Flying Colours

Sometimes when I have to give a talk in a strange place and I don’t know anyone I get terribly anxious. Last week, having already gotten lost in downtown Cape Town, trying to park near the place I was to give a talk in, I got into a bit of a tizzy. Then I discovered my host was unable to make it due to sudden personal circumstances.

As I sorted out my cables, computer and connectors I took a deep breath and looked momentarily towards the ceiling of the room. There high above was a life-sized Desmond Tutu, in his signature crimson frock coat, flying across the room, hanging from a swinging chandelier. Such surreal moments don’t happen that often and I did a double take. I am sure my state of mind made it seem even more bizarre. But it worked magic. It made me chuckle and forget to fret.

How did the artist come up with such an idea and then execute the work to make it work so well? It was ingenious. The former archbishop was very life-like and even his cross dangled as it should – if he was really flying. His facial expression offset by his glasses was also very realistic. As I moved towards him I had a slight uncanny valley moment. The chandelier had also been created to be at an angle as if swinging with his weight – but all was perfectly still.

Throughout my talk I looked up at Desmond for an occasional inspirational moment. I am not sure if that was the intention of the artist but it worked well for me. Mostly, we give talks in classrooms, seminar rooms, hotel rooms or convention centres that are usually stark and devoid of any humour. Life without such quirkiness would be very dull, indeed. Funnily, though, I was not sure how many of the audience actually noticed him!

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