Tilt Republic. Johannesburg. New York. Cape Town. London.

The Lilian Ngoyi Street Papers: a prologue

I remember a twisted comrade walking ripped down Cape Town’s CBD streets at 6 in the morning. A walking pharmacopoeia of contraband. He told me this once, I wasn’t there. The onslaught of chemicals had fried and dried him so severely that the need for hydration, any liquid, had sprung on him with a feint undertone of medical necessity. It had been raining, just moments before, and the gutters were overflowing. So he drank. Yes, he drank from the city, a rich metaphor, without the metaphor part. They say romance is dead.

I don’t know if that’s the kind of relationship I could sustain with Johannesburg, not on a long-term basis, but who thinks long-term nowadays? The take away from my comrade’s sordid parable is closeness, an intimacy. Something I want with this ‘now’, a now situated in Johannesburg.

The question remains, what does it mean to live in a city? Really live. There’s appreciation and interaction. Emotive exchanges, financial and social transactions, but there’s also the other side. The vices, dipping one’s wick, altering one’s consciousness, the filthy come beauteous come cum. I’m pretty congruent to the realm of the latter. Drugs, prostitution, public drinking and street fighting all seem like acceptable and logical pastimes to me. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be inducted into Joburg’s street walking elect.

smiling lady on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi & Jobert. Image by CS

SMILING LADY (on the corner of Lilian Ngoyi & Jobert. Image by CS)

So, what’s my strategy? A fuck ton of interviews, snapshots of people- that’s what a city boils down to after all, the people. Architecture plays its part, but a subsidiary one. Growing in intimacy with a city can only be premised on the conversations had with its inhabitants. The buildings will never be unimportant, I love them for their sheer sheerness. An echoing disregard to nature’s efforts, ‘look how well we do without you’, and we are. My long standing feud with Gia is for another time, but I will say she’s cruel and kitsch and deserving of confrontation.

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BUILDING (From Eloff Street, by Christopher Steenkamp)

 

Back to the impasse of courting a CBD, the pitfalls are obvious, I can read the headlines now.

“Embedded white boy shakes down the working class for artistic credentials.”
“First world troll animates the News24 comments section in carefully disguised thought experiments.”
“Saviour liberates the working class people of Johannesburg from the certitudes of relevance.”

The whole thing balances on the edge of wank.
Like Stephen Jeffreys scribbled, ‘any exercise in interest will always be at your own expense.’ Expense and risk are this thing’s currency. In exchange I’ll applaud the surreal in every, or rather any, beat I choose. Factual reporting can kiss my balls, a tedious place filled with austere bean counting prefects, the kind that hauled me in front of the headmaster for smoking. I , like Weingarten’s gang, refuse to write straight. Transposing the now cannot be embellished upon enough, or so says I. Of course we need the Richard Callands of this world to stay exactly where they are and do as they do, but I am no such. I’ll leave you with the prologue from the 2004 masterpiece ‘The Libertine.’

GLUT. (digital drawing by christopher steenkamp)

GLUT. (digital drawing by christopher steenkamp)

“That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I hope. I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.”