Robert Weinek

Robert Weinek

Brian Eno

Brian Eno


Artist, curator and founder of Johannesburg's famous Bob's Bar, Robert Weinek gives his impressions of a recent visit by cultural icon Brian Eno

In early March, Brian Eno, the grand master of ambient and generative music, arrived in South Africa for a series of workshops. These were organised by John Turest Swartz from the Contemporary African Music and Art Archive (CAMA) at the University of Cape Town, and were the first of the 'African Alchemy' projects. The British Council, I guess, supplied more than just the tea and snacks.

The Johannesburg workshops were held at the Newtown Precinct Mega Music Warehouse, and the Cape Town leg at the airport-like Baxter Theatre. This was a fitting venue to work with a man who created a series of ambient recordings called 'Music for Airports'.

The first I knew of my participation in this event was a few weeks before the date when someone passed me in the street and said "See you at Eno's workshop!" I responded by asking "Why me?", to which the retort was, "Because you need a kick in the butt!" I sure got that creative kick in the butt...

Let's begin at the beginning. The workshop programme was divided into two days - this is how I remember it.
Day 1: Tea and snacks. Meet Brian. Lunch. Break into groups
Day 2: Workshop with musicians

Eno arrives and gets wired to cameras via a lapel microphone. This is a cause of much irritation for him throughout the day as he trips and entangles himself frequently. Eno asks us what we do and we respond pretty straightforwardly, except for Andrew Putter and Peet Pienaar who decide that they are liars, and Randy Hartzenburg who admits that he is just a fan. The introductory notes explicitly say, "No questions to Eno about U2 or David Bowie."

Eno hands each of us a note on which he has written a "hidden agenda". We have to make this agenda felt during the workshop. My agenda says, "Make something out of media junk."

Eno leads us through a random travelogue of his creative ventures - past, present and future. He shows us the way he structures his projects by building a loose framework within which the anarchy of creativity can take place. Examples: By using his own custom-made Tarot/I-ching cards, he helped U2 formalise their new sound. By pulling out the card which read, "make music without musicians", he sent U2 in a new direction. With David Bowie he whispered different musical instructions to the musicians. At first it was chaotic but gradually a whole new sound emerged.

By twisting a few strands of the creative flow he is able to produce something cutting edge or avant garde, not marginalised but something as popular as U2, who fill stadiums the world over. For me this was a powerful reminder that one can work in the post-modernist world and still be heard and seen without compromising one's ideals.

After the workshop, I realised that our ideas were headed down the same road as Eno's. We identified strongly with his approach and techniques. Peet Pienaar, a participant, summed up our general feeling in one word: we felt "affirmed".

A few weeks after the workshop, the good feelings continued when each participant received this letter:

Dear Capetonians

I know this is a bit like a form letter and I apologise for that. I just couldn't face writing 43 individual ones! I wanted to thank you all for your participation in these two days we did together. Thanks to John (Turest Swartz), we had a volatile and fruitful mix of talents and perceptions. I really enjoyed it and sincerely hope you did. Of course, I'd be thrilled if this led on to something else, but I wouldn't be disappointed if it didn't - I had a really rewarding time and enjoyed your company and your city, and I hope you got something useful from it too.

As an outsider, a couple of things strike me that might interest you. The first thing is how nice everyone was - not too much "attitude" and yet a lot of genuine soul and depth, and an abundance of surprising and fresh thoughts. The second was how willing everyone seemed to throw themselves into an experiment - no jaded shrugging of shoulders, just a "can-do approach" which seemed to say "hey! why the hell not?" I guess this is the way I try to be too but I come from a country (and continent) which often acts as though it's seen everything and there can't possibly be anything interesting left to do. I'm so pleased to see that you haven't picked up that infection. Please don't.

I think I saw in you instead the strength, power and courage (and the tinge of inspired lunacy!) of a new culture, bursting with ambitions and possibilities - and yet with a fantastic resource of history and experience from which to draw. I had a really good feeling about this place, and I have to thank all of you for that. I'm sure that, for you live here, there must be a caveat: "but you only saw the good side", and perhaps that's true, But for us Europeans, who expected nothing less than total chaos and endless bloodbath in South Africa, the existence of any kind of stability is in itself notable. And the fact that you have that stability and much more is really remarkable. Things could have been dreadful here, and they aren't. That shows a depth and generosity of character which one hopes will inform everything that subsequently happens here.

More and more I sense that it's in countries likes yours that the future will be made. I'd like to be part of that process.

Best wishes and I really hope there'll be the a chance to see you again.

Brian Eno

- Brian Eno on the net: If your computer can manage javascript, take a look at to get random reception of Eno's own-design cards. Or check out Eno's web site at




The site in Cape Town's
St George's Mall
for the proposed new

Public Sculpture Competition

Only 15 days left - till May 15 - before initial entry forms must be received by the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town if you wish to take part in the 1998 Public Sculpture Competition. This competition, the second sponsored by the JK Gross Trust, is open to "all persons regionally, nationally and internationally".

The site is the bandstand in Lower St George's Mall near Waterkant Street in central Cape Town (and yes, they are going to remove that dinky little cupola to accommodate the new work). The prize is R30 000 with a materials, labour and installation budget of up to R50 000. For further information or the necessary entry forms, contact Estelle Jacobs at the AVA on 021 24-7436.


Cover of the new handbook

New Handbook on Arts and Culture

Knowledge is power, they say, and armed with The South African Handbook on Arts and Culture 1998, artists and curators will finally be able to see exactly where to go to generate the patronage and funds they need to get a particular project going. Completely indispensable breakdowns of who is who in governmental art structures, budgets, awards, media - excluding all electronic media like this column - it's all here. Another little gap to be filled in next year's edition: a more complete listing of Cape Town galleries. But that's a minor quibble. The price is R250 and the e-mail address


A tapestry by Allina Ndebele

Allina Ndebele in Holland

That admirable institution the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam, host to a stream of South African artists (more about that next month), is presenting the work of Allina Ndebele at the Museum de Stadshof in Zwolle from April 3 to September 27 this year.

Ndebele finds inspiration in local legends and stories told by her mother and grandmother, and, using handwoven wool which she paints herself, she recreates these stories and myths into large, intensively coloured textiles at a weaving mill she built herself in a remote settlement near Swart-Mfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal.

News continued: Sue Williamson's Journal from New York

...ZA@PLAY   MWeb

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