There’s a scene in Broken Monsters about an art party set in the real-life Powerhouse District in Detroit, but the secret is that some of the installations described in the novel are based on real pieces. Here’s the story behind one of them, that I saw at the first Zoo City art exhibition in Johannesburg in 2011.* (Intertextual!)

It was called ‘Float and Follow’ – a menacing storm cloud of balloons and a wonderful interactive piece where you could complete the sentence, “I’ve lost…” by writing on one of a hundred dangling tags. The installation was by an artist called Tarryn Lee, who I recently ran in to in Johannesburg and she was thrilled to hear that her work has lived on in fictional form.


Here’s the mail Tarryn sent me:

Dear Lauren

 It was extraordinary to meet you (again) last night. It is sublime to discover that our work has been conversing since the ‘Zoo City’ Group Exhibition at Con Hill in 2011. ‘Float and Follow’ was the installation art work I conceived in response to your novel. 

I am beyond pleased to find out that this art work has ‘traveled’: it floated into the narrative of Broken Monsters, and I look forward to discovering the shape and form it has manifested in the dream sequence you have crafted.

The formidable highveld rain storm (my immediate association of what it means to live in Johannesburg) as seen in the constructed cloud of balloons , the ‘missing’ person below  (referencing a narrative plot point in the book), the post-apocalyptic ‘aura’ projected out of the television set (in response the the landscape, tone and again, narrative, of the novel)

As you may remember, It inhabited a dark room illuminated by the static of the television set and limited light offered by the projector’s light beam. Sadly, I do not have an image for the suspended cards of recorded ‘lost things’.  

Thank you for this artistic dialogue.

Best wishes,

Tarryn Lee

Drama For Life Sex Actually Festival Director, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Art has always been a big part of my work, from the weird biological art monstrosity Woof ‘n’ Tweet in Moxyland to the art inspiration for Zoo City, from Pieter Hugo to Colbert Mashile, which also includes clues to the plot. I wrote about that for Warren Ellis here.

zoo city pieter hugo

I’ve also managed to tie in an art project to every novel so far, from Moxy monsters to Zoo City art toys to The Shining Girls charity art show for Rape Crisis. (Stay tuned for Broken Monsters art news).


And there have been two Zoo City-inspired art shows, which I had absolutely nothing to do with. One at the Old Fort at Constitution Hill in 2011 as part of a curatorial assignment for art majors at the University of the Witwatersrand (you can see the Mail & Guardian’s slideshow here) and the Zoo City exhibition curated by Nirox’s Ann-Marie Tully in 2014 at the Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg.

I love seeing what other people take from my work and it’s awesome to be able to feed it back into the fiction.