<<Time, the earth, and death are living things, as stories are -
so long as other living things exist to feed them, and for them to nourish in their turn>>
Robert Bringhurst, 1995, Introduction to The Dreamer Awakes
by Alice Kane.
Memories of words spoken over and around fires, communal memories of folktales, histories, adages, personal recountings - this is the African spirit that we hope to evoke in virtual space: the spirit of the griot who holds the memory of mankind.
<<Time, the Earth, and Death are Living Things, as Stories are>>
is a crowdsourced and co-created digital storytelling exhibition which maps old and new stories of individuals from the North, South, East & West of the continent into a rich, interwoven platform that allows us to come to a new, collective understanding of what it means to be African in the digital age. Available online and on social media.
Curated by Elisabeth Efua Sutherland..
The world exists because we think it, (re)present it, tell stories about it. As Carl Jung said “who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Poem : Stream of Steam (Flux de Vapeur)
In the Vale Of Tears,
Everyone was on the lookout with weapons,
The mutilated souls met,
Exchanged and told of their ordeals,
This Vale was contrasted by a City,
A place where poetry and art were praised
There resided fairies and other entities,
The alogic and imaginary never ceased to resist,
This City was made of liquid roads,
An urban space made of mountains and reeds
ANZAR was its knight,
Technology was a close ally
Tears, sea or drinking water
They purify and disinfect us of our miserable fates,
Meanwhile,TANIT protects the Gates of Healing,
while we're in love with our prison
Screens everywhere, attention nowhere
An end that seems like a departure
This seemingly idyllic atmosphere
is like a sweet version of Plato’s cave,
Constantly in marvelous whirlwind
scrolling, many absurdities, fake truths;
Dans la Vallée des Larmes,
Tout le monde fut à l’affût avec des armes,
Les âmes mutilées se rencontrèrent,
Échangèrent et racontèrent leur calvaire,
Cette Vallée fut contrastée par une Cité,
Un endroit où la poésie et l’art furent félicitées
Il y résidait des fées et moult entités,
L’alogique et l’imaginaire ne cessent de militer,
Cette Cité a été faite de routes d’eau,
Un urbain fait de montagnes et de roseaux,
ANZAR en fut le chevalier,
La technologie fut une proche alliée
Larmes, mer ou eau potable
Elles purifient et désinfectent de tout sort lamentable,
TANIT entre-temps protège les portes de guérison
Tandis que nous sommes amoureux de notre prison
Écrans partout, attention nulle part
Une fin qui a l’air d’être un départ
Dans cette ambiance en apparence idyllique
Telle une cave édulcorée de Platon
Constamment dans le tourbillon féérique
des absurdités, des vérités en carton
In response to Efua’s provocation, I made several audio recordings of the building where I live in Eastern Johannesburg. The building is three stories high, 1930s Art Deco style, and stands on a corner, looking out at the famous Joburg skyline. My neighbours are families big and small, artists, workers, people in transit, long-time residents, from all over South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Malawi, DRC, Algeria via Côte d’Ivoire via Ghana via via via. Both beautiful and terrible things have happened here (an epithet for Earth?): birth, death, drugs, art, agriculture, religion, nudism, domestic violence, love-making, filmmaking, late-night psychotic episodes, theft, giving of gifts, growing of plants, all very close to one another.
The building itself is an incredible conductor of sound. I followed the music I could hear as I walked around the block, past doors and windows, through passages and around the inner car park. I’ve included tracks from the record collection at home: musical tangents of my own, pockets of nostalgia and sentiment. Combining these records with everyday sounds from the present gives me an opportunity to connect voices who have not met, may never meet, like the young voices of my father and daughter.
This response is part of a practice of making mixtapes with accompanying texts. The text can be read before, along with, or after listening.
To control death, to choose.
A choice to be here, or there.
Here being a pipe, a hole, a repeating pattern, a passage on all sides.
Here being a place, a very long moment - so thin.
There being anywhere else, a different geometry, a different set of laws.
There as in the other side of money, as in another space and time,
as in a place where I said something else, set us on an other course that didn’t end here.
Here as in I’m child again, lost in a shop, holding the wrong person’s hand.
Looking up, there, seeing a stranger at the other end of that hand.
The hand being the one with ten ivory bracelets,
all but two of which have snapped off one by one over the years.
The years being layers of fat that accumulated here.
Here being a memory of a kind of person and how he moved.
Moving being the way you wag your finger, shake your shoulders, suddenly bend to sneeze,
eyes squeezed shut.
Closed as in all the doors and windows when outside feels too loud and alive.
Alive like a plant. Alive like your mouth.
Alive inside. Aliving as arriving.
Arriving at The Cape by boat during an earthquake on an island near Angola.
Arriving as in already gone from there. There being another country.
A country being a large piece of land with a line drawn around it.
The line being the limit of thought. The thought being about death.
Death being close. Close meaning shadow. A shadow being either long or right on top of you.
Long death. Slow death. Slow being calm and calculated, smooth:
A long drink.
An exhalation of blue smoke sculpted by your lips. Your lips being the door. The door being open.
Open meaning come.
Coming being an acceleration, an approach, a convergence, a spreading out of skin.
Your skin being cold. Your skin warming again. Your organs put back in place, clean and new.
Your veins reopening.
The blood moving freely. Moving being urgent.
Blood being violent. Blood meaning time.
Time being sweeping.
Time being touch.
- Time being different when you hear this after my death -
Death being washing.
Washing meaning water.
Water being old.
