During our activities as public art researchers and commissioning agents for the Johannesburg Development Agency, we conducted numerous site visits, city walks, and scripto-visual mapping workshops, towards a better understanding of the manner in which public art can contribute to place making solutions in the inner city.
On one of our site inspections at the boundary between Braamfontein and Hillbrow, we were confronted by a Senegalese man, who recognizing our cameras must have presumed we were tourists. Speaking to us in French he advised us not to enter Hillbrow. Able to understand and respond we info rmed him that we were Joburger's and that we were very aware of the no-go aspects of Hillbrow.
From the perspective of our mapping activities, we thus received first hand evidence of the potentially charged divide between these two neighbourhoods and in addition a sense of strangeness following the realization that ‘others' from the continent might have a stronger foothold of areas of the city that we had previously traversed freely.
This sense of territoriality within the inner city, the evidence of a ‘new' African user and so on had become a reality even before the abolition of the Group Areas Act in 1990.
As an artist whose body of work to date is predominantly dedicated to investigating the transformations and visual discourses within Johannesburg , I have come to realise that Johannesburg holds remarkable value as a laboratory for studying and immersing oneself. It is also home to both myself and Marcus Neustetter and because we have chosen to remain in South Africa , we understand that our memories of home under apartheid for example are now radically challenged at all levels. For us, remaining here means embracing that change and using our skills as creative people to participate in, produce and influence perceptions.
Referring back to this idea of immersion in the city, we identify Johannesburg as perhaps the best example of a South African city's conversion from an apartheid identity to a multiple African identity. In this transformation process our sense is that the city itself is catching up to the rapid reclamation strategies adopted by the new city users be they local or from the continent. The high impact change within the urban fabric of Johannesburg leaves traces of human interaction, socio- economic and even cultural endeavour. As artists and curators there is so much opportunity to use the language of exhibition practice within public or private space to reflect on this transformation and what it means for creative interventions to play a role in reporting on this change or facilitating a seeing-ourselves approach to audience growth and development.
An example of our approach can best be described in our project (by invitation of the French Institute of South Africa ) for the Dakar Biennial in May 2006.
During the conceptual phase of the project, the first questions we asked ourselves were; what does Dakar / Senegal look like? How does it behave as a city? And are there comparisons we can draw between Dakar and Johannesburg 's newly formed African city?
An answer to these questions would require establishing a process that was born out of the encounter with the ‘Senegalese man'.
Our proposal acknowledges the following:
There is a Senegalese community in Joburg, migrant, legal and illegal, engaging with the City of Johannesburg in a particular way.
From a city comparison perspective we need to have an encounter with Dakar and this encounter should be relevant to our work in Johannesburg and other African cities.
The language of mapping through video, photography, drawing and found materials will form the key visual documentation processes.
The outcome of the project should have a form particular to the Dakar exhibition and a form particular to a return exhibition in Johannesburg .
Our concept proposes the following.
We establish a forum within which we can interview a small number of resident Senegalese immigrants. Through the interview dialogue we hope to extract info rmation about Dakar , hand drawn maps, photographs and other info rmation that we could use to navigate Dakar without reliance upon traditional maps or guide books. An added layer to this navigation process is that we offer to deliver something of importance to a friend or family member in Dakar .
This process is documented and forms the basis upon which we design our own route map, from the airport or main transport arteries to the city.
The culmination of documentary material is then processed in Dakar through a media lab that is partnering with us to produce an exhibition result.
Upon return to Johannesburg we will recontextualise the Dakar Exhibition in Hillbrow, with a view to engaging the resident Senegalese audience. In both my own artistic practice and the collaborative partnership between myself and Marcus Neustetter, I think that our socially engaged processes began years ago out of notions of adding or extracting value within the set of relations accountable to the project or intervention. We realise today that our interventions are directly linked to issues of audience development, access and interpretation. That in a fragmented society like that of South Africa ; audience is site or context specific and that in this sense we purpose and condition our projects to this end.
Biography- Stephen Hobbs
Early on in his career, Stephen Hobbs recognised the need to produce and publish across the disciplines of artistic production, curatorial practice and cultural management. He graduated from Wits University with a BAFA(Hons) in 1994. He was the curator of the Market Theatre Galleries (Johannesburg) from 1994 to 2000. In 2001, with Kathryn Smith and Marcus Neustetter he formed the artists collective The Trinity Session. He has exhibited and published extensively in South Africa, Europe and North America. As a visual artist Hobbs draws on urban vocabularies of images and signs to point to the city¹s transformative spatial qualities. He has worked with video, photography, and installation to record and represent seemingly invisible data such as human interaction, meeting points and traces of flux in city spaces.