Spill the coffee beans and get people talking

A machine that is “definitely not the most efficient way to dispense coffee beans into packages” has been unveiled at the Truth HQ in Cape Town.

The words are those of Cape Town coffee maverick David Donde, who co-founded Origin Coffee Roasting in 2006 but went solo and established Truth Coffee Roasting in 2009.

Last year, he cranked open the doors to the new Truth HQ, decked out in a bespoke steampunk interior by designer Haldane Martin.

Local costume and millinery specialists the Little Hattery were tasked with creating staff uniforms that rival an opera wardrobe.

Steampunk is an aesthetic that brings together Victorian analogue technology and fashion, and transposes a futuristic science fiction narrative on it.

Or, as the joke goes, “what happened when goths discovered brown”.

Most famously seen in Wild Wild West, the subculture started surfacing when visual websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr brought the images into mass circulation, and steampunk-maker websites such as Etsy connected artisans with steampunks all around the world.

Events such as Burning Man in Nevada and the South African variation, AfrikaBurn, in the Karoo, have drawn gatherings — as per the Steampunk Saloon at the AfrikaBurn festival in May.

Donde “is steampunk”, according to Martin, who proposed the concept; the caffeine-prospecting techie has spared nothing in bringing to life an entire world at Truth HQ. The design has been short-listed for the world Restaurant and Bar Design award, the only finalist from Africa. The winner will be announced in September.

Theatrical showpiece

“It’s been fantastic. We’ve taken a spot that everyone said wouldn’t work, in the Fringe, and we’re probably the busiest coffee shop in Cape Town,” enthuses Donde.

“We wanted a signature piece that really said: we’re about coffee.”

This is where industrial designer and artist Chris Jones got involved in turning the coffee dispenser into a theatrical showpiece.

After his first proposal to Donde, which was too decorative and not functional enough, Jones spent a week on YouTube watching elementary engineering videos. He came back with a Meccano-like contraption that was built using reclaimed bicycle gears, cranks and pulleys, and used lights, bells and whistles for theatrical effect.

For materials, Jones went dumpster diving at Fair Trading in Salt River and Sunshine Scrap in Woodstock.

“It was like treasure hunting through a mass of rusted old metal to find the right piece.” He then customised his finds at the Fab Lab in the Cape Craft and Design Institute.

Fab Labs are free-to-the-public design workshops, conceptualised by MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, and are found all around the world.

“On July 1 2012, Chris gave me a three-week estimate [of completion]. One year and a day later, July 2, we began with beta testing!”

Donde is actually bragging. Steampunk time, after all, is relative — it’s the industrial revolution emulating space travel.

Looking across the coffee shop at the sea of averted faces lit by laptop screens, your gaze stops at the table right beneath the contraption. They’re all looking up, mouth agape at the retro-tech of a Rube Goldberg-like chain effect that fills a packet with 215g of beans. Time travels in those two minutes.

Such is the curious case of the inefficient coffee contraption.

Mail&Guardian, 19 July 2013

Things of beauty: Rock girl benches

India Baird is a human rights lawyer who has taken the bench out of the courtroom and installed it in public spaces to create safe areas for women.

Titled Rock Girl, after the slogan “strike a woman, strike a rock”, Baird got the idea three years ago when she was volunteering at the Red River School in Manenberg, Cape Town.

“Girls were not participating in the after-school running programme because they did not feel safe on the sports field,” she explains.

“[We] began documenting the conditions around and at school, and created a plan to make their environment safer, starting with a safe place to sit at school when the older boys and gangsters harassed them.”

This simple intervention has inspired artists and designers such as Paul du Toit, Laurie van Heerden, Aidan Hart, Boyd Ferguson and Tracy Lynch to get involved, resulting in some 17 benches installed in central Cape Town, each with a sister bench installed at a school in the township, over the past two years.

“Each bench is linked to a toll-free number, which connects women to opportunities, resources and support, as well as inspiring stories of 75 successful South African women, from Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa, compiled by Karina Turok and Margie Orford,” Baird goes on.

Earlier this year, the first bench in Johannesburg was installed at the Sunlight Safe House, designed by Switch and sponsored by Investec. A sister bench is installed at De Waal Park in Cape Town.

Just after Rock Girl announced that they have been short-listed as an official World Design Capital 2014 project, the newest bench, designed by architect Mokena Makeka, was unveiled at the Prestwich Memorial alongside Cape Town’s fan-walk bridge — although this location is temporary.

“I thought of a piece of furniture that was quite elegant and tough; might seem angular or austere from certain perspectives, but quite forgiving when you come into contact with it,” says Makeka.

The powder-dusted grey steel bench comprises faceted planes that make it seem both modernist and futuristic. It comes with a padded weatherproof jacket that is securely fastened with very strong magnets.

Relying on corporate sponsors and goodwill for funding, the Rock Girl budget is tight and Makeka admits to having extended his stipend to up to R30 000 from his own pocket.

“There’s this discourse around making benches uncomfortable so that you don’t lie down on them because of prostitution, you don’t make them wide enough so that people don’t sit for too long.

“Instead I wanted a bench that was more like a chaise longue, rather than a bench that could only be sat on for five minutes. Three people can sit on it or one person can take a nap,” says Makeka.

The cover is adorned with line art infographics that relate the city of Cape Town to its larger context in Africa and the world — the distance to Kilimanjaro, for instance. This is the first Rock Girl bench that has no fixed location and is travelling around the city seeking a home.

“Benches have a very specific location but I also wanted people to think about the broader city when they sit on the bench,” says Mokena.

Regarding permission, Baird says “the city and in particular mayor Patricia de Lille have been great support”.

In a city that still doesn’t have a public art policy and is hosting the World Design Capital in less than six months’ time, these functional creative interventions with social good at heart uplift the spirit.

Mail&Guardian, 12 July 2013

An other day

To sleep a day and awake and not know what to do is

what is the beginning of a new beginning

to the end of the end

that comes after the beginning.

That is what that day is.

 

The day that I woke

to own the beginning of the beginning

of the end and went to the toilet

to begin the ending of the end.

It was that day

 

I got caught

in the vortex of repetition

and unwitty regrets.

When no one was home

during the day

 

I still kept the music soft.

When I cooked breakfast in my pyjamas

and only washed half the dishes.

When I was cold and I could see the sun shine outside the window.

That was one of those days,

 

those days that pile up,

unremarkably pile

up to constitute an unacknowledged

flavour of consciousness.

Like stock time.

 

Just the nutrients of time:

Just that it passes.

And the unwritten letter

stays. A promise of another day,

another day that is a high note.

 

One of those days.

near the beginning of a beginning,

even if it’s a short beginning,

that ends before you notice it. It’s something

you remember to remember.

 

Then there’s these days.

Of memeless meanings.

Meaning

I am here again.

At the same beginning to a beginning

 

of an end near the end of the end

that comes after

the beginning and

before the real

end.