Diane de Beer
It’s something that should excite the whole country – a cool capital. That’s what Pretoria architect and current president of the Pretoria Institute for Architecture Pieter J Mathews is hoping to achieve with the Cool Capital Biennale 2014.
“It’s the world’s only and first uncurated, DIY, guerrilla biennale,” he says, already stepping into that cool mood he hopes to create for this city. “We want to do away with prescriptive norms and want it to be a free-for-all,” he explains.
To make it work, he and his hands-on project manager Carla Taljaard, a recent architecture graduate, want it to be citizen-driven.
One of the main reasons for the biennale was the fact that no one outside Pretoria was aware of its cool status.
“We need our people to show up and be creative,” says Mathews.
What they’re asking is for city dwellers to re-imagine the city they live in and see if they can make it happen. It doesn’t have to be huge, they both explain, but interventions can be brought about in quite a simple way. For example, there’s an artist who walks around and puts up posters to alert people to something he has noticed or wants changed.
Displaying poetry on the walls of an existing building such as the Constitutional Court is another cool way to enhance a building and introduce poetry to the public.
“We’re currently living with the burden of politics, the coming election. We want to put a smile on everyone’s faces,” says the master driver.
Both innovators feel that what Pretoria offers its young citizens is a haven, a safe place to be creative. “The city isn’t as fast-paced as Joburg,” says Taljaard. It embraces its young and encourages them to be creative. “It’s a great place to start a creative career.”
And that launch pad isn’t a bad thing, according to Mathews.
“It’s like being an incubator,” he says, something they want to encourage. “We want to establish this platform that helps young people explode creatively.”
He got the idea for the biennale when he took part in the Venice Biennale 2012, where participants were encouraged to pass on the energy and enthusiasm to their own respective cities.
“We want to facilitate, bring people together, put artists in touch, get ideas out there and find a way of connecting people,” he says.
The aim is to introduce the public to a wealth of art, architecture, urban and graphic design, as well as sculpture, while affording them the opportunity to interact with these civic interventions.
The event is inclusive and open to any individual, collaboration, educational facility or group willing to contribute something creative within the borders of the city.
The entire campaign is web-based, as well as being app- and mobi-driven. It will culminate in a prestigious catalogue documenting the entire inaugural biennale.
In addition to generating attractive civic interventions, the creative talents of the people of Tshwane will be showcased beyond the borders of the city in the virtual and printed worlds.
The official logo of Cool Capital Biennale depicts a map of the city with key features, places and culture groups linked by an intricate web of lines symbolising connectivity.
A bonus of the biennale would be a renewed appreciation and rethinking of, not only the city, but also creativity in art, design and architecture in general.
Social media and the website are crucial to the success of the project. Once people start documenting their individual ideas or projects, others might become inspired.
They’re also intent on stimulating latent artists. So many people are unaware of their potential. While the Cool Capital is running all year, core projects will be promoted from August 29 to November 15, and these can still be introduced.
Some of the projects already on the table: to turn Justice Mahomed (former Charles) Street into an art gallery; walking tours (the Open City Project) to places people are usually not allowed to enter; Pretoria Institute of Architecture coach tours of historical and current architecture; a film festival that’s Pretoria-specific, with the participation of the Tshwane University of Technology and Open Window film school; art installations and interventions; biennale-specific benches throughout the city; and the Heritage Dutch Footsteps at the Netherlands Embassy.
They hope to concentrate the focus between August and November.
With the Mandela monument our most recent acquisition, Mathews is adamant that Pretoria could be recognised as the sculpture capital of the country, with sculptors like Anton van Wouw and Angus Taylor hailing from here, and many of the country’s top foundries based in the city.
Music is another art form that is being showcased, with local composers tasked with composing pieces specifically for the city.
Producing documentation about the event, marketing it and posting information on the website can heighten the cool element of the initiative.
“If everyone contributes, the best will eventually float to the top,” says Mathews, something that has been true through the ages.
He’s excited about an app that features Pretoria’s historical buildings with a video history and anything else you might like to know about them. This is the kind of intervention they’re hoping to promote.
Finally, the biennale will be closed with a massive festive city party and if it all is a success, they hope to do more in the future.
“A biennale suggests every second year, and if this one works, we have the recipe,” says Mathews.
In the meantime, the website can just keep expanding and growing.
The organisers need business to come on board and hope Pretoria citizens will step up.