Wednesday May 4
As I step off the plane at Durban airport, the soft moist Durban air brushes the skin of my arm, instantly familiar after an absence of 15 years. One could never mistake this silky air for the dry crispness of Gauteng, or Cape Town's bracing blast. I'm here for the two day Young Artists Project seminar, organised by Storm Janse van Rensburg of the NSA Gallery. Other invited speakers on the second day will be David Koloane, Khwezi Gule and Rory Bester.
We're booked into the Blue Waters Hotel, opposite the Snake Park on the beachfront. Wonderfully kitsch, I remember it from the days of my extreme youth when I lived in Durban.
Just off the lobby there is the Dolphin Room, with a blue mosaic-ed kidney shaped indoor pool on one side of the ballroom sized room. I note that Correctional Services (the department of prisons) are having a function here tonight. Would love to invite myself to this as a video observer, but for us there is a cocktail party in the Red Room of the Durban City Hall, an opening event for the YAP programme.
All the visiting participants are staying at the Blue Waters, and one of the highlights of the visit will be getting to know the charming Zambian artist Anawana Haloba, now studying in Norway. Anawana is marrying her Norwegian fiance in Zambia in the next few months, and is made to promise that she will send us a photo of herself in her designer wedding dress.
Thursday May 5
I've heard so much about the YAP programme, that I'm really interested to see what the artists who have participated in the programme have done, and I'm not disappointed. I will write about this at more length in a special focus on KZN this month.
Doung Jhanseer is a partner in a progressive and community minded architectural practice in the city, and it is our pleasure this afternoon to be taken on a guided walk by him through the city. We are led from Musgrave Centre, the shopping centre up on the Berea, down the hill, alongside the highway, the main traffic artery into town. We pass many other walkers, all black - for those who wish to save or do not have R2 taxi fare, this is the way into the city from Cato Manor.
Doung guides us through the astonishing Warwick Triangle, an area of homeless
people camping out in the ruins of once-sturdy homes burned down in the apartheid era by the security police because the residents then were of all races. And it's on to the market, an enormous buzzing sprawl where everything is sold - sheeps heads are being chopped and grilled for customers, and on to the muti market, selling all manner of roots, seeds and barks for medicinal and spritual purposes. Even local artist Gabi Ngcobo can't persuade the sellers to tell us what some are used for.
The walk ends down by the harbour, at the Bat Centre, a little haven of local art, music and drama, and allegedly under threat of closure because it is too close to the waters edge, and new US regulations will not allow American ships to dock in harbours which might in any way pose a security risk. If I've got my facts right.
Friday May 6
This morning is conference morning, at the Diakonia Centre, with papers being presented by the invited speakers. The theme: Back(s) to Africa: contemporary practice and our links with the continent. About 100 people attend, and hear Storm Janse van Rensburg give the background and history of the YAP project, David Koloane discuss the Bag Factory and how it came into being, and curator Khwezi Gule, critic Rory Bester and I make various points about the state of South African art world and the difficulties of true transformation.
Monday May 9
Back in Cape Town, I have a show opening on Wednesday, at Joao Ferreira, and on this particular morning it is quite clear that it would have been much better if I had not spent time in Durban the previous week, but remained here in my studio in Cape Town attending to final details.
Wednesday May 11
Everything has come together though not without considerable effort and enormous goodwill on the part of the various production people who laminate images, laser cut steel, studweld and powdercoat it, drill holes in walls at very precise intervals and do all the other things which this particular exhibition requires.
I am happy with the way the show looks - it is the 'Hotels and Better Lives' show which was at the Goodman in April, and the opening night crowd seems to be friendly. Big hug from Zwelethu who warms my heart by putting a green 'reserved' dot on one piece.
Friday May 13
Can't believe I'm on the plane to Durban again. This time, it is courtesy of the DDC (Durban Designer Collection) meets Red Eye, and we are booked into the Royal Hotel, mid town and smart in the international mode. A very different vibe to last week's Blue Waters Hotel.
As night descends, wander round the art installations outside the city hall, go upstairs for a drink in an almost empty bar adjoining the balcony, and wonder where all the people are. Apart from those who are lining up to take their seats inside the City Hall for the fashion show, there are not a lot of people around.
The fashion show is fab, featuring a cast of more than 300 models, artists, musicians, singers, designers and performers.with most young designers throwing all restraint out of the window and layering all manner of influences and hues madly to produce a kaleidoscopic and completely over the top show. A really nice touch was the live performances from singers as the models strutted down the ramps.
The winning designers were Rozanne Immerman and Sifiso Mthethwa.
The Red Eye artists awards went to the Bat Centre for their container, the performance award to the Cato Manor Fitness Centre for their energetic aerobics and and the Red Eye Historic Moment Award going to Francesca Verga, with her gentle installation of woolly coat hangers.
Saturday May 14
Meet with Carol Brown and Red Eye curator Tamlyn Martin outside the City Hall for a post mortem on last night's events. Both maintain that attendances were way below what they should have been. Tamlyn offers to write something for ArtThrob about her perceptions of the event.
Go back with Carol into the City Hall, and persuade her to take me through a warren of interleading passages into the impressive dome of the building, a dome which houses three evocative circular spaces one above the other. Now empty and the last resting places of myriads of cockroaches, it is easy to imagine these spaces used for video installations, sculptures, performances, a plan which is on the city's schedule.
Looking down at the city from the walkway round the dome, one can see the markets and the Saturday morning streets packed with activity. My whole impression of Durban is of a city revelling in its own transformation.