Production diary


Tankwa Karoo

We wanted aerial shots of a large work consisting of a curving unbroken line forming an elongated oval shape when seen from above that Strijdom draws in the gravelly sand by dragging his right foot. But in the small hours of the night before the shoot, as strong gusts of wind shook the cabin, it was already clear that our chances of being able to fly the drone to get that view from above would be small. Indeed: on site long before sunrise the drone pilot’s wind meter confirmed gusts of up to 35 kilometres an hour – no fly. Going ahead nevertheless, with Strijdom making the work and the crew doing what we could with tripod and gimbal shots, after a few hours we noticed that the wind had died down. The drone went up and we got the views of the work from high above that we needed.


Tankwa Karoo

First morning of our third time in the Karoo. Strijdom had spotted an opportunity in a ridge of angular bright orange rocks contrasting with the surrounding flat area consisting of much darker smaller rocks and stones that could effectively serve as canvas. We had visited the site the previous late afternoon to confirm and plan the shoot, but in the dark next morning before sunrise we struggled initially to find the exact spot again and it required some driving and walking back and forth to locate it. A cold wind was blowing, unexpected this time of year, but we were rewarded with the first sunlight from the east beautifully highlighting the orange of both the grid of twenty five rocks and the ridge behind from which these had been taken – exactly as Strijdom had foreseen and intended.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Returned to the location late afternoon the next day for more shots of the completed work. Short window in which to shoot, from the moment the sun dips behind the mountain, removing the direct rays of light falling through the tree cover onto the work, to the moment when the light becomes insufficient for the sensor. Also did some test shots with a small drone to assess whether shooting with a larger drone equipped with a higher-quality camera at a later stage could potentially add to our portrayal of the work and the meaning and impact of this sequence in the film.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Initially the idea had been to shoot the making of the work over several days in the soft light at the end of the day but we realised this would not work as the light would visibly be going in the course of each late afternoon’s shoot. Plan changed to shooting it all in a single day, start to finish, from morning to dusk, as it is a large work requiring many hours to build and then shape the fine details.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Great to be back in the forest in Jonkershoek outside Stellenbosch where we had shot so many works in April and May – the setting now, in the full flush of early summer, looking very different compared to those distant days of autumn. Got some shots of Strijdom gathering branches and sticks from which to make a work called “Forest sleeping” – a figure of a person sleeping in the woods.


Koloniesland, Stellenbosch

Early start to the day, driving out to Stellenbosch well before sunrise to capture images of the work against the sky in the first light of day and shortly thereafter. Deliberately chose a morning forecast to be windless, to contrast with conditions on the day the work was installed. Another gift from meteorological circumstance: I had visualised and intended shots of the work against a clear sky, but the wispy white nearly backlit clouds on the day added significant visual interest and made for far more beautiful shots than those in my imagination and planning beforehand.


Koloniesland, Stellenbosch

Planned long in advance for this date, the day on which Strijdom installed the work entitled “Catching the wind” that he had made previously in Australia, Italy and Germany turned out to be an exceptionally blustery one in Stellenbosch. A passerby living in one of the houses overlooking the site told us that when the clouds start forming over the mountain peaks in the distance early on windy days, as was the case, one could expect it to keep picking up over the course of the day, with strong gusts by late afternoon and into the evening. The forecast based on local knowledge turned out to be spot-on. The wind became the overriding aspect of our experience of the day’s work. We were concerned initially that Strijdom’s bamboo leaves might be damaged by the gusts, and shooting conditions were increasingly challenging as the day wore on. But the pieces all remained standing, with only minor, repairable damage. And in the end the physical demands of the shooting conditions and the discombobulated feeling afterwards were well worth enduring: the images we came away with were far more dramatic and interesting than they would have been on a windless day. The arc of the steady build-up in wind speed and gustiness in the course of the day was clearly visible in our shots and became an element of the story in the edit. It did not feel like it at all at the time, but the wind had been a gift.


