Flying House at PQ – updates

It’s Day 2 of the Prague Quadrennial. Jenni-Lee and I are here to install our exhibition that features a small sampling of South Africa’s extra-ordinary performance design.

I feel like it’s appropriate to tell the story so far. It’s like a series of obstacles or a series of miracles, depending on which way you look at it.

In 2015, Jenni-Lee visits PQ and is inspired, about the possibilities for bringing an exhibition of South African design. She sees what it could mean for us as theatre makers in South Africa, recognises that we have much to offer, and should be represented at this important international event.

In 2017, she puts in an application to PQ. Ambitions to create a big, definitive showcase of SA work. Funding applications are duly submitted, but when several attempts are unsuccessful, she writes to PQ to withdraw the application.

Miracle One: PQ organisers offer to waive the exhibition fee and sponsor a small amount towards the exhibition. This is amazing! But now it’s 2019, time is very tight. We wonder if this is even possible. Audacious? Certainly too late to curate a full, representative exhibit. But so tantalisingly possible. As Flying House we tend towards supporting and representing the independent space – fringe rather than mainstream big-budget spectacle shows. We want works that in some way illustrate the innovative flair and can-do simplicity of some of the people making magic despite limitations. Less resourced, more resourceful. We decide to put out a call for nominations.

  • We went for a mix of examples across dance, theatre, inter-disciplinary performance. More than just visually striking, these are examples where the design leads and shapes the work and illustrates a certain resourcefulness.

Miracle Two: We have amazing designers

  • Thando Lobese’s vacuum cleaner pipe costumes in Nhlanhla Mahlangu’s Chant conjure a dystopian world where tradition and humanity are misused by power.
  • Illka Louw’s scenic devices in Nicola Elliott’s Bruising perform as part of the choreography, and remind us of the importance of the conversation between designer and choreographer, the collaborative relationships that are an important part of how we make work in SA.
  • Jemma Kahn’s The Borrow Pit pushes new innovations in her signature use of the Kamishibai form.
  • Leigh Bishop’s sculpted garments in Slowly, explore the owned, possessed, adorned and adored female body across time periods and cultures.
  • Jade Bowers & Erica Luttich & Boitumelo collaborate in Jungfrau to create a textured world that speaks of the work of women’s hands.
  • Naomi van Niekerk’s sand animations are a constantly transforming backdrop for puppetry and music in The Alchemy of Words.
  • In Gavin Krastin’s Yet to Be Determined, politics of the body are subverted as he implicates the audience in transgressions of representation.
  • In Vehicle, Gerhard Marx gives voice to inanimate objects by grafting classical string instruments onto car parts, creating a haunted exploration of the relationship between the immateriality of sound and the physicality of objects.
  • And in a playful piece of creative placemaking and documentation-as performance, Mantala Nkoatse and Zivanai Matangai from the Trinity Session travel up and down the Louis Botha transit corridor to challenge the way we perceive and interact with public commuter spaces.

We are a team of two. We are fundraising, curating, choosing, chasing, mothering, working at jobs to earn livings, and trying to put together an exhibition for a major international design exhibition. We are oscillating between massive self doubt and monumental amounts of faith, every day.

Miracle Three: UCT funding!

Mark Fleischman, Head of the Centre for Theatre,  Dance and Performance Studies at UCT, agrees to allocate funding that will just cover the basic materials for our exhibition. We have a concept, we will need some stuff. Jenni-lee can travel with research funding, as this dovetails with her Phd research. She can book accommodation.

In the meantime, I am spending nights and waking hours writing proposals to raise more money so that I can travel too, so that we can produce a catalogue, so that we can eat when we are there. This is stressful. It’s not a great time to be a freelancer, fundraiser or a cultural entrepreneur.

I apply and apply and hear nothing. I even get a personal phone call from the wonderful Ambassador Mosholi in response to one of my emails to the SA Embassy in Czech Republic, but ultimately, the same answers. Times are tough, money is tight. Well done. Keep trying.

Eventually, because visa applications need to be done, I book a ticket. This is stressful. We remind ourselves why we are doing this. We want to build the design and scenography scene in SA. We believe in this.

Miracle Four: BASA joins in!

New CEO of BASA, Ashraf Johaardien was one of our Dragons on the “Pitch it Rich” panel at our 2016 Stock Exchange. He recognises the value of this event. When we return with our exhibition, bring it home to SA, our intention is to create a forum for performance designers and scenographers to connect, share, and raise the bar. We want to create better access to international opportunities like this one, and we want local theatre makers and choreographers who are already playing with visual, to get more support. Business Arts South Africa will be part of that journey.

Miracle Five: We made a catalogue

In the hours between putting her child to sleep at night and having to arrive at her job in the morning, Jenni-lee designed the catalogue, while I edited text. It’s the beginning of a new direction for us, and we intend to create more of these so that we can showcase and recognise the work of visual .

Miracle Six: We set up an exhibition

It so happened that Illka Louw and Gavin Krastin were able to get here on their own steam, and having their physical presence here has made a world of difference to two very tired mommy-curators.

We are here. A big portion of our total budget remains unfunded, and we are going to have to crowd fund when we come home, both to recoup our personal financial outlay and to build this thing better, stronger.

So if you feel like making a deal in exchange for a future service from us, these are some of the things we will be selling:

  • Design consultations (not limited to theatre – we can conceptualise and materialise campaigns, spaces, books or events)
  • Creative problem solving & Design-Thinking consultation
  • Poster & graphic design
  • Advertising in our next edition catalogue
  • Design-thinking workshops
  • Consultations to help with constructing portfolios, artist bios, etc.

You can send us an email via the contact form or on, if you’d like to make use of any of these, available from mid-July onwards.

In the meantime, follow us on social media where we will be posting pics and videos of the incredible feast of visual theatre, costumes, models, inspiring installations and spectacle that is on offer here.

Sorry about the long post, we haven’t had time for updates until now. The next one will have pics.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.