Toffie Knowsby Mahala High Five Brigade / Images by Danielle Clough / 06.04.2010
Design is a beautiful thing, no doubt. One only has to look to Apartheid-era architecture, Biggie Best stores or whatever Grecian-Columned abomination of the week Jeannie D is gushing over on Top Billing to recognize what a dire, barren wasteland of bleeding eyeballs the world would be without the whole business of Form meeting Function. From the humbling power of the perfect proportion, to the simple genius of everyday practicality, one cannot deny the way in which we shape things has in turn shaped the way we are.
That said, for all the clever ideas and beautiful things Design has spawned, there is the periphery scourge that is Design Culture. You know, that wanky little playground where the over-paid and under-criticized frolic in the pits of their own self-importance, certain in the knowledge that Design Can Change The World®.
A pretty good annual example of this is our very own Design Indaba. For a cost of around R6.5k (afforded to those who presumably lack Regular Joe burdens such as rent or food), you can spend a few days being militaristically herded around the convention centre ooh-ing and aah-ing over lamps and chairs, and basking in the measured glory of the revered and multi-accoladed. These range from the mind-blowing to the self-fellating to the unabashedly crowd-pulling, such as this year’s Martha Stewart who opined with disturbing zeal on… Glitter. It is, by and large, an environment dominated by self-awareness and professional hierarchy. Although most people who attend work in marketing and are sent there by their corporate patrons. And God forbid you get relegated to the cheap seats with Plebby mcNobody. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some very cool things to see, and it’s hard for a first or even second timer to walk away feeling unimpressed. But the thing is, is that once you take Design out of its functional context and put it in an exhibition space, it’s very easy to view it above and beyond that which it essentially is. A chair is no longer furniture, it’s Art. Helvetica is no longer a font, it’s a fucking religion. Which is nice to get carried away with, but after a while it’s just all gets so damn serious taking it all so very seriously. SRSLY.
Hence, the idea of Toffie came as a breath of fresh air. Run by Peet Pienaar (you know, that famous Performance artist-turned-internationally-acclaimed-graphic-Designer), it promised to be a fun and fizzy thumb-under-index-finger-ing of Design and Pop culture. Even if the venue, Rondebosch Boys High, sounded a little dodgy. The line-up, which was to include heavyweights Kim Jones, Jorge Alderete and Sean Saylor on the international front, also promised a variety of workshops and media launches, as well as an exhibition hall housing the likes of Nacho Gil, Kronk and Disturbance Design. All culminating in a Diseases-themed afterparty where Argentinian electro-fuck-rockers Manta Raya were set to take the stage with “an unnamed unternational act” (which, along with the Nike dude failed to materialize).
So what was it all like? Well, on the whole, I would say it was a little underprepared, really. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. From Kim Jones (Wiki him. Seriously) who mumbled through his speech like a shy little boy at show ‘n tell; to Siggi Eggerson whose talk was given by a robotic voice that proclaimed “he had got too drunk to think of anything more”, the whole vibe had this rad, impromptu punk DIY feel to it. No slick-as-clockwork schedule. No spoonfeeding. No VIPs. It was completely unpretentious and approachable. And these included the speakers, who were genuinely interested in interacting with their audience as opposed to drilling out pre-prepared speeches. There was a skate ramp, a mash-up exhibition filled with loads of cool stuff to peruse and Love and Hate doing 10 minutes line portraits of whoever’s 50 bucks was buying. There were arcade games and beer and shoes and toys and DJ’s. And the experience was one of being lost in a giant, sherbety pop culture lucky packet. Which, although slightly underwhelming for a few, I personally found quite refreshing.
The problem with exhibitions in general is that one is usually presented with such a glut of information in such a short space of time that it is often difficult to absorb it all, and it’s easy to walk away feeling intimidated. Not to mention that dreaded in-one-ear-out-the-other effect. To the contrary, Toffie was less about the indigestible main meal, but more all about little, bubblegum sized pieces of inspiration that you were able to chew, spit, or stick under your desk for later. Which is all very well if you like your brainfood of the low-cal, high sugar variety; but a little problematic if you were expecting a flavour that was more Proudly South African and less… Bellville.
From the Fokof documentary screening to the VCK album launch/acoustic show to them headlining set at the Diseases afterparty (complete with collaboration with Argentinian Manta Raya) and, most bizarrely, Wynand’s “rock ‘n roll marketing” talk (all done under the rolling eyes of the audience, among them some of SA music and media’s most important people) it was clear that the VanFokkingPresident ties were strong. Which wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Fokof camp is, after all, Pienaar’s star client, providing him with a perennial No Rules Brief an adoring fan base and the perfect vehicle for him to flex his creative muscle. The problem being that it was all to the exclusion of a lot of other local talent that definitely could have benefited from the experience. I feel there was definitely room for more fringe elements.
While it was in some ways a relief that the usual suspects of the SA creative scene were absent, I don’t think that the concept of an event that was irreverent, unexpected and unconventional was taken advantage of. Where were the photographers? The design collectives? The artists? When it comes to design meeting pop culture, there’s more than enough happening in local music, fashion, skating and entertainment than what Toffie managed to assemble. And given the international brass that was there, and the relaxed, curious, interactive vibe, it would have been so nice to see more than just the Bellville Massive being given the Big Up.
Those points aside, there’s no doubt that the whole affair was a rocking success. Let’s just hope that next year welcomes a bigger, better and more diverse offering – without losing the spirit of the enfant terrible.