Old quarry, Boland

Back at the old quarry. A chance to reshoot the painting with water on the vertical rockface first attempted back in July when clouds passing in front of the sun changed the lighting mid-shot. And more vertical water lines inside grooves left by what must have been enormous stoneworking machinery, this time in descending order to counterbalance the rising slope of the top of the slab. 


Tankwa Karoo

Inauspicious start to the second trip to the Karoo: rendered immobile thirty five kilometres from destination by two simultaneous flat tyres on deserted dirt road, with no cell phone signal, an hour before sunset. Rescued by team from camp arriving on the scene 10 o’clock at night with big truck, spades, jacks and tools to remove wheels for repair next morning back at base. Nine hours to complete what normally is a four and a half hour journey, and doing so with car left overnight in the middle of nowhere – all part of the job. Returning to a now familiar spot where we had been three weeks before on the previous trip to the Karoo, Strijdom used the shallow layer of small dark stones on light sandy earth in which to draw a series of intersecting lines. Large patches of tiny yellow flowers that had not been there three weeks earlier now extended in all directions – small friendly presences in this harsh landscape, signalling the shifting of the seasons.


Gordon’s Bay

Still making use of the soft light of winter, forgiving of midday shoots. Our second time on the beach in Gordon’s Bay, where Strijdom had found a large out-of-place rock, one half of which could be painted with ochre mud, with False Bay as backdrop, and across the ocean the distant mountain range of the Cape peninsula in the frame.


Tankwa Karoo

Another day, another patch of dried, cracked mud, this time close to camp. Around Stellenbosch, even far out of town, our experience has been that it’s often so noisy – with hikers and cyclists, the power saws of forestry workers, passing vehicle traffic, the hum of electricity substations, the jet engines of planes high above on the Cape Town-Johannesburg route that passes directly over Stellenbosch – that it’s often not even worth trying to record sound along with the images. Here it was the opposite: we did record sound, but this place is so empty and quiet that there was almost nothing for the microphone to pick up – only the very occasional chirp of a solitary bird, or the barely audible sound of Strijdom pushing the red cloth into the cracks with a stick.


Tankwa Karoo

The wind the previous day turned out to have been the precursor to a grey overcast morning, dulling the colours somewhat but also probably extending our shoot time, as Strijdom made imaginary water circles rippling out from stones dropped onto the surface of a dam that was no longer there. Cracked and dried-out mud sediment was all that had remained of a dam as the water evaporated and the desert reclaimed the land.


Tankwa Karoo

Working according to the project plan drawn up before the first shoot months before: Tankwa Karoo in winter, between four and five hours’ drive out of Cape Town, depending, that is, on the speed one opts for on the seemingly interminable stretch of dirt road making up a substantial part of the journey – and on how many flat tyres one ends up with, as I would later learn. Having arrived there the day before and spent the first morning attending to the flat tyre picked up on the last few kilometres on the way to the camp, and then scouting locations, we headed out late afternoon for our first shoot in the arid landscape. While I was setting up the jib and getting ready to film Strijdom making a work of intersecting lines, he noticed that the wind had come up, giving us the perfect opportunity to shoot something else we had always wanted to do and that would not be possible on windless days: the infinite, unpredetermined variations in shape of a red cloth in the warm breeze against the clear late-afternoon sky. Immediate change of plan to use the opportunity, as the wind might not return before the end of the week when we have to leave.


Gordon’s Bay

Something we had been planning on doing for a long time: for the first time shooting a work on one of the many beaches within striking distance of Strijdom’s home base in Stellenbosch. Another first for the project: having to fit in with the tides – low tide clearing a space for Strijdom to work in. Fortunately, given that low tide on this day was around noon, in winter this far south of the equator the light can be soft enough to shoot even towards midday. But every location brings its own challenges. In this case a small group of children on a beach outing and in exuberant Friday morning mood that had to be – nicely – kept from venturing into the work area and destroying the smooth surface of the sand as they were heading to the rocks before we started filming.


Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch

Back in Paradyskloof forest again, before sunrise, less than twenty four hours later. Another perfect, cloudless, windless Stellenbosch winter’s morning, with joggers, hikers and families arriving before sunrise already for early Sunday morning physical activity in nature. Working close to where we had been the previous two days, in a less frequented part of the forest, the challenge was to make sure passersby on the forest path behind Strijdom were not in the frame in some of the wider shots. Even with the help of the mountain to the east Strijdom and I both had to work quite fast to be done before the first direct rays of light came through the forest cover and hit the work. Barely made it. 


Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch

Our first time back in Paradyskloof, this time in the forest, where Strijdom made leaf circles around the bases of trees on the Friday. First attempt at shooting the work late afternoon on the same day taught the lesson that in this location there was only the tiniest window between the moment we could start filming when the last direct rays of sunlight shining through the trees had left the work and the time soon after sunset when the light was insufficient for the sensor. Unsatisfactory result, but fortunately there was no wind, and Strijdom’s official-looking long red and white strip of thin plastic tape wrapped around the trunks forming the circumference of the work before we left for the night did the trick of deterring people from venturing into it in our absence. Early next morning we were back for the reshoot. The high mountain to the east meant enough time between the moment of sunrise behind it – and sufficient light for the sensor – and the first direct sunlight on the work later calling an end to shooting. Strijdom’s aluminium stepladder coming in handy once again in helping us capture the view of the work in its entirety from higher than human eye level. Some teamwork required for safety and a relatively stable shot, with Strijdom holding the ladder – and coming up with the idea to position it in such a way that I can reduce the precariousness of my position at the top of the ladder with the heavy camera to a degree by leaning against a tree trunk. 


Old quarry, Boland

In an old disused quarry Strijdom found a large vertical rock positioned by nature within a larger rock. Discontinued quarry work had left four vertical carvings in the rockface, ready for Strijdom to pour water down the top of the flat front surface, painting four vertical lines, at first lengthening, then widening and eventually merging. Clouds moving in front of the sun during the shot darkened it, rendering it unusable. Had to be repeated and reshot another day.


Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch

The forest in Paradyskloof outside Stellenbosch presented Strijdom with the ideal setting to make a work he had previously executed elsewhere, including in a wintry snow-covered forest outside the small town of Kamenický Šenov in the Czech Republic and once in the sunlit Tokai forest in Cape Town. Passersby commented as Strijdom was on the ladder, fastening the red fabric to the tree trunks, one of them quipping that he had always thought, from the song, that it was supposed to be a yellow ribbon.


Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch

Strijdom discovered a beautiful setting for this work on a grassy hill in an area on the outskirts of town where we had not filmed before: the reeds set off against the clear sky, and the mountain backdrop framing the piece perfectly. What a canvas on which to paint with materials from nature. Technically, it’s the day before the start of winter in Stellenbosch, but as Strijdom correctly pointed out while we were reviewing our cell phone recce pictures of the location beforehand: it looks like Sound of Music.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

An abundance of yellow leaves gathered into a square demarcated by large characterful dead tree branches as guidelines during the making of the work. Surprising two cyclists on mountain bikes who ventured into the frame, evidently not expecting to encounter land art on their usual path through the forest.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Enough yellow leaves to work with this time. Remarkable how the general feeling in the forest had turned decidedly more autumnal than it had been a mere two weeks earlier. Great that the leaves were not just uniformly yellow, but were revealed in the close-ups to be turning black in parts already, colour blighted by death and decay setting in.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

The plan was for a work with yellow autumn leaves onto a tree, but all the fallen yellow leaves that had been on the forest floor before had turned black completely, and the trees had not yet shed any more. Strijdom found these green leaves to work with instead – which felt appropriate on such a warm Sunday afternoon in May with still an air of summer to it, but with the forest in the background visibly bare already. The act of fixing the green leaves onto the tree seemed a last look back at summer.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Back in the Jonkershoek Valley, to shoot what must be one of the last works in the summer section of our film. A beautiful example of what we have in mind when we speak of the fragility and ephemerality of these artworks: a light breeze comes up as dusk falls while Strijdom is completing the work, constantly threatening to destroy the piece, and he repeatedly has to carefully restore to their positions a few stalks of grass blown out of place. To do justice to the work with a view from sufficiently high up, I have to get a few shots of the completed work standing on a ladder Strijdom has brought along – an unmissable perspective, enabling one to see the circle properly from this height, but rather wobbly with no means of stabilising the hand-held tripod on top of the ladder; thank goodness for stabilisation in post.


