Thursday, August 4, 2011


the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, esp. through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.”
Unexpected death is always shocking, catching survivors unawares, leaving a void where seconds earlier was vitality. 
The emotions from such a death are intensified, made more complex, more difficult to settle when the cause of death is unknown. 
This is a story about a friend who has used art to come to grips with the death of her father when she was only fourteen. 

On the 28th November 1987 flight SA 295, a South African Airways Boeing 747 Combi, left Taipei for South Africa (a Combi is a special version of the 747 that splits the upper deck into two – the front for passengers, the back for cargo – in addition to the normal lower-deck cargo storage).  En route a fire broke out in the upper-deck cargo, ultimately resulting in the plane crashing into the Indian Ocean about 160 kilometres east of Mauritius with all 140 passengers and 19 crew members perishing. My friend’s father was one of the passengers.
The ensuing investigations never provided closure for the victims’ families.  The cause of the fires was never officially found.  However, over the years all sorts of things have come to light, such as parts of the Cockpit Voice Recorder missing, prime witnesses not called, such as an SAA captain who was in the tower in Mauritius, who talked to the crew of the Helderberg as it was fighting the fire.  The lack of cause and the stories of evidence not taken into account and people not interviewed have led to a vibrant set of theories about what actually happened.  The primary suspect is that the Helderberg was illegally transporting some form of munitions or chemicals used in munitions as the South African apartheid government tried to break the embargo stranglehold.
Lyndi Sales
In fact just the other day, the uncertainty as to what happened resurfaced in the newspapers with a report about how an important tape had gone missing.  So nearly 24 years later, it is still not known what caused the crash.  For 24 years there has been no closure.
Such uncertainty gnaws away at one’s emotions.  And so it did at my friend Lyndi’s, as well as her mother’s and brother’s.
Now Lyndi is a wonderful artist based in Cape Town.  Her work is well known domestically, and she has been invited to exhibit worldwide. 
In 2007 and 2008, twenty years after losing her father, she mounted exhibitions in Johannesburg and Cape Town, which she titled 1 in 11,000,000 chances and TRANSienT.  The first title reflects the statistical chance of being a fatality on a commercial flight; the second the transitory nature of our existence.  All the works had some connection to flying, to dying, to the fragility of life. The media she used for her pieces included lottery tickets, boarding passes, life jackets, and topographical maps of the sea floor where the plane went down.  Many were exquisitely cut with a laser.
1 in 11,000,000 chances was the catharsis, not only for Lyndi, but also for all of us close to the family; TRANSienT was the healing.  If you are interested in Lyndi's thoughts about 1 in 11,000,000 chances,  I recommend you read her incredibly moving statement at
There is little more than I can say.  I let her works talk.
How long can you hold your breath?

Lottery seaweed

Abyssal plain, 4500m deep.  I am never far from the sea floor

Engine spiral

Engine spiral
Tpographical map of sea floor, laser cut as seaweed. 

Close up of piece above. Red pin indicates point of impact.  Other pins represent fatalities
Flight paths - made from boarding passes
Breathing life 1 (made from lottery cards)

Stan - Thursday


  1. In some ways, it is unfortunate that my family belongs to that class of Irish for which any display of emotion is anathema.

    One of my brothers died suddenly when he was 37. He left a wife and three children, 10, 9,7, and 18 months. He has been spoken about often but only when talking about his escapades as a kid and the funny times with him and the funny things about him that we remember. His daughter doesn't remember him but she thinks she does; her memories are the things he brothers remember and talk about. He died the weekend his son and mine (they were born on the same day) had their seventh birthdays. They are now 25 and grief has not been addressed in all these years.

    My sister's husband died suddenly as well, two days before Christmas. Christmas activities had to go on because my niece's children were 4 and 2 and the 4 year-old was in prime Santa territory. It will be five years in December since he died. He is rarely mentioned at all, not even the funny bits. It is as if the mention of his name evokes more memories than my sister can handle; her kids know not to bring their father's death up in front of her. He was a witty man but his granddaughters won't know that about him.

    I envy Lyndi Sales her artistic talent. If she could cry as she worked, she is in afar better place than members of my family will ever be. The habit of burying emotions is too deep to undue.

  2. I'm sure she cried as she did it. Certainly I and other friends cried, and still do, when looking at what she created.

  3. Brilliant, Stan, and definitely cathartic. Art is the process by which she can transform all the grief and anger into something that not only externalizes it, but that other people can internalize and incorporate into their own grief and anger. May God, or something like God, bless her.

  4. What an extraordinary project to deal with something so basic to us all but uniquely individual in its effects on those left to carry on. May God have mercy on their souls.


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