Becoming otherwise: two thousand and ten reasons to live in a small town

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The past few decades have seen a 'cultural turn' in urban planning, and public art has become an important component within urban design strategies. Accordingly, public art is most commonly encountered in the urban literature as commissioned public sculptures. Simultaneously operating are a range of critical, subversive, and experimental practices that interact with the public space of cities in a myriad of ways. Although these other types of public art projects may have been engaged in the fields of Fine Art and Cultural Studies, this has been predominantly in the global North and they have yet to enter Urban Studies in the global South in any comprehensive way. Through an analysis of three examples from the Visual Arts Network South Africa's 'Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town', this thesis argues that experimental, inclusionary and less object-oriented forms of public art offers useful lessons for Urban Studies. The research presented in this thesis involved a qualitative study of: The Domino Effect which followed a participatory process to develop a domino tournament in the Western Cape town of Hermon; Living within History, a performative collage project which explored the local museum archive in the town of Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal; and Dlala Indima which was a graffiti-led Hip-hop project in the rural township of Phakamisa in the Eastern Cape. Each involved affective engagements with the vastly unequal contexts typical of South African public spaces. Although there is an increasing recognition that affect plays an important role in understanding and designing the urban, it is still largely assumed that citizenship is enacted according to rational criteria. The public art of 'Two Thousand and Ten Reason s to Live in a Small Town' demonstrated that affect impacts on how people can access complex spatial issues and perform citizenship. Furthermore, as part of a larger epistemological project of 'southerning' urban theory, this thesis therefore argues that intersecting conceptual threads from three bodies of literature: public space, public art and public pedagogy, is important. More specifically, it demonstrates that public art can harness an affective rationality that may foster alternative ways of knowing and acting in/on the urban, thereby offering public art as a unique pedagogy for exploring and deepening cityness .

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