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Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg

English title Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg
Applicant Förster Till
Number 134813
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Ethnologisches Seminar Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.04.2011 - 30.11.2011
Approved amount 26'442.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Ethnology
Visual arts and Art history

Keywords (3)

Contemporary African Art; Visual Culture; Johannesburg

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg

Urban change is a highly prevailing topic, notonly strongly experienced but also debated in the big cities of many Africancountries. Much has been written about these urban transformations, but onlylittle research has been done about the way how these transformations areperceived and reflected by visual artists. This project aims at doing preciselythis in Johannesburg.

Johannesburg has experienced a strong impact ofurban and cultural change since the end of apartheid and the introduction ofdemocracy in 1994. Many artists of the younger generation engage in theseprocesses of change in the city. Based on different art histories (which arerelated to the history of Apartheid), they deal with urban change in theirindividual media and discourses. De-segregation, new segregations, migration,economic uncertainties, AIDS and crime are just a few of the topics whichartists take up, partly replacing the resistance (and other) art of thepreceding generation. But also the beauty, the unique history and the mythskeep artists intrigued by the inner city of Johannesburg.

  The experience, examination and representationof the changes in the metropolis by contemporary artists are the focus of thisresearch project. Its central question is:

       ·How do the artists perceive and reflect urbanity and social change inJohannesburg within their work?

What, in this context, does transformation mean?What forms, structures and aesthetics are peculiar to the artists’ engagementwith the city, and have the artistic strategies changed, too? How are theyrelated to the way the artists live and socialize in Johannesburg, and to local,urban, national or “global” art history?

The approach is based on a combination ofperspectives and methods from art history and anthropology, meeting in therecent discussion of visual culture as an interdisciplinary field of scholarlyenquiry. A selection of artistic positions dealing with urban and social changecovers different media like prints, painting, photography, video, performanceand happenings, and thus provides for a concept of diverse, historicallyinfluenced “art histories”. In the last years, art in public space has gainedrelevance and therefore also shall be discussed in relation to recent citypolicy as well as the notion and perception of public space as such. Crucialaspects are the artist's topics, visual interpretations and strategiesspecifically in terms of a contemporary urban space and its potential ofchange.

With the focus oncontemporary artists in a specific metropolitan area, the project includes alocal as well as a transnational view. While the latter is crucial consideringthe international presence of South African art and artists, the former is ableto answer more questions about the specific practice of artists working in andabout the city. This also contributes to a critical reflection of how thedisciplines of anthropology and art history can deal with transitionalsocieties and their visual cultures.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Imagining the Nation: Independence Ceremonies under Rebel Domination in Northern Côte d'Ivoire
Förster Till (2012), Imagining the Nation: Independence Ceremonies under Rebel Domination in Northern Côte d'Ivoire, in African Arts, 45(3), 42-55.
Altering Conditions - by Creating Situations of Social Visibility
Siegenthaler Fiona (2012), Altering Conditions - by Creating Situations of Social Visibility, in Stemberger Claudia Marion (ed.), 80-82.
Shifting Imageries: Memory, Projectivity and the Experience of Violence in Northern Côte d'Ivoire
Förster Till (2012), Shifting Imageries: Memory, Projectivity and the Experience of Violence in Northern Côte d'Ivoire, in Korte Barbara, Platschek Sylvia (ed.), Transcript, Bielefeld, 231-262.
Iterations of Suffering and Emancipation
Förster Till, Iterations of Suffering and Emancipation, in Visona Monica, Salami Gitti (ed.), Oxford, Wiley Blackwell.
On Urbanity
Förster Till, On Urbanity, in Macamo Elísio, Obrist Brigit, Arlt Veit (ed.), LIT, Hamburg.
Performing (In)Visibilities in Public Space. Reflections on the Social and Aesthetic Agenda of Contemporary Performance Art in Johannesburg
Siegenthaler Fiona, Performing (In)Visibilities in Public Space. Reflections on the Social and Aesthetic Agenda of Contemporary Performance Art in Johannesburg, in Macamo Elísio, Obrist Brigit, Arlt Veit (ed.), LIT, Hamburg.
The Intermediality of Portraiture in Northern Côte d'Ivoire
Förster Till, The Intermediality of Portraiture in Northern Côte d'Ivoire, in Peffer John, Cameron Elizabeth (ed.), Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
Visualizing the Mental City. The Exploration of Cultural and Subjective Topographies by Contemporary Performance Artists in Johannesburg
Siegenthaler Fiona, Visualizing the Mental City. The Exploration of Cultural and Subjective Topographies by Contemporary Performance Artists in Johannesburg, in Research in African Literatures.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Forschungskolloquium "Space, Place, Power" des Instituts für Soziologie, TU Darmstadt 26.06.2012 Darmstadt
Konferenz "City in Flux" 19.06.2012 Basel
Konferenz "Ghent Africa Platform" 02.12.2011 Gent
Urban Africa: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the African City 02.12.2011 Ghent
Jahreskonferenz der Schweizerischen Ethnologischen Gesellschaft, Panelleitung (mit Barbara Heer) 25.11.2011 Zürich
Forschungskolloquium des Kunsthistorischen Instituts der FU Berlin, Abteilung Kunst Afrikas 27.04.2011 Berlin


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
156137 Art/articulations: Art and the formation of Social Space in African Cities 01.02.2015 Project funding (Div. I-III)
124470 Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg 01.04.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)
120450 Visual Culture in Urban Africa 01.03.2008 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The research project “Visualizing Transition: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg” has been funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation since April 1st, 2009. It has received funding for 24 months. Currently, the PhD thesis as a part of the project is in the process of being written. The project has been so far successfully keeping track with the initially conceived timeline. However, since it had not received funding for the required 30 months, there remains a gap of a few months to complete the PhD thesis. This application aims at closing that gap with an additional employment of the PhD researcher until December 31, 2011. The research question of the project has remained unchanged since 2009: •How do artists perceive and reflect urbanity and social change in Johannesburg within their work?The documentation is almost completed. No additional fieldwork is planned for the extension period of the project. The research plan for this application consists mainly in analyzing and writing up the already collected data. In the remaining months between April and December 2011, the results will be brought together with previous readings in urban studies and especially in the reflection and answer on the question, how contemporary art in Johannesburg interrelates with urban theory. The question about specificities of the situation in Johannesburg will be discussed and put into relation with similar art practices and their context in other cities of the “Global South” as well as in relation to the history of art in US and European cities. The submission of the PhD dissertation is planned for September 2011, the oral defense for the autumn term 2011. Fiona Siegenthaler has been offered the position of an assistant professor at the Institute of Social Anthropology in Basel beginning with the spring term 2012. She will then occupy a coordinating position within the interdisciplinary Research Group on Visual Culture. Holding a PhD is a requirement for both functions. This position together with the application for an extension of the existing project is part of the long-term plans of the Institute of Social Anthropology to bring the projects in Urban Visual Culture, funded by various donors such as the Volkswagen Foundation, the Humer Foundation and the SNSF closer together.
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