by Rat Western
Synthetic Dirt is, from many angles, an oxymoron. The synthetic is generally perceived to be clean and clinical, manufactured and therefore, perhaps, more sterile. ‘Dirt is Good’ may be the tagline of a certain brand of washing powder but only because said company can prove how we get things clean again. Dirt, if we think of Kristeva’s abject is pollution, is taboo, when out of place. And how much more out of place can one get than to manufacture dirt?
Clean your outsides, dirty your insides.
Advertising sends us mixed messages: antibacterial hand wash, dishwashing liquid and icu-quality household cleaner. But then, we package dirt: as fibre, as the unrefined and therefore, more wholesome. But we don’t want to extract for ourselves, from some lumpy ol’ bit of bamboo-like cane, the sugar we want. We want the dirty sugar but we want the convenience. We don’t want more labour. Though, in yet another marvel of marketing, the drink-and-wet doll still (since the 1960’s) ranks highly with the kiddies. In a world of progress, the fact that such a hit seller hasn’t evolved with the mainstream into the drink-and-poop dolly, says that we like it dirty – but not too dirty.
For many who contributed to this colloquium, this conundrum of Synthetic (machine-made, clean, refined, controlled, fake and potentially sterile) vs. Dirt (pollution, abject, natural, authentic, autographic and wholesome) plays out, through case studies, as a kind of list of the pros and cons of each and their inherently inseparable natures.
However, there is also another dynamic under discussion – the relationship between technology and … well, more technology. One manufactured to destroy and one manufacture to create and survive once we have destroyed. It seems that while we dirty, natural beings have been making (as men do), the earth has begun to realise its nasty little skin disease called humanity and we continue to synthesise in order to avoid its scratching.
Now bunkered down in our faux, organic environments, we discuss the qualities of our entertainment. We are not satisfied with High-Definition or Blu-Ray. It’s too hyper-real. We want grit and lo-fi. We want the autographic and the MAN-made not the MACHINE-made (even if man made the machine). Technology feeds us information and we want access to information - in a few cases, to improve our knowledge, in even fewer cases, to altruistically increase the archive. But most popularly, we want the instant gratification of data so we can see more of our increasingly Photoshopped and over-produced role-models and then, on the flip-side, we want to see the ‘circle-of-shame’. We want access to the tarnish on our idols.
Still, we imagine there is still an illusive ‘fresh air’. That, somewhere, authenticity really exists – X-Files tells us ‘the truth is out there’!
So whilst we dream of the day that sincerity will return so we can sample its DNA for future man-u-fracture, we teach our children to tea-stain their history projects. And for the edges? Our favourite first invention – now pocketed in the form of a disposable BIC lighter – for that added ‘authentic’ look.
|In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.
A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western