Today I led a group of students on a walking tour taking in examples of public art and design, and other sites of interest in Cape Town. We started the walk with a psychogeographic quote by Michel de Certeau from ‘Writing the City’ in ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984):
The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered.
The course the students were on is SIT’s IHP Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics, which “examines the intentional and natural forces that guide the development of the world’s cities. It combines an innovative urban studies academic curriculum with fieldwork involving public agencies, planners, elected officials, NGOs, and grassroots groups in important world cities where exciting changes are taking place”.
This is a rough map of the course we took (still struggling with Google’s interface).
And these are some of the sites we visited:
Brett Murray’s ‘Africa’ 2000
Cape Craft and Design Institute curated artworks from the 2010 World Cup
Egon Tania’s sculptures on Pier Place
John Skotnes’s sculpture Mythological Landscape (1994) on Thibault Square
The Prestwich Memorial
The iconic children’s jungle gym in the form of a Voortrekker Wagon, Sea Point
The SA National Gallery
It’s really not that big!
Mark O’Donovan’s ‘Manenberg’ interactive street sculpture
In September 2013 I delivered a lecture at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town titled ‘Design Fiction’, in which I explored design (especially designed objects) as a story-telling medium. From the festival programme: “Contemporary design projects are often a form of story-telling, used to communicate narratives to users and audiences. Ralph Borland explores examples of where design, for better or worse, acts as a form of fiction that is sometimes at odds with its intended purpose”.
I opened my presentation with a photograph of ‘Blikkiesdorp on Ocean View Drive’ – the architect Carin Smut’s home in the upmarket area of Seapoint in Cape Town, which was graffitied with a disparaging message (since lovingly preserved by the architect) because of her use of corrugated iron in its design. ‘Blikkiesdorp’, literally ‘tin can town’, is a reference to a bleak shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town. I used this anecdote as a talking point around how even simple materials can have strong communicative and symbolic properties, and particular connotations for viewers – here residents were unhappy about a ‘shanty town’ material used in an upmarket area.
Blikkiesdorp on Ocean View Drive
I moved from there through a range of examples of objects which can be ‘read’ in particular ways – like our propensity for seeing faces in objects – through the role of objects in narratives (knives in Cormac McCarthy or Borge’s work for example) and objects deliberately designed to be characters in a wider story (such as critical designers Dunne & Raby). This set up a discussion of the role of ‘objects in development’, the subject of my PhD thesis, centred around the PlayPump.