't even heard of each other before we came to Montalvo.
Cobi works with sounds and music, and has been invited to take part in an interactive arts festival in San José next summer. Her project involves picking up and programming the sounds from skateboards in use and channeling these for listeners.
Thursday, October 20
The whole Montalvo complex covers 175 acres. Apart from the Art Center, there is the Montalvo Villa where events and concerts are held, and miles of forest trails. At night, there are plenty of wildlife sounds, owls, and something that shrieks. My studio is up on the hill, surrounded by dry grass, and deer occasionally walk by, feeding their way down the slope.
Friday, October 21
Drive into San José with Cobi and ISEA festival organiser Wanda Webb, looking for a venue for Cobi's skateboarders. Possibilities: the HP stadium, an icerink: massive, impressive. Then the futuristic Rotunda with plumes of spray emitting from tall slender poles. Then a rink next to the San José Museum of Art. Wanda, Cobi and I have lunch there. I tell Wanda about my and Pat's project and she tells me to submit it.
Back in my studio at Montalvo, have thrown some soaked bread on to the little terrace in front of my house, and soon catch the brilliant cerulean flash of the bluejay as he flies off.
Thursday, October 27
Haven't been off the premises for days. Wake up, work, walk when I need exercise, often don't speak to anyone all day, go down the hill for supper every evening. A very simple happy existence.
Sunday, October 30
Time to venture out. French composer Claire Renard and I will hit the highways today, in search of Californian culture. First stop: a street festival in Oakland, centre of a Hispanic community, where the Day of the Dead is being celebrated. Mexican imagery on all sides - fluttering sheets of bright tissue paper with skulls and skeletons cut out, little skull cakes, on which you can have initials iced, tiny little papier mach&eacut skeleton tableaux. Stalls sell Mexican embroidered shirts, silver and turquoise jewellery, Peruvian ponchos. Sound stages line the street, and English is the foreign language. We lunch at Oatez, a restaurant on the street where oversized security guards keep the waiting patrons in order. Great food.
On over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, locating the museum district in the Mission Street area. It's later than we planned, so we decide to leave the treats of the SFMoMA for another day, and look around the Yerba Buena Center for the arts.
Two pieces in particular draw my attention: the first, by Emily Prince, is a wall-sized installation of hundreds of cigarette card-sized portraits in pencil pinned on to an outline of the US. Entitled something like All the US service men and women who have died in the Iraq war, but not those wounded, and not the Iraqis, the text explains that these portraits have been taken from websites put up by the slain soldiers' families. Prince will continue adding to the work as long as the war goes on.
The second is a sound installation on a narrow double volume wall. Tiny speakers mounted in black squares are linked in an elegant but random pattern by silvery cords. Tinkling metallic noises descend the wall. A monitor nearby lists the source of the sounds: all the sound effects used in the movie Full Metal Jacket described by type of bullet and where the bullet is falling, or hitting. The artists are Anne Walsh and Chris Kubick, who work together as Archive. Check out their website at www.doublearchive.com for news on a different piece, Art After Death.