‘Love The Way You Lie’ is definitely one of my more difficult artworks to write about, if not the hardest one. I like to think the reason behind this is the power of the artwork- I guess mostly it is the effect or power this artwork possesses over me.
Creating this monumentally large and very poignant sentence on the Karoo horizon challenged me personally in the most life altering ways.
If someone told me anything I thought of, and/or created (apart from another human life), will have such a dramatic effect on my life I wouldn’t have believed them. I say this as a true believer in the power of art.
As I said in previous posts: Art that is displayed and interpreted through the public eye obviously gets dissected and interpreted by each individual in slightly, and in some cases dramatically different ways. After all; the artwork came from a very personal place. I will stick with my emotions, feelings and interpretations specifically around the process of the creation of the artwork.
The concept in this artworks has proven to be equally important to the process of creating the artwork itself. Although the concept and reason for this artwork came from a very personal place, my view and outlook during and after the build and burn of the piece was shaped by the people that helped me physically erect it.
I guess one can look at it as a piece of clay I wanted to sculpt a specific emotional face from, but every little bit of input from those around me made me think and re think my understanding of that particular emotion, and left me with different ways of reading and responding to the final product.
I can truly say that this extended far beyond the artwork and into a more concise understanding of myself, my life, my purpose and my own humanity.
My concept for the sentence was born from a very dark, sad and lonely place. I had lost the biggest connection I have had with another human up to that point in my life. The emotion that I felt after this loss was almost unbearable, and I felt the need to express this in some way to try cope. At times felt larger than me, consuming me.
I like to be in control, and I felt like I had to produce something- something that would challenge me in more ways than these emotions I was feeling. Something that would make these feelings seem less prominent/over powering.
In hindsight maybe the scale of the work had something to do with it. The sculpture was short of 120m long and 2.4m high. I knew it was big before we started building, but never did I imagine the physicality of it.
Being a very small team of 7 people- 6 building on and off; for 3 months straight and another joining for final setup in the desert- labour was hard.
While Iworked continuously on the project, everyone helped as much as their busy schedules allowed. I had a team of super intelligent, dynamic and dedicated people, ranging from entrepreneurs, photographers, engineers and a medical doctor. An insane mix of super driven, OCD fuelled talent! Despite life’s requirements everyone performed- everyone felt just how far you could push yourself, your body and your mind.
The process worked as follows:
Just as AfrikaBurn 2014 came to an end, I started pestering the organisers. How do I apply for a grant? – Will I be in time? – How do I register an artwork? And so on…
I started planning– in case I was not awarded a grant.
I began sourcing quotes etc. to put together a proposal. I even did a CAD drawing…
We got a grant, but it was less than a tenth of our proposal. We had no money for ply wood or any of our initial design’s required material. We hadto use something else- pallets- which we couldn’t buy. We sourced, picked up and delivered over 180 pallets; all of them free.
Pallet Collecting with Nardus’s Landy: (We made many trips every week.)
Pallets are nasty. They splinter, are very heavy, not all of them are the same size and some were very old.
When we had to store the pallets- My house seemed to be the most appropriate as it was also under construction at the time.
Storing the Pallets in my house, lounge, garden, verandah.. EVERYWHERE!
We needed a place where we could work at night- somewhere industrial. With no budget to spend on this we found the Maker station. For three months strait this is where everyone gathered after their tiring day jobs to work into the next morning.
Some important business went down at The Maker Station:
Ear plugs, Safety goggles and Sawdust masks were bought, but used only occasionally. It became too big a mission, wasting precious time. We found a way to cut the pallets- with a domestic rotating saw. We went through two of them.
Safety First (not always..Time First!):
Before cutting the letters, they needed to be reinforced, thousands of screws needed to be drilled in. Off-cut pallet pieces needed to be measured and cut smaller for reinforcement. Each letter had to be drawn onto four pallets as they lay on the floor. With strained backs we used the rotating saw to cut them out like this, and it took hours.
Planning, Drawing, Cutting, Measuring, Hammering!!!!….aaaand Repeat*:
#Planning and Drawing..
he next step was to clamp more pieces of reinforcement to where it needed to go on the back of the pallets where the letters had been marked. Cut out pallets had to be put together to create half a letter…then more reinforcement. Half letters had to be carried away… 34 letters – 68 pieces – 140 pallets! Letter halves then had to be put together into full letters and painted! This was part of the two weeks I worked alone, and the part only me and Liza did.
Letter pieces were marked and taken back to the house (in pieces of four), as sawing was done (Bye Maker Station)..
It was in the two weeks I worked alone that I realised: the physically demanding tasks this project required helped suppress my emotions. There was no time to think of how I felt, or dwell on how tragic my loss was. The clock was ticking and there was a hell of a lot of work to do.
Lights and cable had to be sourced to light up 120 meters of sculpture– to look like the Hollywood sign, in a desert,with no electricity and a small budget!
And then of course Support structure! That would keep our letters upright in the desert..
Mike designed, and sourced the entire structure!
Pegs and a huge hammer was made by Mike to set this up in the desert..
