AfrikaBurn: Solace

In the Tankwa, anything can happen. The crisp sunlight touches everything with silver hues and fractured stone speak of the merciless elements. The blue mountains on the horizon frame the vastness of the sky and clouds with a beauty that words cannot describe. The stars shine brighter there, dawn and dusk appear as mercurial rainbow backdrops to this foreign and wild sweep of Earth.

13 nights later, the artwork titled "Solace" has been completed. I am exhausted. The very last ashes have been swept away and the final nail retrieved. This has been a build like no other and it is has been most rewarding. A set intention, good planning, structured teamwork and generous attitudes have been fundamental in realising this vision. It was not easy, Afrikaburn 2012 "Mirage" came like warm sunrise and left like a sandstorm, there was rain, hail, cold, heat and many moments to give up.

Solace had a well defined intention to bring about a sense of honour, awe and reverence. The structure had qualities that made it more of a holding space connected to the earth rather than an object placed upon it. A flamelike fortress breaking the horizon the two flamelike doorways were positioned to align with the setting Sun, a tribute to the great "death" of each day. As the Sun dropped through the passage, the heavy outline of the sculpture framed the light, thereby "lighting" the flame of the doorways. It offered itself as a place of refuge.

The untreated plywood nailed to the framework acted like a multi faceted skin, reflecting the appearance of flicking flames. During the day the light golden colour contrasted well with the gentle hues of the desert landscape and the turquoise sky. Positioned far out of the "binnekring", Solace acted as a pilgrimage for people to navigate to- a light in the darkness. 

Once inside, there were candles to be lit, cushions to relax on and a box of charcoal to write messages on the walls. Many people visited, some brought heavy hearts others guitars and gongs. Over the 5 days the writing became more layered with a full spectrum of thoughts marking all forms of the collective. From the most inane to the profound- it immediately had the viewer in a state of reflection. Many times the space was silent and held a strong temple presence. At night the shape was softly lit by candles on the inside and full flood lights on the outside. The negative space of the doorway changed to an iris shape, glaring in the dark of the night. Visitors engaged with shadow puppetry on the walls, entertaining and revealing a playful metaphor of the "shadow" in all of us.

After a few months of planning and prep work, it took 5 days to assemble onsite. Ivan, Joseph, David, Johann, Boyd and myself worked from first light to the beating heat of noon to make the progress needed. On the second morning we awoke to find half of the form broken by wind, with many beams snapped. We picked up sticks and reassembled it that same day, adapting the design. To work with the wind in mind is essential out there. The weather can change in a matter of minutes. Camping lightly next to the site gave us the opportunity to really live the work, feel the isolation of the desert and engage with the elements. These days of the process were the most exciting and joyful for me. I wish to thank my team for their great attitudes and individual skills. 

As the festival opening approached, we were joined by more volunteers and helpers, thank you to Tristan, Walter, Scheepers, Verity and Greame. With the final nail in the structure, Daniel Popper connected the battery LED lights giving Solace a warm glow. Thank you to the AfrikaBurn Art committee for identifying this proposal and helping to fund its creation. The DPW and the DMV were also very helpful and it was a pleasure to be integrated into the magical flow of the burner's way.

Sunday, the night of the burn, brought the work to its ultimate potential. The circle of people gathering around the structure had a respectful silence in their observation. Over the last few days people's hearts had become part of the structure, their wishes and ideas now holding it together. As an artist it was very interesting to feel how it wasn't my work anymore, but ours. As the night fell, the work became a stage for a performance imagined by Lara Kirsten. She took the reverence of the flame back to the earliest days of our consciousness, she called out to our ancestors and reminded us how we all need to turn our hearts into temples of fire. Her resounding voice over the accompanying music of the Dead can Dance : The host of Seraphim, transfixed the onlookers. Solace was then ignited. Primed from the inside, the light of the flames turned the entire form into a fiery furnace lantern. With so much heat the flames literally pushed people backward. The skin dissolved and framework became exposed, burning at each intersection of the beams. The fierce flames died down and the form held its place for a few more minutes until it collapsed in on itself to the cheer of the crowd. A single drum started beating and onlookers hurried closer to the bonfire. People danced as the flames died down, the ancient ritual of fire-making now complete.

I found great significance in making a work to be destroyed. It embodied a transformation of the spiritual, mental and physical. 

The fire has always been by my side, an element to behold with wonder and appreciation for the potential energy it has. Clearing up the nails the day after, as the strong winds swept the ashes away, spoke of an ageless transformation, man and nature in full fury, in full stride, destination unknown, full of yearning for solace.

Written by Simon Max Bannister

A website dedicated to the artwork: