Porcelain Boere Punkby Leila Bloch / 25.05.2011
Think Afrikaans dada for drama fags in the early 90’s. Transgressive “creatures” making art for art’s sake around Stellenbosch’s conservative ivory towers. Between 1996 and 1998, in a freshly (but not yet comfortable) post-apartheid context, such a rebellion should have gained a lot of traction. Combine bible-bashing, some nudity and anti-religious sentiment, and you were probably a campus revolutionary. Produce 40 “happenings”, shamelessly trade your art for sex, record a radio drama, publish 21 books of poetry, short stories and a novelette, and it’s safe to say you might have had a movement. Then, ten years later, make a documentary and pray to god that it will go down in history as something as intense as Carollee Shneeman’s Meat Joy.
Long before the onslaught of Jack Parow and Fokofpoliskaar, Porselynkas was a poetic and altogether more theatrical equivalent to the Voelvry movement (otherwise known as “Boere Woodstock” – a counter culture music festival cum tour party). The participants, living according to the I’m-poor-but-passionate ideology, were effectively redefining Afrikanerdom. They valued radical individualism and manifestos, and attached themselves to terms like “punk”. Irreverent and apolitical, they were well hated by the church and banned from radio stations, theatres and the town in general. But did they say anything specific through their art? It’s an irrelevant question – they were using the “I’m dada therefore I am” solution. Give too much meaning to their stripping and spacesuits and you’ll begin to sound indulgently pseudo. Yes, they were involved in obscure “happenings” and angered some people at the top, but it’s unclear why they sought to create a movement that didn’t say much about anything and it certainly doesn’t offer any contemporary insight now.
The most well documented non-event in the history of Porselynkas is a 52 minute documentary in memory of this movement. Shot in less than a week with virtually no budget, it will be appearing at the Encounters and Grahamstown film festivals. Co-director Matthew Kalil and actor/clown/poet Sjaka, otherwise known as Dr Adam Chaos or Jan Afghanistan, is determined to capture this past. The characters get stranger as he interviews representations of lost members of the clan. The documentary is funny… in a slapstick, pie-throwing kind of way. But the rebellion against Afrikaanerdom means those who don’t speak the language are excluded from some of the jokes.
“In my heart everything is black, but around me Africa is just so beautiful,” laments the Afrikaans goth Alex Omega. This is at a very private screening at Die Klein Libertas a few Mondays ago. Like an undiscovered Daniel Johnstone this former member strums something rhythmic on a guitar, learnt at home, which is so underground that it never made it to the internet. Melany Basson, Mr Cat and the Jackal and Toast Coetzer all make an appearance. Floyd De Waal, miming a man haunted by demons and journeying into the desert, is performing an excerpt from his play Revenge Angel. The manager from Gordons Bay’s fish ‘n chips shop hangs around by the bar; academics share packets of chips. Pies are handed out in the hope that the crowd will emulate some of the scenes in the documentary. Sjaka reads out some poems from the old days, including “Fok Jou Jesus”. Apparently, “instead of reading in the angry young man voice as he would have years ago, he read it in a gentle, certain, caressing voice. Like someone who was certain in his older skin about the things he was angry about in his past”. The screening event held the same insular intimacy as a close friend’s wedding. Even crazy uncle Jaap was there; the bergie-chic ex-member smashes porcelain over a bible in a display of feral grandeur.
There’s a monkey in the porcelain cabinet – Porselynkas, the name speaks for itself: white, breakable, precious. Precious enough that the movement needs to be documented, preserved. “Run by a kind of dyslexic control freak”, cited as an “excuse to get girls naked”, this is a shamelessly personal revival. According to the creators, as soon as something gets assimilated into the mainstream, it’s lost. Was this documentary just a clown/poet’s narcissistic trip, an effort to recreate some cool bygone Stellies days, or rather a “minefield of being authentic”, a method to remember and create ego-less art and poetry? Maybe if it offered a little more than, “hey, watch this, it’s cool because it was once art” the audience in the front row might have been a little more than merely bemused.
Porselynkas will be screening on Sunday the 12th and Friday the 24th of June in Cape Town and in Jozi at The Bioscope on Tuesday the 14th of June.