Superdry – An Orca in the desert

Picture: Jonx Pillemer Photography

Afrikaburn 2017 – an unforgettable experience on more than one level.
In this post you will read about our experience at Afrikaburn 2017, themed ‘play’ as the good the bad (the sad) and the ugly.

The experience was one of extreme mixed emotions – moments so brightly lit by the beauty of people’s love and kindness and moments so blurred by loss and sadness that the entire desert seemed like some sort of hell – An artwork that amongst our roller coaster emotions succeeded far beyond what I expected, people’s comments and appreciation outshining any doubt or fear I had displaying this 9m Orca.

These comments confirmed any doubt I had that Superdry didn’t achieve every single intention I wanted the artwork to achieve. In fact, it surpassed all my intentions.

In stark contrast to this, I at times experienced moments that made any artwork, no matter how good seem pointless.

We (Me and Michael Daniel – my only team mate – my soul mate and my best friend) decided to take my son Luke (aged 5) with this year.

Me being worried a full 8 days in the desert would be too much, decided to take Luke back the Thursday morning to Ceres (where dad and his grandparents would fetch him.).

I in turn would meet up with Stefanie, Barry and Siegfried – friends that were joining our small camp to return to Tankwa with them.

Mike stayed in the desert this day to complete the mammoth task of getting all elements of Superdry to work fluently and smoothly.

The planning, designing and making of Superdry did not come easy, contrary to what I thought.

Pictures: Chris Joubert @thatcapetownkid

After building ‘Love the way you lie’ in 2015, I thought nothing could be tougher.

Picture: Michael Groenewald @oneimagined

Superdry was tougher in a different way, in a more emotional way perhaps.
With ‘Love the way you lie’ the emotion was there, therefore the artwork was born.

Picture: Jonx Pillemer Photography

The process with ‘Love the way you lie’ was physically very demanding and a way of letting go of these emotions by having to focus on extreme physical work.

Picture: Steven Morrow

In the end letting the artwork burn was a huge emotional release.

Michael Groenewald @oneimagined

With Superdry so much of the emotion only came during the process of making the work – I am not saying this with regret, as I am a firm believer in the lessons life and art have to teach us.
I believe the things with real meaning, the things so powerful that could change us in a moment, those things most often lie in the struggle – in the dark scary places.
It is often the projects that test us, that we so almost give up on, that matters the most.
To be brutally honest, I have never been this close to giving up on a project in my life, not only in the week of Superdry’s execution in the desert at Afrikaburn, but also in the making of the Orca and the putting together of the project.

Some might immediately think this is because of financial reasons – although I did put quite a bit of my own money into the project without planning. I realized that is is quite easy for people to say something is ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing’, and a ‘good cause’, but that it is sadly very hard for most people to open their wallets and put their money where their mouths are.
Mid project I suffered a big financial loss due to material that the manufacturer delivered wrongly and refused to take back without taking off a 50{f0ed65790db1c1e675dc100867a55615804ea90784d58167e10a51c0b899c39c} handling fee. This also resulted in me carrying transport costs both ways (to and from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back) for the material.

I see this as a lesson learnt about humans – and I appreciate the artwork teaching me this.
Therefore I can say with confidence the reason I wanted to give up was not the money.
One of the reasons I wanted to give up (before Superdry was in the desert) was maybe influenced a tiny little bit by this lesson learnt on the nature of humans, but it was not near enough to make me give up on Superdry.

My spirit was quickly lifted by people’s comments and gifts, love and support once Superdry was in the desert, to remind me that there are some amazing people in this life.

Picture: Ruben Kruger

Picture: Jonx Pillimer Photography

Picture: Michael Wilson

Taking Luke with for me meant a whole lot of attention needed to go into making sure he was safe and okay, but it also added a hell of a lot of stress on Mike.

Both Luke and Mike was really ill at the start of the festival already.
Mike nevertheless stepped up, took charge and in the first four days of the festival pushed in every single way to execute Superdry the best we could.

I did not think it would be that distracting taking Luke.

Mike changed this artwork from a solo piece to a collaboration as soon as we landed in the desert.
From the Sunday we arrived we spent time at the artwork, went back to camp to eat, and then back to the artwork every day till Thursday morning, despite the exhausting and extreme heat.

Mike even rebuilt a scooter completely as a service vehicle to attend to the artwork faster and with more ease.

Follow @murdercycles to see more of Michael Daniel’s work on motorcycles to machines of any kind. Picture: Stafanie Vos

Although I enjoyed every single minute with Luke, I appreciated the fact that he saw the festival from the camp and from the Orca (this was more than enough for a five year old imagination to process, I think).

I was so happy he saw us working hard and working together to bring something to the festival for people to enjoy.

He is five only, but I knew he appreciated us working so hard. He hardly complaining about anything albeit being ill, and taking immense pride in the Orca and our family effort.

nevertheless had to make sure he was protected from the sun, wasn’t hungry or close to dehydrated and I obviously had to do many trips to the camp and back to the artwork to fulfil basic needs of an ill five year old.

This left Mike in charge of Superdry solely, way more times than I had to take charge during this time.

I promised Mike my full attention from the Thursday I get back with the others from Ceres (once Luke was dropped off). We were both sure it would be a little less intense and we could probably enjoy a drink or two in the evenings and maybe even have a party the Saturday night at our Orca.
I left with Lukie the Thursday morning, the sprayer system on Superdry was still not functioning a hundred percent.

The amount of things one need in the desert to keep a 9m Orca inflated, whilst spraying out water with a water pump connected to a huge tank of water (that had to be organised too), with no electricity was a mammoth task, both before and at the festival.

I was so worried I did not get it all right before we left for Afrikaburn, and it bothered me the first few days of festival.

Mike in high spirits looking forward (just like me) to the downtime and the focus I could (again) add to the artwork once dropping Luke, assured me he would do everything he can to have it all functioning properly on my return late Thursday afternoon.

Little did we know this would be the highest point our spirits would reach for the duration of our festival, and for a long while after.

After dropping Luke and meeting up with the others, I still needed to make two calls to check on our three beautiful doggies before there was no signal again on the long gruelling gravel road ahead of our return.

Before I could make the calls, a voice note from the vet came through.

Our one doggy died in the most tragic accident imaginable.

My heart broke.

My heart broke for the youngest of our three beautiful doggies, with the most captivating little spirit.

He had such a short life.

We could not fetch him as we promised him before leaving.

My heart broke for our other two doggies that loved and accepted the new baby from the first day. How could we explain to them where he had gone?

We dropped the older two at the kennel and the baby with a friend as he was too young to be at the kennel.

How would they understand how we just don’t bring one of our family members home?
My heart broke for Luke for having to deal with such a tragic loss at such a young age.
Mostly my heart broke for Mike.

Our family was left broken. One member missing.

We would return from Afrikaburn and it would never be the same.

I blamed myself for making an artwork and putting my family under so much pressure.

I wanted to blame the artwork – I hated it – I never wanted it up – I was planning on returning to Tankwa, fetching Mike and packing up immediately, to desperately try preserve what was left of my family.

Stefanie insisted on driving.

I was shaking.

She drove back all the way, talking to me, and helping me – I was so grateful for this amazing friend.

Again someone just stepped up as soon as I felt I had no control anymore.

All I remember was seeing Afrikaburn in the distance and thinking I was approaching hell.
I had no idea how I was going to tell Mike once I saw him.

I found Mike at the artwork.

Everything was perfect with Superdry – he fixed everything – he worked harder on that artwork whilst in the desert than I ever did.

Picture: Ruben Kruger

Picture: Jonx Pillimer Photography

It was OUR artwork.
Of art I learned that no one owns an artwork.

I learned that I don’t want to own an artwork ever again.

