Monday, 8 August 2011

Ekasi Graf Museum

It was Craig Stecyk, famed for his role in the promotion of early skateboarding, who once said: “kids took the ruins of the Twentieth Century and turned it into art”. Much like the rotten old peers of the Coney Island amusement park to which Stecyk was referring, is the decaying Industrial infrastructure of the “old South Africa”. These forgotten spaces unpredictably scarring South Africa’s landscape have become far more than the silent ghosts of an era of economic rise and fall, they are both playground and canvas to a generation hooked on guerilla expression.

We stand, scuffed, paint splattered All Stars and Nikes hanging over the edge of a vast dark hole in the concrete floor of Orlando West’s abandoned Power Station. The massive warehouse building lies alone in a field of reeds that fringe the bank of the dam, wind wailing through its empty window frames, like the waning bleached-out skeleton of a beached wale. Approaching the building from the road opposite the dam, there is a mysterious gloom shrouding this old bone yard. Smoky clouds streaked across the sky and mirrored in the dams’ murky waters lend an eerie forlorn air to its looming bulk. And then, as if blinking at you over a jagged mess of broken iron teeth, shine two huge white PVA tags- Marz and Tapz have given the building eyes.

As you get closer you experience a mixture of awe and raw joy. There’s a buzz in the air that originates in the pure silence punctuated by bird’s wings flapping and the echoes of your footsteps. The building is a layer cake of stories of desolate open industrial space, broken by massive holes in each floor lending you an eye into the graves of the machinery that once gave this place a pulse. These holes run along the floor in varying sizes making any rash movements a hazardous mistake. But it is not until you have climbed into the top floor, its walls wrapped with shattered, empty windows, sunlight flooding the huge pigeon-shit encrusted floor, that you truly understand this building’s mourning. You’ll contract six chronic strains of the Ebola virus up in that loft, but it’s worth it just to stand that high in the sky, inside a building, feeling the wind blasting past you.

The old crumbling walls are canvas to the expression of some of South Africa’s graffiti legends. It is not the typically tagged-to-hell scene that characterizes the old infrastructure of gang-land-crack-dens in American drug movies, No, it is a veritable museum of beautifully executed artworks. A friend of mine once described the smell of Montana spray paint as “a nose orgasm”, and standing in this informal gallery of guerilla youth expression one can sense, quite tangibly, the ecstasy involved in the act of painting. Incredibly considered and composed pieces by Faith Forty Seven, Hac one, Mac One and Bias subtly alter the massive concrete and steel structures. Like history’s rock art collectors who removed rock faces from caves in order to “preserve “ the art of our ancestors, graffiti historians, collectors and enthusiasts might be tempted to enter into mad bidding wars for pieces of wall removed from this building.

Closed to the public, (and protected by guards) the majority of the graffiti was done in 2007 as part of Red Bull’s Soweto Sessions, specifically the Red Bull BC One event. Today the power station is used for film and television shoots and various other events, but for the majority of its days, it stands empty with only the screams of tourist’s bungee jumping from the adjacent Orlando Towers echoing through it’s dark spaces. Not only an abandoned fossil of a past regime, the power station is one of very few physical records of the urban youth culture that evolved from confusing identity soup of the rubble of Apartheid, encroaching American cultural colonialism, and the freedom of participating in a non-racial society.

(text: Natalie Propa, Images: Cale Waddacor)

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