The artwork CLAVIS SCRIPTORIUM was planned when the Standard Bank Global Leadership Centre in Rivonia was nearing completion. The architects Grosskopff, Lombart and Huyberechts (GLH) asked that I look at the feasibility of making a large artwork in the foyer. In August 2006 I visited the site on a number of occasions to get a sense of the scale and presence of the place. At the time the building was half finished, natural stones used in cladding the massive pillars were scattered about and the autumn leaves of a large Pin Oak (Ouercus palustris) blew about in the wind to the refrain of some unruly conductor.
Medieval monasteries as places of contemplation and learning served as one of the guiding principles to the architects who aimed to integrate stonework, light and space to provide an atmosphere that inspires learning and dignity. The cathedral volume of the main foyer rises from the ground much like a clearing in a forest, with the large columns on the sides looking like the trunks of old trees begging for a canopy of leaves. The detached leaves from the Pin Oak gave me the idea to give the foyer a vaguely tree-like resemblance. In Africa the traditional indaba or council takes place under a very special tree that invokes history and ancestry. Our universities and colleges with their institution of campus date back to a time when lessons were taken in the open field under a shady tree - in Latin campus is 'field'.
That August, winter provided a dry, windy, somewhat unfriendly air to the unfinished leadership centre. Stacks of metal scaffolding lined the walls making it possible for scores of small stones to be orchestrated into massive pillars of cement and rock. The criss-cross configurations of bars connecting the scaffolds provided the idea for stringing the five lines of sheet music as five metal bars along the ceiling. This would then form a framework for suspending loose leaves of text-like notes of sheet music, arbitrarily composed in and between the bars of musical notation.
I wanted to play off the massive stone pillars of the leadership centre against the frailty and delicateness of leaves precariously dangling about. I did not want to make a heavy work that somehow undermine the architecture. From a distance details on the 'leaves' had to be more prosaic and desultory rather than clear-cut and in high definition. The work is not to be assertive, as might be the case with bill-boards or posters in an advertising campaign. It is rather meant to play on memory and transience, on the vagueness that comes with time.
Leaves are so commonplace one might overlook the poetry that they offer. On the one hand they adorn the slender twigs of trees and on the other they are tightly paginated into volumes of books. At the end of autumn leaves hang rather sparsely on their trees giving a glimpse of supporting branches of the tree's architecture. I was attracted by the fragility and vulnerability of the autumn leaves of the Pin Oak to the side of the centre's entrance, some last shadowy leaves still on the tree, with most of them disconnected, blowing fleetingly about in the gusty wind to offer strange music to the eye.
A search was launched to find similarly faded yet romantic leaves of paper documenting the illustrious past of Standard Bank. Excellent help from the knowledgeable archive department made the search worthwhile. After much investigation and hard work 57 historical leaves were selected from the vast and interesting annals. These pages were then enlarged and fixed to lightweight plywood sheets stylised to resemble the incised leaves of the Pin Oak, the angular stones and crumpled paper leaves. The affixed documents were scuffed, scraped and treated with thin washes of paint to bring out a sense of autumn and decay and to bring to mind the colours of the masonry in the foyer area. A small group of riggers finally made it possible for the finished artworks to be strung up against the ceiling.
The following items of historical interest attracted attention and are, amongst others, included in CLAVIS SCRIPTORIUM:
- The client signatures of Cecil John Rhodes, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Christiaan Smuts
- Official permission from England in 1863 to begin the Standard Bank of South Africa
- The first list of auto banks in the Witwatersrand area
- An old bank letter discouraging marriage as an option for bank workers
- Permission to use the type writer as a writing device for the first time
- Permission to stop sending hand-written letters to clients in favour of printed letters
- Various bank notes issued by Standard Bank before notes as currency were issued by a reserve bank in South Africa
- A five pound bank note containing the first image of Jan van Riebeeck ever used on a bank note
- Recent pie charts and investment graphs
- Advertisements such as the one for a 'smokers' concert'
Originally I wanted to call the work 'Autumn Leaves' and research into the idea showed that there is in fact a famous jazz tune called 'Autumn Leaves', composed by the Hungarian composer Joseph Kosma (1905-1969) with the original lyrics by the French poet Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) under the title Les Feuilles Mortes. The English text for 'Autumn Leaves' was provided by Johnny Mercer in 1949. 'Autumn Leaves' as a title sounded a trifle sentimental and I decided on CLAVIS SCRIPTORIUM, Latin for 'key of the text' or 'key that unlocks the scripture' - also the key that unlocks a piece of music, as in 'F' major or 'C' minor and here, by analogy, applied as 'key' or introduction to the 'musical' texts of the leadership complex.
I am amazed at how fast things mechanical and secular become dated if not outdated, to be replaced by new ideas that are not always better. It takes a keen sense of intellect and of one's place in society to come up with relevant improvements to systems and techniques in the autumn of their existence. More importantly, certain human qualities never seem to become obsolete and aspects like integrity, character and the gift of leadership and direction have a more enduring and intrinsic worth. To exclude the commodities and working mechanics of an institution from moral fibre and fortitude is to court disaster. I hope that in the brief recollection of yesterday's autumn leaves our new leaders will find the rock-solid pillars of courage and temperament to achieve heartfelt and effective strategies for our country.