French philosopher Georges Bataille wrote that ‘‘life must be examined in its empty and peripheral forms, rather than in the monuments and the monumental vistas that are its centre.’’ In a more literal sense, the same might be said for the many monuments and monumental vistas that have featured as public art. Maninzi Kwatshube and Nkule Mabaso of the Newcastle Creative Network have taken up this mandate in “Fast Forward >> Here,” one of six projects selected to be part of the African Centre for Cities’ Public Art and the Power of Place initiative. Focusing on Khayelitsha, the semi-formal township on the periphery of Cape Town, removed from any conventional monumental vistas of Cape Town’s centre, Kwatshube and Mabaso are dismissing the erection of any physical monuments as well. Instead, the power of place will manifest in conversation.
“Fast Forward >> Here” will stimulate a series of discussions between Khayelitsha youth who are in what Mabaso describes as “the strange bracket of 18 to 23 years of age.” Both artists feel that people in this demographic experience vulnerability during a time when they are still figuring themselves and their lives out. “We want them to talk about life in general,” Mabaso explains, “its reality, and how they justify or explain to themselves why their dreams or desires may be very different from this reality.”
Kwatshube and Mabaso acknowledge both the privilege and challenge of accessing these levels of disclosure. From a performance and fine arts background respectively, both believe in the role that art can play in unloosening surface conventions. Participants will take part in a day-long workshop. The first half will consist of a series of theatre games. Kwatshube explains the games will make participants comfortable in their own bodies and the surrounding environment. The resulting conversations in the second half of the workshop will be documented through film. Kwatshube and Mabaso are adamant that the course of the project must see their own artistic direction gradually receding into the background.
Part of the workshop will involve participants learning different roles in the production process: from operating a camera and directing, to being part of a conversation on film. Each participant will be taught a different skill and will pass on their new knowledge to their peers in turn. The creation of the final documentary will be a result of the participants having rotated through each role with one another. Kwatshube and Mabaso’s own belief in the participants will hopefully rub off on them: “Once we inspire the confidence, the thing will run itself,” says Mabaso.
The resulting conversations will not only contribute to a work of public art, but to a multi-layered archive that could benefit researchers and relevant organisations as well. The project will also voice what participants want to change in their environments. Both artists have entered the ACC’s project with the desire to contribute more diverse forms of public art than some of the works that have caused controversy in recent years. Kwatshube, having lived for many years in Khayelitsha, feels young people still carry the hurt of their parents’ generation, with the added burdens of poverty and high unemployment. But both she and Mabaso are wary of using public art, especially in its material forms, to cement their own opinions in the place. “[A collective] history is not your first thought when you are living in the landscape. Place is very personal for each person,” Mabaso says. “That’s the power of place,” Kwatshube adds, “however public it may seem.”
The finished work, which will feature filmed conversations between around 30 young people from Khayelitsha, may result in the examination of life that Bataille advocated. But it will be far from empty, and far from peripheral, in its navigation between the public and what is personal.
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