I swear he must have been a blacksmith in a previous life- this guy knows his way with steel like no other!
Fuck! It was insane!
Our bodies ached- we ate more Steers over the duration of the three month build than most people eat in a lifetime. There was just no time.
More than once we fetched exhausted team mates. We took turns lifting each other’s spirits. Liza and I worked together almost every day, and all night with the others. Every time I felt like I could not continue, Liza was there to pick me up.
Me and Liza having a very rare Whiskey break!
How Liza makes me feel ;)*
Others had very demanding day jobs, still they came to help build straight after work, and only left to go home mostly between midight and 2am the following morning.
And repeat* for 3 months, day after day, night after night.
Through this came one of the greatest, most beautiful realizations of my life
These team mates of mine worked just as hard as me. They were selfless, helping me through the emotional pain that I carried around with me, that drove me to conceptualize and create ‘Love The Way You Lie’. This massive sentence that will help ease my loss, by being larger than my emotion. My team mates were not suffering a loss. They were not building this because they were sad. In fact I did not even know half of them well before the project.
Still they gave it their all.
I can honestly say I know everyone in this team better than my own family. They are part of me, and I will forever be part of them. In a time when I couldn’t move forward, they were the world to me and there are no better people than my partners. I cannot even imagine the devastation I would have felt if the project was not a success, but no! My team would not let it happen. In a way it felt like they would not let it happen to me.Protecting me and saving me, for which I will be forever grateful.
My teams commitment together with the physicality of the artwork, and the incredible intensity it had on my body, somewhat took my mind off the emotional pain I was going through. After a few gruelling months of round the clock physical labour, we were ready to go to the desert to assemble our 34 letters.
One trailer (the cheapest transport we could find), arrived at the house one morning, a week before the festival, when we were leaving to go set up. We were promised two trailers and 2 land cruiser open vehicles. Water cans- loads of petrol, paraffin etc. and two weeks supplies had to be taken up with us.
The trailer was packed- it looked insane, with the wheels squashed under our load! Knowing the road from travelling it once before, I knew the artwork would not make it like this. We had to offload half of the 34 letters. Letters bent, broke- and so did our hearts with it. I had to try stay calm for the team.
I demanded another vehicle and trailer as we were promised- the transporter agreed. Some letters were unpacked- and the first 2 team mates left with the transporters and the first trailer.
And..we are loading!..and offloading..and loading again! Meeting Costa for the first time! (Ready to load the madness..)
As we left, my car got hit (at high speed) by a taxi as we left Cape Town around 2pm. Although this was the closest to a very fatal accident I have ever been, we were okay. My loaded bakkie thankfully still drivable, I tried to forget that my tiny new Nissan NP200 bakkie with under 2k on the clock was so badly damaged
Other car problems included :2 gravel road flat tyres for Aaron(And an extra night in Ceres on the way back for him and Costa)
Aaaaand: Me bumping another car with a rented trailer during a pallet collection trip.. (Pre Afrikaburn)
On route to the burn, everything went okay, until we got separated from the letters on the eagerly un-anticipated gravel road. We were lost, or the transport company was lost. Both trailers with artworks went in a different direction to us. I had to fight back thoughts of the transporters turningback to Cape Town. The gravel roads we got lost on were challenging. We had to get out the bakkie in the dark to put rocks under the wheels and our petrol was running on empty. We drove around till 3am on the gravel roads- my heart about ripped from my chest. I tried compose myself.
I was tired and my team mates were tired. We slept in the coldest of cold weather. Next to the freezing road in the two cars- all 4 of us hoping for the best. The other two team mates were only going to join the following day. We were four going up together initially.. Mike and me in my bakkie, and Aaron and Costa (the hardest working Russian you will ever meet) in his land cruiser.
Mike and me in the bakkie: Looks way more comfortable than it was.. we had to sleep in the front as the back was packed with supplies!
With daylight the next morning came direction as we found two game wardens to show us the way to Afrikaburn. We were lost in the Tankwa National Park. It was quiet in Tankwa Town as we got to Afrikaburn,with very few people setting up artworks. We found our letters there with a team of VERY organized people. We were elated!
We didn’t care that we had no shade, or forgot this or that. We wanted to start building, immediately! And so that is exactly what we did. We set up camp and started organising and fixing letters. Erecting the four sets of pallet racking for support, and then pulling wires across the rack against which the letters were tied. Massive pegs had to be hammered into the ground- with the biggest hammer ever seen (and handmade by Mike).
If you are looking for us- we are working! (weking ???? Setting up camp)
Me and the hammer in the foreground!
Me and Liza fixing broken letters:
And carrying them to the support structure, whilst the guys are setting up under Mike’s guidance ????
The guys working hard on the support structure:
Me and Liza measuring where the letters should go when standing upright..
(Am I sensing some OCD again?!)
We did it all in a record three days! Neil (photographer) was so kind to take a beautiful time-lapse of our efforts. We finished just as the sun set. It was beyond beautiful. We were elated and relieved. We head back to camp- where we could see our creation on the horizon.I remember not wanting to look around at the artwork untill I was at the camp- I wanted the totality of the work to be a surprise. As we reachedthe camp I turned around.