Churchhaven, West Coast

Filming over three beautiful late-summer days along the southwestern edge of the Langebaan lagoon on the West Coast, a hundred-minute drive from Cape Town. Based in the remote and improbably picturesque village of Churchhaven, only a handful of houses overlooking the lagoon in an ultra-idyllic setting inside the West Coast National Park. Great to be working in the flat, open, unpopulated landscape with its unbroken horizontal lines and big sky, so strikingly different from the verdant and enclosed Stellenbosch valley settings – not to mention derelict industrial interiors. Valuable for the strong visual contrast, and an opportunity to work with the scale of the landscape – a scale so vast that it dwarfs the artworks and the human presence.


Old sawmill, Stellenbosch

Our third shoot at the abandoned sawmill, this time inside a large empty structure with striking V-shaped beams holding up the roof, repeating and receding into the distance, completely open to the elements on one side. Shortly after we filmed this, demolition activity on the site picked up pace. Driving past, we could see the location of our three shoots slowly being transformed, with ongoing site clearance, services installation and the construction of roads and infrastructure.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Our first shoot with Strijdom talking in front of the camera – high up on the mountain slope in the valley – turned out to be a gusty late afternoon. A few touch and go moments, as the mic boom stand was not quite as secure as it should have been, but the deadcat wind shield did a great job in the circumstances, practically completely eliminating any wind noise. And the wind ended up serving us well, sweeping a beautifully dramatic cloud over the mountain in the frame behind Strijdom.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Fourth consecutive day starting at 4 am, emerging from the parking garage in Cape Town at 5 am sharp – as soon as allowed by lockdown curfew rules – to be in Jonkershoek by 6. This time of year, once the sun comes over the mountains shooting time is over. Fortunately we were working up the mountain slope and the mountains are high, which still left only just enough time for Strijdom to complete the work with the sticks and for me to get the shots. Before that we did a shot of Strijdom walking high up on the burnt mountain slope, a tiny figure moving from right to left in the frame. Just as he had done this and we had completed the first shot, the sun – otherwise still behind the mountains – started beautifully lighting up a part of the mountain in the frame, just to the right of the first vertical third. Thanks to coordination via cell phone over this far greater than shouting distance, we were able to redo the walk and capture the moment.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Third consecutive 4 am start to the day. The water-line sequence needed shots of the forest before sunrise and in fact at very first light, to precede and contextualise the shots of Strijdom first on the forest path and then making the water line on the wooden bridge. The forest is magical so early, and I was lucky that weather conditions were identical to the previous Saturday when we shot the sequence.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Had to get up at 4 am once again, to be able to drive out of the parking garage in Cape Town at 5 am, the earliest allowed under lockdown regulations at the time, with the plan of being able to record early morning sounds of insects and birds in the forest where we had shot the water line the previous Saturday. Arrived there only to find conditions very different, with a breeze blowing through the trees – rendering the sound unusable for the footage of the windless morning when we filmed. Recorded it anyway as I had driven an hour to get there, and on the basis that the sound of the wind through the trees might come in useful in some other sequence in the film. Another 4 am start the next day – with better luck. No wind, and although the birds and insects were not quite as noisily conspicuous and ubiquitous as I had hoped, they were not completely absent or quiet either. Fortunately I had recorded some cicadas – that characteristic and abiding soundtrack of Stellenbosch summers – some weeks ago in January already, on one of our very first shoot days. Forestry workers starting up their petrol chainsaws at the beginning of their work day called an end to the recording session. 


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Strijdom drew a water line on a little bridge on a path in the forest early on a summer’s morning just as the sun was coming through the trees. Carefully timed, during a site visit on a day beforehand, to enable us to capture it before the direct sunlight started falling on this area. Road just next to the forest, to the left of the frame, audibly popular with hikers and cyclists particularly on a beautiful Saturday morning in summer. Had to wait for the right moment, and were lucky to be able to capture the sound of Strijdom walking over the bridge and the water falling without noise from the road, while we were getting the shot. Great shots afterwards of the bright Stellenbosch light cascading through the forest foliage. Forest sounds to be recorded on another day when the outdoor enthusiasts had gone.


