Encore: Daniel Van Der Merwe

Daniel van der Merwe is a professional architect. He is part of the PPC team as an innovator. Van der Merwe is the chief curator of the PPC Imaginarium, one of SA’s largest art and design support platforms. He initiated the annual AZA (ArchitectureZA) Conference and has acted as convener since. Van der Merwe is a past president of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture.

Name three artworks that you love and why.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. For its sublime third movement which touches the deepest part of the soul and carries us gently upwards into Elysium. Only pieces that have great melodies can do this.
     The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a profoundly insightful psychological novel which propounds the ‘philosophy’ that people only discover themselves when they understand how to listen. ‘Alchemy is the projection in the material world of all spiritual concepts.’ It calls on us to be faithful to our own Personal Legend.
     Guernica was created by Picasso to express his outrage over the Nazi bombing of a Basque city in northern Spain, ordered by General Franco. Since then, this monumental black-and-white canvas has come to be an anti-war symbol and a reminder of the tragedies of war. Everyone should make a personal pilgrimage to the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid to witness this and its thousands of accompanying detailed drawings.

Name one artist you would love to meet.
Banksy! He is the world’s most elusive street artist whose real identity has never been revealed. The Scarlet Pimpernel of the art world, his graffiti art highlights prominent issues in our world with a smattering of humour. He is one of the most provocative artists of our day. But just who is he? Don’t you also itch to know?

What are you reading at the moment?
I love reading cookbooks as expressions of creativity. Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe is a beautiful artist’s cookbook and is deeply inspired by her years living in the rural American Southwest. It demonstrates her love of wild, foraged ingredients and organically grown garden produce. Her recipes make one fall in love all over again with cooking well and eating well. What is impressive is how she approached the presentation of food in the same way she approached a painting – with an eye for simple yet strong compositions, enormous respect for quality materials, and ingredients, and a deep love of colour. Some highlights from the book so far for me are recipes like ‘Brightest Borscht’, ‘Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas’, and ‘Cheese Soufflé with Cayenne & Fresh Parsley’.

What is in your car’s CD player?
Nina Simone’s I Put a Spell on You. It is certainly one of her the most famous albums. What I love about this classic album is her emotional interpretations on a varied range of styles going from a more soul touch, through jazz and blues. By its very diversified nature, this album is one of my favourites by her, it can be harsh and strong in some moments, and then very subtle and soft in others. It’s truly a masterpiece in many senses. She is more focused on the soft nuances of the notes, the fragile melodies and the singular tone of her voice. Even this way, she can sing very loudly and emotionally when the song asks for it. It’s also very to important to stress her skills on the piano as a very high point in this album. An all-time evergreen, the album does have some of the most inspired tracks I’ve heard in a long time.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To have more patience, be slower in savouring the good and quiet moments of life. I think we are all trapped in this hectic and neurotic pace of delivering at all costs and against all odds. The other day I stopped myself from sending emails at 4:30 am – it was just so wrong!

How have the arts industries in South Africa changed over the last ten years?
I think the need to nourish emerging young and black talent has become a main focus and priority in our creative industries. It is encouraging to see how much talent and latent potential there is amongst our young creatives. At the same time, it is sad to see so much of that which is not becoming fully realised. The industry is trying to assist where possible but without additional government support, we will never be able to fully mine the creative potential.

Name one thing you think would improve the arts and culture industry in South Africa.
Make arts education compulsory in schools. Never mind the creative industry – let’s talk about improving the entire country! In countries where art education has been made compulsory alongside maths and science, there has been an almost magical transformation. Art education in all schools will teach our young people specific sets of thinking skills not adequately addressed elsewhere in the curriculum. Children need a broad education that includes the arts, and the continued development of our society and the future of creative innovation depends upon a creative education.

What is your most treasured possession?
A book passed down through several family generations. My beautiful 300-year-old, leather-bound, hand-printed Bible with the most exquisite illustrations. Its written in Gothic High Dutch so one can’t really read it – but the steel plate etched gravures are so masterfully done that one could frame each and every one of the several hundreds of images. I often just page through it to absorb the incredible detail of each illustration.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Much of our suffering is being produced by unseen dynamics occurring in our unconscious mind. Misery is remaining a lifelong victim of your own unconscious mind without ever seeking to bring it to consciousness through meditation; a proactive spiritual journey; or psychoanalytic therapy.
     Too much is going on behind the scenes, in our unconscious mind, that we don’t know about.
     Much of this dynamic processing consists of inner conflict. We keep recycling the same old unresolved issues, the old hurts, shame, regret, cynicism, guilt, and passivity. And we can’t stop doing so when we don’t see clearly enough the inner dynamics that entrap us.

What is it that makes you happy?
Maybe it takes one to reach a certain age to be able to conclude that contentment gives real happiness… Yes, it’s my interpretation that happiness is a temporary ‘high’, whereas contentment is a longer lasting, deeper feeling of satisfaction and gratitude for spiritual blessings and/or people/relationships. It is through my job, my friends and by feeling that I’m in charge – the author of my own life. All of this gives me the fulfilment that leads to the sense of contentment that I think is what true happiness is all about.

Describe a defining moment in your life.
The loss of my mother. Saying goodbye to a parent is one of the hardest things we face in our lives. It is also something that almost everyone goes through. Losing a parent means a loss of childhood, of innocence, and a part of oneself. No other bond exists like the one with a parent. It forces you to cope with the loss of parental love and attention that was given uniquely to you, and that you depended on, possibly even took for granted. It forced me to face my own mortality, the value of time, not to live with regrets, and to appreciate special people as my most precious gifts of life.

What projects will you be busy with during 2018 and into 2019?
PPC has allowed me to extend the PPC Imaginarium into Zimbabwe, with the possibilities of further reaching out to emerging artists in Botswana, Ethiopia and other African countries. This is a very exciting prospect. Imagine an Africa where a platform can bond emerging artists together in support and mentorship! PPC is a truly remarkable company to allow these opportunities to creatives.

Name one goal you would like to achieve in the next twelve months.
To be able to convince more influential people in positions of power to support the arts and especially our young creatives!