It felt almost sadistic- challenging me, scarring me . My emotions came rushing back. My life decisions, choices, beliefs, morals–everything was being undeniably questioned. The festival began the next day and brought with it a week without building, and nothing to take my mind of what I was confronted with! I felt trapped- Wherever I looked the 120m long sentence was there. It was demanding answers from me.
I knew the lights were only going to be put up the following evening and I hoped I would feel better.
The sentence disappeared with the sun that evening as I worried about the letters notwithstanding the wind. I decided to drink more whiskey and all worries numbed a little bit. Nathan and Mike left Sunday before the Festival and would arrive back with Ross on Thursday as responsibilities needed them elsewhere.
I woke up very early the Monday morning (first day of the festival)… the artwork stood rock solid!
I remember starting to feel the heat this day.
In his quiet way, Aaron sorted out the lights –mainly by himself–the entire afternoon. We were going to test the lights that night. As Aaron and I went to switch the lights on, He gave me the privilege of standing further away to see it from a distance whilst he switched the generator on, again making me feel so important.
I remember feeling guilty for the privilege he generously gave me. This was his main focus- he worked so hard on the lights. I nevertheless took advantage of the gesture, as I was not sure of what my reaction would be seeing the letters light up (given my previous emotional reaction to seeing the artwork from a distance the day before without any lights). I figured that distance might help me get my shit together before the others saw my unpredictable reaction.
Aaron switched the lights on and I struggled to fight the tears… It was so beautiful and at the same time so awful…
I felt like it was glowing at me, as if the question was burning at me. Getting angry and impatient with me struggling to find the answers.
I tried to convince myself that the next day would be better. The festival started and I was right. I had real fun! I connected with my team mates on a whole new level. Celebrating our hard work. I remember feeling a little better for moments from this point.
I nevertheless was still counting the days till the artwork would burn, struggling to find answers. The question was still challenging me, allowing me no escape.
We were told ‘Love The Way You Lie’ was scheduled for the Sat at 10pm. This excited me as Afrikaburn usually burns their main structures around this time, but I also wanted to forget about the question and have some festival left. I felt tortured.
Ross arrived the Thursday with Nathan and Mike who had driven the gravel road twice. Ross is the most adventurous 70 year old reporter, teacher, art enthusiast and all round amazing and insightful man. He documented both ‘Love The Way You Lie’ as well as Subterrafuge’s towers for a television documentary.
From left to right: Aaron, Liza, Costa and Nath in front of Subterrafuge!
I became anxious at the thought that Ross was going to ask me more questions. I HAD to get my shit together! I remember thinking: ‘’this artwork has become bigger than me…’’ I even struggled to focus on the importance of documenting the artwork. This is always such an important part of creating an artwork to me, as it is a way to remember it!
I felt like things were getting more and more out of focus, blurring. I still had to attend meetings over burn times, how to burn the artwork etc. These intimidating tasks achievable through support given by my team mates. They were there all the time to catch me, with someone accompanying me at all times, wherever I went. I was so grateful.
Basic needs from sun screen to food, water etc. were miraculously met thanks to Nathan. People were cleaning, making shade. I could see how little things, like making outfits and taking long bicycle rides were sacrificed for me. I felt so humbled, and I still do.
Nathan made sure we missed no work time, he made the most incredible lunch every day on site!
On top of this he made sure we had shade, stayed hydrated and had clean crockery! (3 Meals a day!)
When Ross arrived with Mike and Nathan on the Thursday, he immediately made me feel at ease. They all made me feel important, thought of and loved. They understood my emotional response to my artwork.Not one of them is a conceptual fine artist, but they got it.
Friday night I cried till I could not anymore. My friend who shared my tent consoled me, listened to me and tried to understand me. He did this in a way that will never make me forget what the value of true friendship and understanding between two humans are.
The following day was Saturday! Tomorrow it would burn!
We were prepping the artwork the whole day, running around and collecting wood to light the 120m structure, as well as running between meetings. Everyone helped. People came to congratulate us on the artwork that we didn’t even know.They told us what ‘Love The Way You Lie’ meant to them.
They were grateful for what we have created.
Credit to :Michael Groenewald for these last two pictures. Thank you!
I will never forget the warmth of the blazing flames against my face as it burnt. At times I had to turn my face away from the heat. It reminded me of the warmth my team mates made me feel. It echoed the warmth I felt from people at the festivalthat I did not know. People who came up to me, to tell me their stories, based on the meaning the artwork inspired them to feel. Some of these stories made mine seem insignificant, and much less tragic.
I had faith in humanity again.
I have faith in love again.
So in return I could thank these viewers and my team mates.
You all created the real meaning through creating and participating in my artwork, you guys are the artists. I could never thank you enough*
UPDATE: See the link below – an amazing short film by the Grand Kids Collective (My friend Max Mogale and Dewlad Brand’s collaboration.)
The video was screened at Short and Sweet Cape Town and Amsterdam. ????
A super well done to them! It really gives an accurate depiction of the experience that is Afrikaburn.