Old sawmill, Stellenbosch

Twenty four hours later, back in the very different setting of derelict industrial space. Strijdom brought bags of sawdust to the old sawmill to make a large x on the floor of one of the many buildings here offering rare opportunities to work in such enormous open indoor areas.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

A past master at spotting surfaces in nature that can effectively serve as canvases for his art, Strijdom noticed this field of hard plants that take on an almost silvery appearance this time of the year. Just as the work was complete the moon rose from behind the mountain that was already in the frame – a serendipity creating a beautiful end point for the rising left-to-right line made by the ridge of the sunlit mountain, which in turn was the perfect counterpoint to Strijdom’s receding golden line, leading the eye from foreground to the start of the mountain’s gentle diagonal. Sunset is so late this time of the year that by the time I had finished packing up, there was just under an hour left to get back to Cape Town – which I had to achieve to comply with lockdown curfew, at the time requiring us to be off the roads by 9 pm; managed to get back to my spot in the parking garage with only minutes to spare. A few months later the silver plants had turned an unusable brown, and the canvas was gone.


Old sawmill, Stellenbosch

Strijdom discovered a derelict sawmill on the outskirts of town. This vast sprawling complex of diverse old industrial buildings spread over the grounds was once a hive of woodworking activity. (Indeed, I have vivid memories of the smell of freshly sawed wood emanating from it when I was living in the area as a student an unsettlingly distant three and a half decades ago.) With an abundance of interesting surfaces, textures, structures, patterns and cavernous spaces it seemed to offer many opportunities – to be seized before its imminent demolition to make way for urban development. Strijdom drew a water circle. We were also excited about the potential of the rough unpainted wall that looked like a Rothko, just more impressive – at over two storeys high and probably more than fifteen meters wide, far larger than the largest canvas the man ever painted. Age and industrial neglect had left it with a beautiful patina, and we tried to do something with it. But the light in the space was insufficient, and with its almost oily residue of old dust water seemed not to take on it.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Getting shots of Strijdom walking down a deserted country lane with his reeds seemed like a good idea – until we started, and the idyllic little gravel road that seemed to lead to nowhere in particular turned out to be not so deserted after all, but well travelled in fact. It became a stop-start experience as we had to get out of the way of passing cars all the time, interrupting the recording to get camera and microphone off the road. Strijdom made rectangles of various sizes, tricking the eye as to size, distance and relative position.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

After the Christmas break we returned to the scene of the first shoot with the intention of getting some cut-aways and wider shots of the pyramids on the water. Strijdom got wet again, but the wider angle only ended up including clutter we did not want in the frame, and the cut-away shots turned out in the edit to be superfluous. While I was setting up and we were waiting for the direct sunlight to go, Strijdom hung grass stalks in a tree.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

We were delighted to be able to work in a setting so different from the first day’s shoot. Harsh and wild, it made for what we thought was a valuable contrast with the lush and verdant setting on the water two days earlier. Nobody would guess that this was a mere minute’s walk up the gentle mountain slope from the pond in the garden. Two weeks later baboons had stripped away sections of the bark on the fallen tree, and the beautiful strong horizontal lines in our images were no more.


Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch

Filming on the project started well, late in the midsummer afternoon of 15 December, with Strijdom’s bamboo pyramids successfully set afloat one by one on the sky-reflecting water. The light was perfect after the sun had disappeared behind the mountain, and weather conditions were ideal. We were able to capture the serenity of the scene, with Strijdom in the pond, leaving the light structures he had made to drift slowly on the surface. We were also lucky to be able to get the sound while filming him at work in the water, recording hadedas and other birds overhead, tiny frogs croaking, and the bubbles and movement of the water as Strijdom moved around: later in the shoot, from somewhere, a valley resident’s music wafted in, rather breaking the spell of the meditative Zen moment – but by then we had caught it in the sound files and footage.