Click here to buy Michael Proudfoot’s new album…
I didn’t expect to be in Soweto last Thursday morning but having been cancelled due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, our “fixer” Mike asked if there was anywhere in particular we’d like to see before catching the night flight back to London. He’d mentioned Soweto a little earlier in the shoot saying it was only twenty minutes from the centre of Johannesburg. Mike, ex South African army and special forces has probably seen and done things that most of us would shrink from, he’d just returned from an expedition escorting press photographers into Libya; the kind of mission that required his “trusty 9mm” and probably something a little heavier.
My memories of the events of the mid seventies that triggered the beginning of the end of Apartheid were misty at best, still in my mid Art School haze probably. I was surprised by how moved I was by the memorial to Hector Pieterson, a 12 year old boy who was shot and killed when the police opened fire on schoolchildren demonstrating against a government decree that only Afrikaans not English would be taught in their schools. Mike explained that only being able to speak Afrikaans meant that opportunities to work and study elsewhere in the world were deliberately restricted. It was a repressive educational policy – language used as a weapon to enslave people. I think it was the fact that they were school kids, brave and bright enough to rebel against the system that had squashed the potential of their forbears that brought a tear to my eye. Mike then drove us to 8115 Orlando in West Soweto, the home that Nelson Mandela shared with Winnie as a young married couple and where Winnie stayed with their children throughout Nelson’s imprisonment. It’s a humble one storey, brick built house with a corrugated iron roof. Some of the original furniture remains, including the great man’s favourite chair, a dining table, a bed and lots of memorabilia. Our guide, Jane, pointed to a tree in the garden where Winnie still returns with the umbilical chords of the grandchildren to bury them at its roots. Video interviews with the Mandela family and their friends play on a couple of discrete plasma screens. We were being tourists but the atmosphere and weight of history in the place hung in the air, an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.
Posted by Eddie on May 11th 2011 at 12.48pm
‘Never Work with Children or Animals’…
Give a classroom of kids a piece of paper and a pen and they are already visibly itching to start scribbling. They play with the pencils impatiently, eyes wide waiting for instruction. Ask them to draw their own museum, a children’s museum with anything that they want in it to learn and to play with. Instantly the noise begins, the scratching of cheap felt tip pens, paper shuffling, whispering, yelps of excitement. Their heads are brimming with ideas, tumbling out through their fumbling fingers so fast that the pages are already filling up…
Walk around and see inflatable towers with slides and red running water, marbles, bugs and bubbles. Climb over the moat, up the ladder and inside through a spiralling puzzle quest – you have to get all of the answers right before the golden knight lets you in. Inside there are Romans and mummies and fairies who show you around. There are plastic children from all around the world telling you about their lives. See your house in London a hundred years ago, who lived there? Go into the dinosaur room and dodge the pterodactyl. A volcano erupts – run from the lava! An earthquake shakes the room. Another room has pens and paints and ladders with lots of little boxes. Climb in and draw all over the walls. The rainbow room has a river and a waterfall and clouds. Condensation runs down the window. Flowers grow inside with butterflies and spiders, ladybirds and beetles. Dig out a costume from a big rabbit hole and become a bug yourself. Go inside of the body and see a giant heart beating. Watch your skeleton dancing. The only way out is to board a pirate ship and set the sail.
These are just a few of the ideas that have come from a series of creative workshops that the proudfoot company have been filming for the London Children’s Museum. The thing that struck me is the speed the ideas flow, straight from imagination to paper, bold and fearless in front of all to see. Contrast that with a ‘creative workshop’ for adults and you will see furrowed brows, bitten nails, bins of overflowing balls of paper, quiet concentrated sketches and words slowly developing. Everyone knows the famous film-making saying ‘never work with children or animals’ but perhaps there’s a lot for us to learn from the confident and unsystematic way that they communicate their ideas.
Posted by conor on May 5th 2011 at 2.29pm
Now and Then
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Einstein
Over the many bank holidays that were littered throughout April and early May I have got to thinking about museums. Proudfoot are making a set of films for an organisation called Museummaker. In essence, they are a group that introduces contemporary artists and craftspeople to museums. The meeting is then expected to result in the production of something interesting. A combining of the old and the new…
The day after learning that we would be making these films I left for a holiday in New York with my wife. During a particularly heavy rainfall we decided to dash in to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s an amazing place that makes you excited about what people are capable of creating. While I was settling in to a jet lag battling cup of tea with Beth we chatted about what we had seen. In our minds there were two kinds of large stone buildings that you wander around to escape the rain; museums and galleries. These are categories that have never been questioned since we were first dragged around [insert stone building here] as children. The Met, though, was both museum and gallery. There are awe inspiring examples of Greek armour, Alaskan Tlingit totems depicting ravens as the originators of The Universe, 19th Century French Furniture so beautiful you wonder if you could get them back on the plane without anyone noticing, paintings by Cezanne, drawings by Richard Serra…
The fact that all of these things are included under one (watertight) roof isn’t only a great thing because it removes boundaries and gives us exciting combinations, it also has an added educational value. Native Alaskan people didn’t all walk around with beautifully ornate ceremonial outfits and intricately carved charms any more than we walk around with Alexander McQueen dresses on while we hop on the 38 bus. Cultures and eras are treated equally by celebrating their artistic masterpieces side by side.
We shouldn’t allow the big stone buildings that show us art and artefacts to lazily present them to us in neatly arranged, stagnating ghettos of creativity. The only real difference between an old work of art and a new one is that the artist is probably dead. I think this is what Museummaker is all about.
Posted by Eddie on May 3rd 2011 at 3.58pm