“The world is going mad,” Servaas said quietly as he folded the Upington Post. He’s been reading the newspaper on Boggel’s veranda while they wait for the bar to open.
Of course, nobody pays attention. The concept of a sane world is, after all, as foreign to Rolbos as a thunderstorm in winter. The townsfolk are in complete agreement that the balance of reason shifted seriously south in the past few years. Take the gay issue, for instance. Why is it, Oudoom once asked, that suddenly you have same-sex parades, Gay Day, and a world-wide excitement about marriages between men (or women)…but nobody celebrates a single Straight Day? Where’s the Straight Parade, he asked? Oh, it’s wonderful that people fall in love and all that, but shouldn’t we include all relationships when we honour love?
Frustrated at not drawing attention to his remark, Servaas tries again.
“Somebody paid a 101 million Dollars for a tiny sculpture. Dollars! That’s a billion Rands! Look at the photograph: it looks like one of those wire-cars we built when we were small. Gee, man, I had a whole fleet of them. If I had the sense to keep them, I’d be a multibillionaire today.”
“Oh no, Servaas! That sculpture is a bronze cast by Alberto Giacometti, made in 1951. His work is pure art, I’ll tell you. Collectors buy these things as an investment, selling it a few years later at a handsome profit.” Gertruida pinches her nose, apparently thinking hard. “If I remember correctly, Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche did even better than his chariot, selling for 104 million.”
Gertruida – true to her nature – just can’t help herself when it comes to showing off her brilliant mind.
“Alberto became famous as a Swiss sculptor, but he dabbled with all forms of art. He experimented a lot with cubism but it’s his surreal work that drew the worlds attention. See, he liked to sculpt figures the way he saw them, not the way they appeared in real life. What made his technique unique, was the way he stretched and elongated the limbs of his figures. He started off with tiny figurines, but his later works became larger and larger – and the bigger they were, the thinner they became.”
“He should have worn contacts,” Servaas decides. “Then he could have been a better artist.”
Gertruida sighs as she stares at Servaas. “Contact lenses, I’ll tell you, only received FDA approval in America in 1971, five years after Giacometti’s death. But that’s not the point: Giacometti showed people how they really are. Long legs, because we’re never happy where we are. Long arms because we’re so greedy. A thin body suggesting eternal hunger. And the heads? They’re small and somehow resemble something alien, like we imagine extraterrestrials to be these days. I think he tried to say something with that, as well. While we imagine ourselves to be exceedingly clever, our ideas and thoughts are really without substance. People live to satisfy their desires, which is really an empty way of living. Giacometti didn’t just create art – he delivered a profound statement on humanity.”
“Well, that makes him an extremely unhappy camper. You make it sound as if his surrealism is real.”
“All forms of art reflect the artist’s comment on society, Servaas. Whether you listen to Beethoven or the Beatles, read Dahl or Dickens, or visit the Louvre or the National Gallery of Art – wherever you find art, you’ll find an analysis of Life. And let me tell you: even if you don’t get it, it influences the way you think. That’s the wonder of art.”
Servaas shakes his head. No, that’s not true. He, the astute elder of Oudoom’s church, won’t ever be swayed but such trivialities. It is absurd to think that a picture or a book can make him think differently. No, it’s not possible.
“But it is, Servaas. Every word you read, every picture you see – even the songs you hear – these things worm their way to your subconscious. And don’t think those impressions just lie there, doing nothing. Your mind is a living computer, constantly sifting through data and storing information.” She glances up as Boggel approaches with the keys. “Art, my friend, makes us think. That’s why it’s so valuable.”
Boggel hesitates before unlocking the door, stares down at the newspaper and whistles softly.
“What’s that silly wire-thingy on the front page, Servaas?”
“It is, ” Servaas bunches his brows together, “an enlightened commentary of the state of the nation, Boggel. It says the gravy train has left the station and that us common folk will now have to rely on simpler forms of transport. And that, Boggel, is a metaphor for reality. Transport, in this sense, implies getting by from day to day. The thin wheels suggest the fragility of our efforts. And the fact that the chariot is driven by an emaciated figure, is a commentary on the way the country is being governed.” He gets up slowly, massaging his creaking knees. “But I didn’t expect you to see that. Not at all. It takes a true appreciation of art to realise the value of such a sculpture. It is, in effect, priceless…”
Gertruida once said something about one of Oudoom’s sermons. She reckons we only hear the bits we want to hear, and ignore the rest. Well, she said at the time, that’s Life, isn’t it?
Like Giacometti, she was right, of course.