For a long time in South Africa art has always occurred in one of two places: the austere, echoing halls of the gallery or public space. While galleries alienate all but the art set, public art in Johannesburg is seldom challenging or even interesting. X Homes Johannesburg, an international project curated by Christoph Gurk of the Hebbel Am Ufer (HAU) Theatre in Berlin, proposes a third alternative: private homes.
In X Homes Johannesburg, 13 homes in Hillbrow, in the inner city, and Kliptown, Soweto, are transformed into theatres and performance installations for the four days during which the project runs.
Each home hosts one work by one artist or a collaborating team of artists. Paying viewers in each area then walk from home to home to view the works. Surprisingly, Gurk says: “It was not that difficult to find people who were willing to work with us.” Having visited Johannesburg three times before in preparation for X Homes, Gurk had the opportunity to “build up trust” with individuals and facilitating institutions in Hillbrow and Kliptown. “With a project like this you can’t take it for granted that you’re in people’s own spaces and they are potentially vulnerable. If we were to try to do this in one of the Northern suburbs, I would assume that it would have been more difficult to convince people to open their homes,” says Gurk.
X Homes boasts a stellar cast of local and international artists from a variety of disciplines. Local visual artists Tracey Rose and Athi-Patra Ruga, and dancer Nelisiwe Xaba are working with German filmmaker Harun Farocki and Canadian artist and filmmaker Bruce LaBruce. Other artists participating in the project include Xoli Norman, Kemang wa Lehulere, Lonwabo Kilani, Manuel Orjuela Cortes and Nelisiwe Xaba. This credit roll, coupled with the support of the Johannesburg Goethe-Institut, is sure to attract art lovers in their droves. Hopefully this will go some way to demystifying these areas of Johannesburg, which many local cultural consumers know only at a distance.
“The message of X Homes”, according to a press release, “is to change the perception of urban spaces, which many inhabitants of Johannesburg know only from rumours in the media, and to produce images beyond the projection of violence and fear ever present in this country.”
However, it was important to Gurk and his collaborators to create an audience beyond the regular consumers of culture. “We’ve had a long discussion about how we create the public for this project,” he says. “It’s very important for us not to rely on a public that is created by cultural events of this kind. Since it is a site-specific project, we are interested in reaching beyond the normal consumers of culture.”
To reach local audiences X Homes Johannesburg offers special rates for Hillbrow and Kliptown residents who want to view the production. There is also a reduced-rate shuttle between Hillbrow and Kliptown, to encourage “community exchange”.
X Homes Johannesburg runs walking tours in Kliptown and Hillbrow on July 9 and 10 between 12pm and 2.30pm. Tickets cost R70 and must be booked through Computicket. For more information visit the Goethe-Institut website: www.goethe.de/johannesburg