Infecting the City - a Healthy Interaction

Infecting the City

Lucinda Jolly previews the 7th anniversary of Infecting The City.

The Africa Centre celebrates the 7th anniversary of Infecting The City, the only dedicated Public Arts Festival in South Africa. This 5 day festival show cases over 50 works.

Infecting The City (ITC) invites and encourages everyone to revisit and interact with their city (and the concerns it raises) in a new way through a mix of works across all artistic disciplines in including dance, performance visual art and music- and forms not easily categorised.

We are now quite familiar with the catch words "sustainability", "upliftment" and "outreach" which have been liberally bandied about as the prevailing feel of World Design Capital. Unfortunately in many cases they remain catch words rather than concrete reality.

As exciting and cutting edge as most current fairs and expos are, many pay lip service to the spirit of inclusivity. The majority of citizens are excluded because the entry fees are simply not affordable. As a result these events continue to be seen as elitist while espousing  not to be. ITC's invitation, in keeping with one of its themes of 20 years of democracy, is however, a truly democratic one because it's free.

Two years ago the ITC logo was a stylised silhouette of one of the most feared insects-the cockroach. Scurrying across the poster surfaces, feelers a-twitch. It'ss not a comfortable image but it makes an appropriate logo. A totem of inner city living, these creatures which are blamed for carrying disease and yet will survive a nuclear fallout, reflect the spirit of the festival .

This is a willingness to be contaminated against the prevailing status quo and be open to change.

The logo may have changed this year to a phoenix type bird suggestive of a fiery death and rebirth cycle but the edgy duality remains.

There is a part of each one of us that is fearful of contamination but also desires it. It may be around new ideas, a form of creativity, a new interest, a spiritual path and even romance. ITC encourages an edginess but one that is contained in an art form. It's a good kind of contamination. Rather like the introduction of the mold penicillin to create blue cheese or the use of a weakened form of disease in a vaccine to fight disease. It can be seen as a kind of constructive rebellion for change if you like- an antidote to the old tried and trusted approach.

According to curator Jay Pather "access" is the prevailing feel  of this festival. He describes it as the Piped Piper gathering people in his wake with a happy ending.  The city becomes accessible at night from the Company's Garden through to Plein street.

He suggests that as a participant you may find yourself among people you may not normally meet with and visiting areas you don't normally frequent.

While contamination suggests "a high level of intensity" Pather points out that the fair is a textured and layered event with some pieces being "easy to watch" as well as those you "really have to apply yourself" .

The works in the festival move between the personal and political and are curated to either talk to each other or to the spaces they are located in. Alternatively, they also operate as strong contrasts to each other.

The opening night focuses on the personal in domestic spaces.

The work Couched by Shaun Olef and Grant van Ster  is another example of the personal. It's a conversation between two  that takes place through movement rather than words and happens on couch in the middle of the Queen Victoria street .Get hugged by a wall in Kira tempers Wall -Hug where performers using fabric that mimics architectural details embrace passersby, thereby softening the impact of city architecture and breaking down barriers it creates.

Couched
Couched

Pedro Bustamante's installation The Accumulation is Primitive works as a political statement. Using candles to suggest a relief map of the world with the tallest one representing the GDP of each country, he makes economic trends visible in a simple graphic way.

Purge is a performance lecture by Brian Lobel in which he explores the post fallout of a game he played last year where he allowed strangers one minute to decide which of his Facebook friends to delete.

Community outreach comes via the Arts Aweh! programme which is a youth development initiative of ITC .Using the arts as a form of social activism the programme offers 450 senior pupils  from 13 schools an opportunity to engage and be guided by professional artists. Two site specific art works in Philippi and Fractreton will be premiered after the festival.

Look out for Uncles and Angels an interactive dance and video collaboration around the Reed dance, a youth orchestra that plays for Pantsula dancers, and New York artist Kate Urban's pathway 50 000 red rose petals  at the station.

Finally two musical works based around the writings of Antjie Krog. A sung piece by Neo Muyanga called Thorisole Morusu based on Krog's poem Country of Grief and Grace and Antjie in Berlin composed by Rudiger Meyer and performed by acclaimed pianist Jill Richards appropriately in the Slave Church Museum.

WHAT: INFECTING THE CITY, a public arts festival. Curated by Jay Pather. From today until Saturday.

CONTACT:  021 418 3336. Visit website

This article first appeared in The Cape Times on 10 March, 2014.  Lucinda Jolly is a freelance arts writer and Head of Journalism at City Varsity.