Monday, February 6
Cape Town is to feature in a new BBC World series called Destination Art. This news arrives in the morning's email - Sandra Reynolds will be coming to Cape Town in mid March with her crew to shoot the programme. The mother city has been selected as one of 13 around the world where art has been considered to have played a significant role in its historical and cultural development.
Tuesday, February 7
One of those people who years after graduating with a fine arts degree and pursuing other interests decide to go back and get that Master's, Josie Grindrod has her Master's show tonight. It's at the University of Stellenbosch Gallery, and it's looking good. Heartfelt paintings worked in a palette of earthy reds and oxide greens. Josie will show at the AVA in Cape Town later this year.
Wednesday, February 8
Conferences. Can be stimulating, invigorating, surprising. Can be dull, divisive, and draining. Either way, four days away from the studio is not to be taken lightly. But today is the first day of the national conference of VANSA, the Visual Arts Network of South Africa, and it's taken the visual arts community a long, long time to get to this point.
It's now 12 years into the new democracy, and one of the reasons visual artists get so little government support and funding compared with the performing arts is that there has never been a cohesive body to talk to government. Governments talk to cohesive bodies, it seems, not individual artists.
Such networks are not easily sustained, comments one of the opening speakers, Stephen Sack, and artists do not normally stand on platforms. They engage through their work.
The keynote speech this evening was to have been given by Minister of Culture Pallo Jordan - but the announcement is made that he has flu and will not be coming.
Flu? And he couldn't send someone else to read the paper he surely has prepared as keynote speaker?
Go to Bridget Baker's opening at João Ferreira instead. Baker has always been one of the most interesting young artists around, and I've been looking forward to her solo, the first for a long time. 'I am involved in risky take-overs,' says Baker, in an artist's statement, 'Currently the "sensible woman" is my subject'. For more, read Linda Stupart's review of the show, and Kim Gurney's ArtBio on Baker.
The work has been printed and reverse mounted onto Perspex in Dusseldorf, at the production house which handles work for Andreas Gursky and the other large scale German photographers. Beautiful.
Thursday, February 9
Day two at the VANSA conference. For a full report, read Renee Holleman, in News. From my point of view, it's great to see so many artists from around the country, and to feel the positive energy that fills the Hiddingh Hall.
Organiser Zayd Minty and his team have done a first class job with all the arrangements, and there is not one technical failure all week.
Delegates sit behind long trestle tables facing the front. The tables are covered with white paper, and green pens, orange markers and boxes of graphite sticks lie around enticingly. There is little resistance to these. By the end of the week, the tabletops are covered with doodles, drawings and notes. One of these reads: 'I slept with (name crossed out). Did you?'
Prize for the most enterprising dress definitely goes to Angolan-born Patience Mbueno whose T-shirt reads 'Born to Sculpt' and carries his contact details and images of past portrait bust commissions.
Friday, February 10
The last formal day of the conference and the energy is still there... the theme of the breakaway sessions today is 'Looking Forward', with groups divided into Good Critic, Bad Critic - Art Criticism and the media; No Job, No Work, No Money: Job Creation and Training, and Creativity and new directions in the arts.
In the first of those groups, Robert Greig of the Sunday Independent says his paper is frankly not interested in art unless it has a sensational aspect to it. And this from a newspaper which prides itself on providing the best Sunday journalism. A sad indictment of our cultural poverty.
The day finishes with Art Night for delegates and public alike. Starting at the AVA with wine and goema music, a brass band leads the crowd to the next stop - Erdmann Contemporary, where the floor still bears traces of masking tape from Jennifer Lovemore-Read's performance earlier in the week, and one of the most interesting pieces is her split portrait of herself and her husband James, (currently on sabbatical in Oxford), in which photographs of sections of their naked bodies, displayed in rounded containers form one body, with fragments of maps from the two cities giving context.
Saturday, February 11
The conference over, today is the VANSA AGM. Another good day. Moleleki Frank Ledimo is elected national chairman, with Khwezi Gule as vice.
Of course, there are many problems in the art world delegates felt VANSA should be addressing, from better art education to seeing that more black arts professionals find their way into art institutions, but most seemed to agree that advocacy, or taking the case of artists to government was of paramount importance.
And to that end, if you are a South African artist, even if you never ever want to come to a meeting, please sign up as a VANSA member so that VANSA can be seen as a truly representative body. Just click on to www.vansa.co.za
Tuesday, February 14
Cascoland is in town. At the invitation of Public Eye and the Mandlovu Development Institutive and sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Embassy, this group of livewire hands-on Dutch artists have come for a seven week residency to work with the community of New Crossroads on a whole variety of art projects and interventions.
Tonight there is a presentation for the press of the various aspects of the project at the Deer Park Café.
The emphasis is on the sustainable and the possible. Old rubber tyres, so familiar to us all as kiddie swings, are being cut and bolted into all manner of street furniture and playground toys.
Group leader Roel Schoenmakers describes a local radio station, video venues, a signwriting project to help local businesses, an inflatable self-contained bedroom to go inside a B & B...
It's all centred round the Mayenzeke Craft Centre. Members of the public are welcome to go and visit any weekday, and the project is part of the Cape Town Festival.
To get there, take the N2 towards the airport. Shortly before the airport, take the Duinefontein exit to the right. Drive on quite a way until you get to Lansdowne Road. Turn left into Lansdowne and continue until you reach a corner with a cheerful 'Welcome to New Crossroads' sign. Turn left at that corner, first right, first left and you will be facing the craft centre, next to a church. You're there.
Saturday, February 18
Who needs art when the winter Olympics are on? Incredibly toned bodies encased in brilliantly coloured tribal sheaths carving elegant swooping swathes as they speed urgently across the ice, or charge down vertical glittering slopes on skis. And then, the faces of the winners and losers contemplating the results of four years of exhausting sacrifice - were there ever faces so totally ecstatic - or disconsolate?
Of course, some artists would make their own art out of this. Think of Robin Rhode's I Got Game where he acted out high moments of the Olympics lying on the street, and had himself photographed for a piece.
Wednesday, February 22
Paul and I head out to New Crossroads to visit the Cascoland group. Kids are having a great time playing on the tyre animals. A lean-to structure made of woven tyres over a wooden frame is being added on the church crèche. Elsewhere, a tower structure of beams is under construction. Next to the church, ground is being leveled for line football.
It's never easy moving into a community and getting projects going, and the group have had their problems, but they are extremely self reliant and innovative, and the projects are moving forward.
In the evening, a closing and an opening - young artist Adrienne van Eeden has been showing at blank projects. 'Twice Daily After Meals' is an installation investigating the banality and possible ineffectiveness of the routines we force ourselves to adopt in the name of health. A fuzzy ball turns out to be fabricated from toothbrush bristles curled with eyelash curlers.
At Michael Stevenson, Pieter Hugo, who has just won a World Press Photo Award in the category of portraits with a brilliant photograph, taken in Nigeria, of a man with a muzzled hyena on a rope. All this series of the hyena people are in bleached out colour, the palest blues and sand colours, taken during the season of the harmattan, the hot dry wind which fills the air with fine dust and veils details.
On the opposite wall of the gallery hang portraits of the wild honey collectors of Ghana, decked out in leaves in lush verdant glades of brilliant green.
Entitled 'Presence', the show comprises portraits of such disparate groups as white traditional doctors, or sangomas in Cape Town, the honey catchers of Ghana, and judges in Botswana.
Gallerist Michael Stevenson says Hugo often startles, or electrifies his subjects into being photographed by creating an atmosphere of excitement around himself and them, after which he works very fast to get his image.
Linda Stupart reviews for ArtThrob.