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MOVMENT TO HERE

by Ben Metcalfe • 16 September 2012

The thoughts which have emerged from my interactions within the project have for the larger part reflected the difficulty, if not impossibility, of communication.

The work I brought to the project (the Information Desk) dealt with these issues marginally as a part of a more literal process of questioning and analysis. In Fietas broader social issues were introduced of fracture, failed communication, and the hypocrisy of a communal ‘cure.’ The Yeoville group highlighted all these within three issues: views from outsiders while being considered an outsider, language, and South African cultural bias. Working from here I hope to explore issues of these incongruences of language and understanding.

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Artists I would be interested in consulting with include Sello, as I may be interested in exploring more performative aspects over the next week. Sound may also be an interest in exploring these issues, and so may require some advice as to how this would best be done.

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Space will be an issue which is very likely to change, not because it is undecided but because it is people which are the focus here. A different ‘type’ may be found in Sandton to Yoville, but it is not an assumption that the site is more than a place that draws those ‘types’ of person. We will not be discussing the architecture of a place more than speaking to people found there.

17 September 2012

Describing a few weeks in terms of developing an idea

Coming to the Play>Urban project has been very useful, and having never having worked in a group of this style before has diversified my choices for future processes. Over the past few weeks I have been involved in many projects, from simple introductory adaptions of work, to various bivouacs into a city I am familiar with. Working with Johannesburg as an object from which to position joint reference with outsiders to the city is an instructive method of re-evaluating what I often take for granted.
I brought to the project the a process of my own, the Information Desk, which subverts the implications of the title by drawing in information via the filling out of forms and the recording of conversations relating to the form. This has been a process of experimentation for much of the year in my own work, and had been selected for the Marteinssen, so in bringing it with me to the Play>Urban project I hoped to widen the scope of its discussion. This has been a success for me, and hopefully has added to the project as a whole. At first the response was very literal, simply adapting the Desk for the first exhibition into something more exaggerated and menacing in tone.
Visiting Keleketla! near the centre of the city began the broadening of this scope, and it was interesting watching the various interactions of South Africans and French during the visit and the lunch hour afterwards. The lunch-hour more so in various ways, as interactions with the city as a visceral living object providing Ethiopian or Mozambiquean food was occasionally discarded in favour of a retreat to a safe refuge in Nando’s or McDonalds. However, refuge is not something the French had travelled so far for, and not therefore what the South Africans should have been working with either. My comfort with being in the city, with some Mozambique chicken warming me up was disrupted by arriving back at Keleketla! to find this implicit resistance, but shows a specific view of the ‘other’ in the central city.
Similarly the Hector Peterson Memorial was an interesting experiment in viewing the historicising of a specific area, while alienating it from its wider location. Again, there was an incongruent reaction in moving from the natural feel of the inner city to highly ‘presented’ atmosphere of the tourist inspired walk which leads from the memorial. The area seemed to miscommunicate, to create a friction in intent.
Fietas is a community which exists on the periphery of my personal knowledge of the city. Literally, it exists within a hole of areas I have knowledge of all around it. The work done there as a group focused on the huge gap which seemed to exist between the extreme poor in the area (we met several times with a man called Lesley) and the community centre of the area. The group chose to operate as a ‘tool’ for each of these sections of the community for a period of two hours each. We broke firewood for Lesley’s encampment into useable pieces, and sorted them by size. For the community centre we served food, washed dishes, and handed out oranges during the two hours school children came to the community centre. It was the break-down in communication between these two centres that was amazing however. Lesley asked us specifically to talk to the community centre on our first meeting with him, and the community centre turned some people who seemed considerably desperate away while we were there. It was like the couple of blocks between the two areas were some sort of vast wall.
The visit to Sandton to visit the Art Fair was also instructive in issues of the difficulty of communication. As a representation as one of the wealthiest and most highly accessible locations around Johannesburg it always manages to highlight itself on the landscape of the city. It is of close proximity to one of the least affluent parts of the city, Alexandria, which reflect a point about broken communication which seems to become a bit repetitive at this point.
Dorothee and Betina separated the Play>Urban group into two groups with a separate section to walk about in the city. The other group, Betina’s, walked to the Calton Centre. Ours went on a circuit past Ellis Park, into the Chinese market, around some of the more desperate areas nearby and on the way back to VANSA. Again, we passed between various spaces that reflected issues of distance and the motif of unworkable communication. The codified relations in wide open spaces of commerce and ‘play’ at Ellis Park did not sit well with areas a mere stone throw away.
The repetitive line drawn between broken communication, division, and the presence of the ‘alien’ across these borders condensed for me in Yoville. I know Yoville, There are old friends of my family that have lived there since I was a young kid, and we have always kept in close contact, but especially when I was younger, my little sister and I used to spend the day there. I did not really know that there was a Congolese district at the end of Rocky St. though, and it was there that the sense of alienation was brought home. Firstly in terms of language, the French and the Congolese had long conversations about politics and various other things that were translated in bits and pieces or specifically re-told in English for the South Africans in the group. This effect of re-telling and re-interpretation disjointed the experience, and hindered understanding. In the end this disjointed experience got absurd toward the end. Apparently a fight broke out between a Congolese student and a Congolese émigré over differing views over Kabila, who currently rules there. I and the other South African were not even aware of it, as we were inside a building having Kabila’s atrocities emphatically explained to us.
Perhaps relating to the break in understanding that is based in language, a sense of reduction also came into play. The Congolese were not individuals if they had explain their context in Yoville constantly, and the South Africans were not much more than ostracised observers. I have personal knowledge of Yoville, but this was often disregarded due to my being a white male from the suburbs. This is a stereotyped position, and as I have a tendency toward caution, having been exposed at various times to other stereotypes of living in Johannesburg. However, the inability to communicate and wider failure to achieve complete understanding of the situation at any given time impressed itself on my viewing of the day and the work of previous weeks.
The response of the Yoville group focused itself around three key concepts: alienation, the inter-zone, and dislocation. The six of us were separated into groups of two, and each had a conversation that in some way dealt with the issues of translation. In this process, the failure to communicate entirely surfaced within my head. There are opportunities for exploring understanding through the failure to understand which appeal to me at this point. Communication allows for the exchange of ideas, and the creation of new ones, whether the communication happens in terms of conversation, reading, orders, or media. Understanding is bound in this, but if understanding fails, it is the attempt to understand that informs and is where a great wealth of thought is to be found.



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