Context

The inner city of Johannesburg is one of the most densely populated urban sites on the continent. It presents a crucible for inward-bound economic and political migration from the rest of the country and the continent. One of the results of this is that the area has one of the most culturally and economically diverse populations in the world, from investment bankers living in loft apartments adjacent to the banking district, through to Zimbabwean refugees living in tiny partitioned rooms in industrial buildings hijacked by “property warlords”. Social and economic networks extend from the centre of Johannesburg to the rest of the continent. A variety of public sector regeneration strategies involving partnership with business have been launched since the late 1990s in a bid to turn around the “meltdown” that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. While the West side of the inner city has seen significant development occurring through public-private partnerships, the areas on the East end of the city (including Joubert Park, Hillbrow, Berea, Doornfontein) have proved more resistant to outside intervention, although private investment and development, parks and transit route upgrading are making a significant impact on the area.

Complex informal networks of cultural and economic formations have evolved, with a strong base in the diversity of ethnic identities resident in the area. Public space is a complex, gendered and contested issue in this area. The residency project invites artists to engage with this environment and imaginary as a material with a specific set of histories, constraints, possibilities, rules and methods.

Research conducted into the demographics and social networks of the area presents ground information, possible venues for production and exhibition, local contacts and orientation. The concepts of “stage”, “battleground”, “playground”, “market” were used in the research to frame the dynamics and linkages of exterior and interior spaces, and the changing uses and character of these spaces at different times of the day and night. Each represents a spatial metaphor as well as a distinct set of strategies, which can be understood to echo the methods that people employ to create meaningful lives in a complex urban environment. What we have found is a dense pattern of commercial and residential activities, where both the built environment and its multinational occupants are actors in a complex urban ecology which shifts radically between night and day.

context

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