Age being all.
All being nothing.
Being being dying.
Dying being dancing.
Dancing being music.
Music meaning meaning.
[Track list: ‘Mama’ by Hugh Masekela/The Boy’s Doin’ It, 1975; ___ by Taurai, 1991; ‘Nhasi’ by Thath’i Cover Okestra Vol. 5/Keleketla! Library, 2018; ‘Sorrows’ by Jabula/Jabula in Amsterdam/Banned in Republic of South Africa, 1978; ‘Perefere’ by Malombo/Rhythm of Resistance, 1978]
I move through life as an observer. The acts of looking and listening are very central to how I perceive time, space and the mixed realities of life. I live as a witness. I participate as a witness. When I learned the cosmic fact that ‘looking out into space is looking back into time’ I fell in love all over with the night sky. I was intrigued by the idea that looking out is looking back. For me the statement ‘Time, the Earth, and Death are Living Things, as Stories are’ would not exist independent of the witness. It felt natural to explore this theme by centering the observer, the onlooker. Here witnessing is not a passive state, but a complete participation.
After going through the exhibition, go for a walk and try to look people in the eye, hold the whole gaze and wonder how it feels to be seen.
The wall clock
He sat and stared at the wall clock, his probing eyes
Paying close attention to the second’s hand
Admiring how time accumulates
With the patience of a dripping faucet
Filling up drop by drop into a restless ocean
A multitude of drops, a multitude of seconds
One drop after another, drip, drip, tick, tock
This is how the universe filled up with billions of galaxies,
This is how the earth cooled itself into a blue marble
Working with the patience of a wall clock, drip, drip, tick, tock
The awareness of how time accumulates - made him dare to dream,
He spread a heavy blanket over his legs, closed his eyes
And listened to nothing else but the ticking wall clock,
He listened until time synched with his beating heart.
WHEN DEATH HAS COME TO CLAIM HIS RANSOM, WHO WILL SPEAK FOR YOU?
In human existence, death is not known to be talked back to. For one to gather courage to straighten death out is an unusual approach to evade dying. This story along with the intermission(song), speak of how Owuo (death), Mmer=(time) and Asaase(Earth), answer to each other with respect, even if demanded with the proverbial left hand, with which the owner claims his due. Each of these personalities are shown in this story, serving unique purposes in the scheme of divinity. Earth houses all the people that death would want to claim, and thus if Asaase does not keep his affairs in order, Owuo would have nothing to do. Therefore, it is only courteous that Owuo sends a message even if he wants to take Asaase up in death. Mmer= is seen as a messenger who sees to the affairs on earth to the end of death. These three elements are thus interdependent persons whose co-existence ensures balance in Onyankop`n’s universe. This metaphor is by extension, to all persons, to be courteous to each other, since we each depend on the other to make life meaningful. ‘Bi dan bi’ (one depends on the other) as the Akan proverb goes, is one of the predominant motifs of this moral fabric. In telling truth to power as well, one does not necessarily have to be arrogant; once you know your worth.
It is a matter of courtesy, and urgency, the more, which drives a stranger to ask for directions. Not that he is not lost, but it sheds a bit of his ego and assures him that he is finding the right way. However when a visitor wants to be well-received, it is a sign of respect as well as a guarantee of a proper welcome, to send word ahead to the host.
But you might have noticed how death is both an expected yet unexpected stranger and visitor who does not send word ahead of his arrival, nor ask for direction. He has many faces and has been called many names by almost everybody, yet, I am sure that few have even ever met or shared word with him.
Others fear to even speak his name, especially in the mature hours of the day, for fear of attracting his attention, and along with his retinue of ghosts, captured or being escorted. Yet, I, the harvester of dreams and dew, and listener-to of the dead beats of the deep, have met, broken word and kola, and dared to teach him a few manners. Let me tell you how that day passed.
Owuo is my backdoor neighbour and tenant, along with Kwaku Ananse and every other character held in folklore that you could name. He feasts on his mixed reputation, of being feared as a hunter; hailed as a saviour and commended as an efficient servant of Onyankop`n, depending on the hood he dons.
One tuesday, I returned home from my many travels, to find a note summoning me to the supreme court of Onyankop`n, for inhospitable behaviour towards one of His many messengers. I read the letter to the end, only to find that it was Owuo who had laid the charges.
I was careful to select my finest kente cloth and ahenema to match, and made my way to the court without delay. In such cases, there was no time to engage lawyers; the litigants had to speak for themselves, leaving the Almighty to be swift judge.
Owuo told of how he bore an urgent message, yet he knocked for a long time at my door without any response, and of how we could not find me at any of my usual spots. He also could not risk asking anyone of my whereabouts, for fear that they might misread his intentions. With his matter set out, I was summoned to mount my defence.
‘Onyankop`n, to everyone, their due, I would like to answer this matter with a song:
‘Owuo d33fo`, s3 w`soma wo a,
W`soma wo s3 b3fa me tu mpforimu a,
Se woba na s3 wob3to me buo pan a,
Ka kyer3 )b`ade3 s3 m’annhy3 da. (2x)
Na m’atu owuo ahy3 da
O, m’annhy3da (3x)
I AM THE WRITER-KING WHO SIPS COMMUNION WINE FROM THE CALABASH……….MPANINSꜪM
Owuo d33fo` e, na mennim s3 wooba
O, m’annhy3da (3x)
W’annkra me s3 wooba.
This matter has yet to be closed; Death is arrogant and has to learn manners; I am ‘Asaase’.