Vote Art Activist to TED finals

Vote to help Johannesburg art activist to get to TED California finals with her ‘pillow talk’

Lesley Perkes

Lesley Perkes

On the edge of the inner city in a much-loved area of Troyeville, lies a concrete bed in a park overlooking the main route (Bezuidenhout) into Johannesburg from the east. Passers-by and the occasional visitor may look at it and wonder how it got there. In fact this double bed complete with duvet and headboard – all in concrete and beautifully made and maintained – represents a neighborhood attitude that is catching on fast. The bed – known as the Troyeville Bedtime Story – has become a legendary meeting place, an object of curiosity, a platform for events and arts and a unifying community force in Troyeville. Through it’s online manifestation the project reaches people all over the world and is a centre-piece for a model motivating neighborhoods and kindred spirits all over the world to regain their joy.

“Everywhere in the world right now, the majority of people feel pretty powerless,” says Lesley Perkes, who conceptualized the project with artist Johannes Dreyer. “Using your own imagination and ability to act on what you see around you is a great way of getting up to good mischief, making you feel the power that you – and the people around you – do have. So much seems to be falling apart but artists instinctively know how to re-invent and re-see, if you like, disintegration. The bed used to be a pile of neglected rat-infested pile of rubble that we were all used to. Reinventing it makes us question what we think is normal and what to do about that.”

It is with this powerful message that increasingly visible and gutsy public arts activist Perkes, is making a determined bid to represent South Africa on the main stage at the annual TED conference in California in March 2013. TED, started out in 1984 as a conference to bring together the worlds of Technology, Entertainment and Design, and has blossomed into the most powerful stage internationally for the world’s greatest thinkers and doers.

Calling TED’s stage “a turbo-charged platform for imagination” Lesley has made it through to the finals among twenty candidates from South Africa. In a pool of more than 290 submissions from thirteen countries around the world, Lesley inspires people to “…become initiative and act!”

“I hope South Africa will get behind all the finalists – it’s the Olympics of Ideas for us, and says a lot about South Africa’s place in the world. We don’t always have to be spending fortunes bidding on other country’s projects. We have our own offerings for the world.”

For the last twenty “very odd years” says Lesley, she has been working obsessively in the public arts and is responsible for making her own and producing work in public places “for some of the most interesting artists in the world.” Amongst hundreds of projects produced by Perkes, most memorable are the spectacle ideas including the yellow hands at the Gilloolly’s Interchange (with artist Strijdom van der Merwe), Joburg Art City’s wrapping of over 10 000m2 of inner city buildings with an art exhibition by the brilliant Mary Sibande and the giant Crateman built using thousands of crates over a massive steel armature by world-famous Cape Town artist Porky Hefer.

Lesley is enthusiastic about art and her country: “South Africa’s arts offering is explosive – we could not find a better time or place to be making work – across all the fields of the arts – in poetry, music, dance, theatre, contemporary visual and performative work, especially in public space. And I don’t only mean in South Africa. The arts have a great contribution to make everywhere now as people are increasingly having to find ways to look after themselves more resourcefully, though here at home the sense of potential is particularly intense.”

You can find out more by watching Lesley’s audition – titled “Making a bed the whole town can share”, online – and vote for her by visiting the Johannesburg candidate section at :;TEDJohannesburg