Words by Solar Santa with Isa Marques, May 2020
Photos by Isa and Jade Holling (featured image by Carmel Ives)
Solar Santa’s Burn boots continue their virtual journey into the heartland of HomeBurn 2020. This time we are in the Bo-Kaap with one of the legends of Tankwa Town. Ever wondered where all those magical art pieces on the Binnekring sprang from? How they are all arranged so as not to burn down open camping? Meet the lady whose daunting task it is to coordinate hundreds of artworks every year. This time around it is in a virtual world. Bring your coffee. You’re in for a treat.
[NB: If you’ve missed this series so far, go check out part 1 here, and part 2 here.]
Isa Marques, photo by Jade Holling
SS = Solar Santa; IM = Isa Marques
SS: I have never submitted artwork so have never had the pleasure of working with you.
IM: Yes, I was just now telling Nathan about it. That I never had much interaction with you, as our action radii haven’t overlapped all that much.
SS: Do you get to approve the artworks?
IM: Artworks do NOT need to be approved!
SS: What is your job then?
IM: My job is not to judge nor censor, my job is to enable the creative intentions of our community. The traditional definition of art does not apply at AfrikaBurn. That is why we prefer to call it Creative Projects, and I will cajole anyone who wants to make anything (unless it’s something against our ethos).
The most beautiful thing about my job is not the beautiful artworks made by very capable artists. Of course, we love beautiful artworks, but I get my kicks from the creative crews more than from their creations.
We love beautiful things, and witnessing people excited about putting themselves out of their comfort zone is a beautiful thing. Other examples of beautiful things in this context are:
– Create something out of nothing: resourcefulness, frugal panties, ingenuity, scavenging, and sheer determination, etc.
– Build community: call out for volunteers with jigsaws and make a braai in someone’s backyard, rather than call out for money donations to pay for cnc (professional) cutting.
– Skills exchange: Teach something to a group of people, while you learn something from those people. This is often referred to as Community Upliftment, but in my opinion both parts gain, therefore it’s an exchange, not a one-way gift.
– Enjoy yourself, your team and your project: make a happy artwork, invest in its character. Expensive sleek installations with professional quality are only as beautiful as the heart and soul that they carry.
SS: Wow!! That sounds like you really enjoy your job. And you understand what art at the Burn is all about. It is said that if cajoling an art piece into completion isn’t working they can expect a large boot up the backside. Is that true?
IM: My cajoling work starts waaaaay before it can be late. Again, it’s about the best way of doing things, not about the final product. It’s not a fail until you tried at least 3 times! I’m attaching a photo of my usual footwear: all soft and small. And if I had to use them on anyone who is doing something, it would be by putting it forward (I have two best ‘foots’!)
Isa’s boots, photo by Isa Marques
SS: Helping to put their best foot forward. What a wonderful management technique.
SS: I believe you were holed up in Sutherland with Nathan for the lockdown. Did he drive you crazy?
IM: I wasn’t. Otherwise, probably we would have driven each other a little bit crazy, yes. But I’m sure we would also have lots of fun. I live in a lovely neighborhood in Cape Town, called Bo-Kaap. I have a little bit of an outside space in front of the house with a very nice view; and another little bit of outside space in the back of the house with lots of little toys that I like to play with. So I have been very comfortable! Nathan came to the Bo-Kaap last Thursday and we are having a lovely time.
SS: HomeBurn art came from many directions. How did you manage to herd all the cats so far apart?
IM: HomeBurn Art came from all over the place, and very quickly! The difficult part wasn’t people’s geographical location, it was the sheer volume of people wanting to participate. Hundreds of emails! How did we manage? With maaaaaaaaaaaaaany hours of work.
SS: Were you involved in the super jape of the burning of the Mighty Bench? I must admit that I was completely fooled and I know that Monique was pissed off at the time.
IM: I wasn’t. JP and I were talking, but all he told me was that he had a surprise burn planned for Friday, and he wouldn’t tell me what it was. Monique was very upset indeed. From my side, I think I was surprised, more than anything else, that he would do something like burning the Mighty Bench. In any case, it was a very busy time and I didn’t quite have the time to experience strong feelings of any sort.
SS: Which artwork impressed you the most on HomeBurn?
IM: Our Creative Community is what most impresses me! Every time! I am very lucky that I have the privilege of working with this amazing bunch of wonderful people! Each Artist/Collective and each Artwork is so unique in their story, motivations, and ways of doing things, one can’t really compare them and decide on a favourite. I’m impressed that so many of our usual artists, and some many new ones, stepped up and did something.
SS: Do you think this will heighten the desire for art entrants for Quaggafontein 2021?
IM: I think so, that it opened the door a bit wider. I think that many people have been wanting to build something in Tankwa Town, but I believe that the thought of actually doing it can be quite intimidating. Now, many people got the chance of building something small-ish in a ‘comfort zone’, and got to demystify the thing a bit. At the same time, many got hooked, because this is all a little addictive, isn’t it?
SS: Do you spend a lot of time on the internet communicating with your art family?
IM: YES! On email and phone. I work full time and that is what I do most of the time. I’ve been trying to take a few days of leave but haven’t managed yet… Some of our artists are still wrapped up in their projects, some are planning new projects. Things are moving, ideas are happening, and it’s my job to enable them!
SS: What can you share with us that we do not know about HomeBurn. We only want happy stories.
IM: The HomeBurn itself is a happy story for me. I started working on it, without having any idea about how it was going to work. I carried on asking the Tech People, and they would explain something to me, but I just couldn’t understand what it was that they were talking about. I asked so many times, I think I managed to irritate them all, one by one. (Looking back, I think that they also didn’t quite know.)
And so, most of the project registration emails that I replied to, I didn’t actually know what to say, I just had to wing it left, right and centre and keep on coming back to give and ask more info to that participant. The whole Saturday was a nightmare. I couldn’t understand anything, and it seemed that nothing was working. And suddenly, on Sunday morning, everything made sense! We worked very hard, but what a pleasure! We even managed to squeeze in some ‘unscheduled burns’!
A little secret: My favourite part of the HomeBurn was to see the victory on my colleagues’ faces. I feel very privileged to be part of, to be there and witness, first hand when we all realised that we were fucking nailing it! Like a goddamn team of Pros! My most, most, most favourite part, was to see Tim’s face on Sunday night! It is wonderful to see someone feeling so well-deservedly proud and happy! And I do love our Timothy James (Doyle)!
It’s always good to start wrapping up with a love story. Every Burner has experienced it on a scale that exists nowhere else.
My thanks to Isa, Nathan and Skippy for a magnificent insight into a world unseen by all of us outside of Burn HQ.
Want to read more Solar Santa? Click here for the Painted Boots and a Beard series. And if you wanna read the other parts of this series, part 1 and part 2 are easy enough.