It again became so clear to me that with any artwork, the concept can’t be separated from the journey, and that the journey alone can’t hold up to the concept without the perfect execution.
I told Mike the saddest news I have ever had to tell anyone, and our hearts broke together.
Not wanting to lose a single thing more, we set up Superdry every day for the duration of the festival – we now desperately in our minds, more than anything wanted the artwork to have more meaning to us, to cover our unimaginable loss.

I prayed for a god damn revolution.

For our broken family to somehow be shown the artwork was worth more than what we lost – that it was worth it.

I felt so selfish for making it!

Needless to say, Superdry – the giant 9m long fuzzy Orca could never replace our doggie, our larger than life, 15cm long, fuzzy fur ball with the biggest personality.
We were left with a giant gap in our hearts, and our family was torn apart.
Nothing could make up for the loss of this little life, never ever.
We loved him so much.

Somehow persisting and putting up Superdry every day did bring some solace.
I think from here on we (me and Mike) both felt the same way – we cared for this artwork more than anything at this festival from this point on – we wanted more from it (we wanted everything we lost from it), and although it could never replace our doggy or fix our broken family, it did bring solace.

Every time someone came and thanked me, I told them it was both me and Mike’s work (because it rightfully is).

Every thanks and every comment was more beautiful and more personal than ever before.
I wanted to share them all with Mike.

I particularly remember on the same evening I got back from Ceres, we were around the artwork and one girl kept saying it was her favourite piece of art she has ever seen. She kept saying: ‘’He is such a good boy’’ – I walked away in a surge of the most intense emotion – I could not speak – She came to me and said it again. I tried through my tears to tell her that I appreciate her comment, but it was just that our doggy died, and that’s what we said to him so many times.
She hugged me the longest biggest hug and said: ‘’Well’ he is such a good boy’, and thanked me again for making him.

Another guy said to me (also the same evening) after hugging the whale somewhere close to the sprayer by his blowhole that he loved hugging the Orca so much, that it was ‘like your doggy pressing his wet nose against you.’

After gaining control for what felt like the millionth time in those few hours, it was here that I realized not the biggest fluffiest thing would ever be enough to make up for our loss.
That it is in the life of the living things, that we experience wholeness, and comfort.
These comments saved me.

My friends saved me – Stefanie took the most amazing footage and pictures when she knew we just could not be bothered in that moment and in our grief to worry about the memory of our artwork living on, but not our doggy.

Our whale has a dorsal fin that could either be displayed up or down in the spirit of the soft toys sold at aquariums.

These toys contrary to the whales they represent in captivity have upright dorsal fins. The dorsal fin of our whale became a symbol to me not only of human ignorance, but if displayed upright it symbolizes happiness and freedom, if displayed down it symbolises sadness, ignorance and entrapment in sympathy with animals and people in physical and figurative captivity.)
Despite me feeling so sad the entire festival that I never wanted to put the dorsal fin up, people kept popping it up by themselves.

It was nice seeing this constant search for happiness by people, their constant yearning for beauty.

It made me realize that it takes physical change sometimes to be(come) happy again. In some ways this too gave me hope when I look back now.

Picture: Stefanie Vos

Picture: StefanieVos

To Mike I can only say that you taught me how to collaborate on every level in life – and I will collaborate with you in life forever if you’d let me. You are so dynamic and so strong and Superdry could have never existed without you, I could never exist without you.

I want to thank every person that took the time out to come thank us for our artwork, to every person that hugged our Orca, stroked or wrote messages in his fur, to every beautiful comment I heard that reminded me of why I do art despite the things we lose in life, and maybe even because of the things we lose in life. I am grateful for this experience to each and every one of you.

Picture:Stefanie Vos

Picture: Stefanie Vos

Picture: Stefanie Vos

Steven Mullins @ Manipulating Light

Stefanie and Mike – you two are my forever people!
I love you guys more than life.