On Wardrobes; or, lions in the veld...
Treemama, Yanyun Chen
by Jeremy Fernando
She appears to me, as if in a dream.
Ordinarily I would have said it was a nightmare. My relationship with nature has never been good; not just not close to for that already presumes a certain proximity. As far as I was concerned, nature is best experienced behind a glass panel; air-conditioning and a glass of wine de rigueur.
Why I found myself at the Haina Kalahari Lodge, perched at the northern edge of the Central Kalahari Desert, is still completely beyond me. Granted, there was a lot of wine involved—and a private plane was thrown into the mix—but here I was, surrounded by nature. And absolutely nothing else.
Suddenly the risk of getting mugged in Johannesburg seemed only a distant comfort.
The skies opened.
The rain had followed me to the Kalahari. Being anointed witch doctor was looking a distinct possibility.
Faced with a veld rapidly turning green was almost disconcerting: this is supposed to be a desert.
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
But it is in the moments one is removed from one’s expectations— separated from one’s self—that an encounter with magic occurs.
And I found myself looking her in the eye.
Or shall I say she looked at me, through me.
Sitting on a quad bike, paying more attention to not letting the engine die, I forgot myself as I took the bend in the trail. She brought me back to my senses. Finally understanding dawned as to why the king of the beasts relies on her.
Usually seeing the world through different eyes is a figure of speech. Oftentimes scoffed at as a cliché—I’ve done a fair share of sneering myself.
But I hadn’t been seen by her yet.
It is not so much that you are seeing the world differently; the world itself has changed. It allows a certain aspect of itself to be seen by you.
Whilst packing my bags for the trip, I whimsically brought along an old friend: Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography Words. In it, he describes his long love affair with language—he who “never tilled the soil or hunted for nests … did not gather herbs or throw stones at birds … books were my birds and my nets, my household pets, my barn and my countryside.” (49). Within it, I imagined finding refuge from all this nature surrounding me, engulfing me.
I turned out to be prophetic.
But like all good prophets, I had no idea what I was saying. Nor did the prophecy make any sense till much later.
Till she looked through me.
And “after a while, I took pleasure in that sudden lift which took me out of myself.” (47)
One does not visit places.
One goes there. And hopes that the place opens itself to you.
That the place visits you.
If I want to imagine a fictive nation, I can give it an invented name, treat it declaratively as a novelistic object … I can also … isolate somewhere in the world (faraway) a certain number of features … and out of these features deliberately form a system. I call this system: Japan
(Roland Barthes: Empire of Signs)
I could have shown you pictures.
But if you cannot see the Kalahari—the veld, Bushmen, wildlife, game, cats, predators, hunters, hunting, the hunted—without seeing it, you never will.
I call this system: Botswana.
[dedicated to Tombi & Andre Rautenbach]
About the Author:
Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and is the author of Reflections on (T)error, The Suicide Bomber; and her gift of death, Reading Blindly and Writing Death. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and art; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press, and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and a Fellow of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore.
About the Artist:
Yanyun Chen is a full time freelancer for illustrations, animations, design and game creation. Her clients include IDEO Singapore, Nexus Singapore, Shyalala, byFlo, Audi, Propellerfish, Proteus Technologies, Search Ventures and more to produce flash games, animations, trading card games, illustrations, UI for app and web layouts. She also contributes to the online magazine One Imperative, and does book layouts for wonderful writers, such as Peter Van De Kamp, Jeremy Fernando and Anila Angin.
She works under the artist name Stick and Balloon, with her long time creature pal Sara Chong, and is establishing a dramatically illustrated ebook publisher named Delere Press, with writer-dictator Jeremy Fernando, who has been said to “make philosophy sexy”. She’s also part of Piplatchka Collective, which recently held their first illustration and photography show.
Yanyun is currently an Artist-in-Residence at Tembusu College, NUS, Singapore.