Dion Chang’s opening Speech

Dion Chang’s opening speech for the Les is More auction: 25 June 2015

Thank you everyone for coming tonight. I’ve been asked by the Perkes family to say a few words to kick-start tonight’s proceedings.

Tonight is bittersweet. Time heals but it’s only 4 months since Lesley passed. Her passing left a vacuum, and vacuums have a tendency to create waves and movements. The outpouring of sadness was widespread, but there was also an outpouring of respect for what she did and the person she was, which brings us to tonight.

For those who didn’t know Lesley, she was a champion of the arts, the downtrodden and (especially the weirdo’s). Lesley’s company, Artatwork, was the driving force behind many instantly familiar public works around JHB:

  • Cell C’s building-sized city murals, (Mary Sibande’s art billboards)
  • Cratefan Elliot in Cape Town with artist Porky Hefer … and most notably (for it’s subtlety but inverse impact on a community)…
  • The Troyeville Bedtime Story her “most-favoured and own-sponsored project”

Asking around for anecdotes for tonight, one thing emerged: Les’s drive to create magic & make the world a beautiful place: but most importantly, having the tenacity to do what it takes to make it happen – funding public art through corporate or public sector were the hot coals she had to walk barefoot on, to get the job done.

Charlotte Bauer remembers her in a tribute:

Lesley was the good fairy of public art. But she was never airy-fairy.

It was her passion to turn plain things – grim buildings & scrappy street corners – into arresting works of art. It was her power to make it happen.

That she succeeded in getting so much public art onto the streets of this country – despite the expense, the political protocols, the demands of city partners and corporate sponsors and the temperaments of artists – was remarkable.

But then, as Lesley once said, “most of our work is about stamina … about writing (yet) another proposal, asking for another meeting”.

She would say YES to projects that “nobody in their right mind” would consider because (her words) “I am not in my right mind”, which is why we loved her.

In 2009 I published a trend annual and asked Lesley to write a chapter, as her work in public art was creating ripple effects for people who had never had interest in art, but more importantly for corporates who never dreamed of collaboration/art sponsorship.

For the launch, Lesley offered to do a performance piece. I agreed immediately. On the night, at the appointed time, I nodded to Les to start, which she did by taking off her jacket to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Zuma’s Wife” emblazoned across her chest, in gold lame (it was 2009 and Zuma had just taken office as president). You could hear the audience gasp and laugh nervously. This was classic Lesley: happiest performing, and even happier rattling a cage … and there were many.

But when her tenacity paid off, her vision unfolded, we – the ordinary folk of this crazy melting pot of a nation – were rewarded in our hearts and souls with brilliant public art.

Bethea remembers: working with her on the Yellow Hands by Strydom van der Merwe was actually one of her most favourite jobs: “It was honest work and hard work and sometimes like hard labour but Les’ passion and chutzpa and the energy to make things beautiful drove us all – it was a great achievement and an honour to work with her and create magic”.

But adds: “She was a drama queen and organizer, an eternal optimist, a big mouth with the strongest heart. Lesley dreamed so big, we all fitted in and were taken along for the ride…”

Anton Harber wrote:

We all have dreams, but some of us have huge dreams. Lesley was one of those who didn’t mess around with the small stuff. She was an endless source of ideas and passion for huge public art projects that could change our city and the lives of those in it. Decorating massive towers, putting huge paintings on huge buildings, mobilising dozens of artists to speak out about political and social issues. These were the things always on her mind.

Lesley cared about people, about art, culture, public spaces, public discussion, about her country and city – not as a place or a site, but a space occupied by real people.

Audrey: best friends since school remembers:

Cop 17 – 2010 – Les develops a public art project perfect for host city, Durban – a painted blue line along the shoreline of the city indicating the devastation that would be wrought should sea levels rise by one meter. The project attracts buy-in at national level but suddenly Mike Sutcliffe (City Manager) pulls the plug. Key to his objections is “The blue is DA” – he later denies having said.

Les changes gear and creates counter performance art: Emergency – Dangerous Artists at Work. Flies to Durban with 240 easy peel stickers (she was never destructive in her protest), official-looking white coats and clipboards … and a ladder to change many road names to: Sutcliffe Road, Sutcliffe Avenue, Sutcliffe Boulevard, Sutcliffe Crescent, Sutcliffe Close.

In 3 hours the city’s traffic landscape is transformed.

The public hoots. Sutcliffe huffs. The mayor puffs.

In the storm that erupted after, Lesley is quoted in the press:

“And it is a warning to others like him, that should they lose their sense of humour in equal proportion to their capacity to wield whips, it is likely they too will find themselves at the centre of imaginative repartee.”

This is why people cheered her on.

Anton Harber wrote about her funeral:

The attendance at her funeral was a tribute. It was one of the biggest I have been to in a long time, and the crowd was all kinds: young and old, businessmen, bureaucrats and bums, artists and con artists, musicians and mavericks. Mostly mavericks come to pay tribute to a marvellous, big-hearted maverick.

In private, Lesley was just as passionate and caring.

Arlette remembers: “She led the fun and noise at all the family-get-togethers, and made sure there was plenty to eat, space for the kids, the grannies & the weirdos … When she was little and didn’t get her way – or was feeling dramatically sorry for herself – she could scream until her nose bled … but when she was older she never ever laid her pains on others, instead she absorbed some of their pains … she was generous and giving and felt for people in distress. Chicken Soup and love were a staple diet in her house.

The other day Martha (other mother, sister, helper, friend) observed that “Lesley walked like a man and worked like a man she has never met a woman like her – she was a force” … Martha misses her friend, a lot.

Chilli is discovering the world with Stephanie in Wales. He’s a bit at a loss for words & overwhelmed by the Auction and says he loves everyone and that he will be ok.

Just a reminder about why we are really here tonight: support for the family & support system that Lesley left behind.

Thank you to Karen Brusch without her this would not have happened and of course Monna from Gallery MOMO for giving up his space for 3 days.

The Gallery MOMO team for making the Auction happen (Ernest for collecting and hanging artworks, Ruzi for creating the catalogue and Frances for designing all the PR)

Now I would like to hand over to the Auctioneer, to start tonight’s auction, but before I do it’s only apt to end off on a Zen note …

In Hinduism, the term namaste is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger.

It is used with goodbyes as well & it means: “I bow to the divine in you”.

However, I think Les would prefer a slightly alternative version: Weirdmaste

 

I honor the place in you, in which the entire weirdness dwells.

I honor the place in you, which is of weirdness, mystery and strangeness.

When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.

 

To Lesley (I know you’re here tonight) – Weirdmaste.