TELLING THE STORIES OF A CITY – #ARTMYJOZI
A COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE JOHANNESBURG DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (JDA) AND THE TRINITY SESSION ART PRODUCTION TEAM, #ARTMYJOZI, IS CHANGING THE WAY PEOPLE EXPERIENCE THE CITY OF GOLD.
Think of your favourite place.What makes it special? Is it the way the sunshine spills across your bed in the morning, or is it the smell of the sea where you first tried surfing? Wherever you’ve made your happy place, chances are it’s not the physical reality of the space that draws you to it. Instead, it’s the story behind the place that makes it special to you.The feelings you’ve experienced there and the memories it holds.
This is the essence of place-making – and, because of the transience of Johannesburg’s communities, it’s a feature that’s missing from many parts of our city.
A CITY OF STORIES
It’s not that Johannesburg doesn’t have stories to tell. Far from it: In the city’s 130-year history, it’s been a stage for drama, tragedy, and triumph. But the reality is that these stories have been told by an ever-changing cast.Visit the museums of western Europe, which record the histories of a largely homogenous population that experiences comparatively little change, and you’ll understand just how true this is.
That’s why, Trinity Session was appointed by the JDA to engage with the communities along the three development corridors lining the City’s Bus Rapid Transport Routes, Louis Botha, Empire-Perth and Turffontein. Contextualising this Transit-Orientated approach to Development, or TOD, the goal was to focus on place-making, explains the company’s codirector Stephen Hobbs.The idea was to create a narrative of the places in question so that they become more attractive to those who live there.
Community resonance is the central premise of the programme. Hobbs says that when the programme was first conceived, the brief was to create iconic sculptures. Four years on, the emphasis has shifted: “We’re focused on community coproduction, with a more on-the-ground, engaged, collaborative approach,” Hobbs explains.
With this in mind, the JDA andTrinity Session have launched a social-media campaign which calls on members of every community where #artmyjozi is active to talk about how they feel about their space, and how it could be improved. The next step is to workshop this input, engaging multiple creative producers, so that it can be expressed through different artistic and functional forms.That might be with a performance, a sculpture, street furniture, or something else altogether, so long as it holds relevance and meaning for the community.
PATERSON PARK PERSPECTIVES
The intervention taking place at Paterson Park in Orange Grove is a case in point.This is just one of the points along the Development Corridors – there are several more, given that the corridor starts at Noordgesig in Soweto and ends in Marlboro South. Along the way, it passes landmarks and suburbs like Helen Joseph Hospital, Brixton, Balfour Park, and Alexandra.
Hobbs points out that Paterson Park has traditionally been a home to artists, designers, and musicians, so it’s fitting that the Trinity Session has commissioned theatre maker Myer Taub to create a piece of theatre that will be performed in the park. This, in turn, will provide clues to the kind of artworks that will eventually be placed in the park, with possibilities including works that respond to the flora and fauna of the site, or perhaps performance spaces.
What’s important, Hobbs emphasises, is the fact that these pieces won’t be created simply because they’re pretty. Rather, they will be a direct reference to the people who live in this area and the experiences that are part of their daily lives.
What’s important, Hobbs emphasises, is the fact that these pieces won’t be created simply because they’re pretty. Rather, they will make a direct reference to the people who live in this area and the experiences that are part of their daily lives.
Whether these items still hold relevance in 15 or even 20 years is anyone’s guess.When you look at how Johannesburg’s suburbs and neighbourhoods constantly evolve, it’s easy to imagine that they won’t. Take the Louis Botha Development Corridor, for example, a key arterial route between Alexandra and the Inner City. Almost every Johannesburg dweller has crossed it at some point, giving little thought to the fact that it was once the only connection between Pretoria and the rapidly expanding mining town of Johannesburg. Or that at one stage, it was a conduit for the Ndebele journeying down from Zimbabwe, driving their cattle as they did. In this way, Louis Botha isn’t just the spine of the city. It is, as Hobbs says, an iconic urban thread that stitches together 100 years of history.
And if #artmyjozi can find a way to bring that history back to life, to remind us of who we once were, even as the BRT route which brought the project to life changes the shape of the suburbs by facilitating transport through it, bringing new opportunities and new people – well, doesn’t that make it so much more than art?
First Page: Artist’s drawing workshop, adjacent to Short Road Park, Orange Grove. This Page Top: Noordgesig artist’s preliminary design workshops and pop-up performance. This Page Bottom: Public furniture design activation with Northview High School...