The almost total failure of transformation in the SA wine industry was reinforced by the recent Cape Wine 2008 biennial trade show at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Conspicuous by their absence were BAWSI (the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry), SAWIT (the SA Wine Industry Trust) and the Wine Industry Council while empowerment ventures had such low profiles as to be all but subterranean. Has the plan to train 2010 sommeliers in time for the Soccer World Cup replaced the brave new rainbow vision from Cape Wines 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006?
Saturday saw the completion of yet another personal gyre at Michael Stevenson’s awesome new gallery in Woodstock. Woodstock is well on its way in its own transformation from Tik Central to the Cork Street of the Mother City. First there was Linda Goodman’s slick warehouse space with slick floors that make you want to become a skaterboi.
Next Bell Roberts relocated from next door to the Marie Stopes Clinic downtown (with a diversion to Christo Wiese’s movie-set cum wine estate Lourensford). Although the sign said it opened at 10am on Saturdays, it didn’t yesterday.
And now Michael Stevenson seems to have opened a sub-branch of MOMA on the same block. Don’t look for a price sticker or a red (or even a green) dot denoting something as crass as a purchase. Although quite where you’d hang one of Berni Searle’s outsize photographs probably restricts her patrons to the likes of coal magnate Graham Beck.
Which is where I saw my first Berni photo – in the tasting room of Mr. Beck’s Steenberg Estate in Constantia while looking for bargains with the Good Value Guru at the end of June. Constantia is the valley where the SA wine industry kicked off, so how appropriate to have a work from a larger than life lady on the first wine estate in SA, founded by that larger than life lady cross-dresser Catharina Ustings Ras. Or Katrijn Ras (later shortened to Trijn) as she renamed herself after a few years among Berni se mense.
The standout Berni work at the Stevenson is a 6 minute 20 second HD video called Alibama. Starting with an atmospheric shot of Signal Hill, it pans across Table Bay (today with US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt slap bang in the foreground) and dissolves to a child’s red paper boat in a bath with a black crinkle paper streamer generating inky cumulonimbus clouds in the water.
A century and a half after Confederate privateer Alabama put into Cape Town during the American Civil War, her predecessor lurks ominously in Table Bay. As the US Civil War Poetry website notes “to get back to the story, Captain Semmes and the Alabama made such an impression on the people of Cape Town and in particular the people we call ‘coloured’ – literally people of mixed white/black blood – that even today, the song is sung by them.” And HD videos, too. Although whether Berni or the Kaapse Klopse will commemorate Teddy’s arrival, is a moot point indeed.
Of course SA wine is also waiting for die Alibama to come over the sea and buy our wine. And the irony of “the people we call ‘coloured'” celebrating the arrival of a vessel from the confederation of Southern States fighting to keep their slaves, is not lost on the amateur historian. Nor is the attempt to use a monochrome Cape Wine 2008 as an industry showcase.