‘Between a rock and a hard place’

Time of article published Nov 18, 2013

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LAND. A three day programme, hosted by the Gordon Institute of Performing Creative Arts (GIPCA). Visual arts, installations, performances, public lectures and panels in the city from November 21 to 24. lUCINDA jOLLY previews

“To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation's sweetest dreams of itself”, wrote Leonard Cohen. The Freedom Charter states that “the land shall be shared amongst those who work it”

Land in South Africa is fraught with social, economic and political implications. This year its concerns peak with the centenary of The Natives Land Act (or The Black Land Act as it is also known). There have been a number of exhibitions and pictorial showcases, particularly photographic, acknowledging the outcome of the act which “restricted black people from buying or occupying land except as employees of a white master” and “gave white people ownership of 87% of land and leaving black people to scramble for a mere 13%”.

The act was enforced by forcibly moving black people from areas kept for white people. The Apartheid legislation continued to entrench racial discrimination. Although the 1990's racial policies were replaced with policies of land reform and land restitution, 100 years later, its legacy remains. The government has been criticised for not doing enough to work around the legacy and instead supporting traditional leaders in upholding this legacy.

The way Professor Jay Pather director of the Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts conceived the Land project was different from yet another platform for social and political advocacy or another archival exhibition of black and white photographs or dry academic conferences. While Pather acknowledges the deep social and political elements that inform land, he was more interested in how the performing and creative arts engage with these weighty issues. That and immediacy. Immediacy is connected to an interpretation of memory in keeping with his understanding of the thinking of philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan. Pather explains that rather than being relegated to the past, they viewed memory as “an engagement with present” and it this which Land attempts to convey.

Integral to land is water. In his book The Untamed Garden and Other Personal Essays, author David Rains Wallace writes “land and water are not really separate things, but they are separate words, and we perceive through words.”

Cape Town’s Khoi San name was Camissa or place of sweet water. According to director of the Reclaim Camissa Project, Carol von Zeil, this year marks the point when we are no longer water secure. And yet the 3.5milion litres produced by Stilfontein spring on Upper Orange Street, enough to provide every person in Cape Town with 1 litre each day, is unutilised and allowed to go out to sea. It’s a grave concern when you consider that only 2% of the world’s water is drinkable. Professor Anthony Turton, Chairman of the Reclaim Camissa Trust says of the politics of water. “The displacement of first nation users, the disparity in society that arises when the privileged are given preferential access”.

It is this exactly kind of concern that Land raises. And it’s against this disturbing background that the evocative performance piece Cape Town Under: The Third Voice, curated by Kim Gurney and featuring the voice of Pauline Theart- takes shape and gains extra poignancy.

Between Friday and Saturday at certain manholes in the Castle grounds and the Grand Parade you will be able to catch the disembodied, haunting lullaby sung below the ground in the oppressive structure of the water tunnels which were started by the Dutch as open conduits for carrying water and which were later enclosed by the Victorians.

As the performance progresses, the words become less and less distinct until they finally become a chant. The tunnel itself becomes an instrument creating loops and echoes, cutting off the singer’s voice in some places and yet allowing the sound to travel upward. The echo provides the third voice, hence the title. Gurney has chosen a lullaby for two reasons. Firstly, for its common point of reference for most cultures. And secondly the lullaby serves as a soft counterpoint to the brutal architecture of the tunnels which colonialized the water sources.

Land highlights include the keynote addresses by Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, holder of the NRF Research Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africaand Nick Shepherd, Associate Professor in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town.

There’s Right Inside, a performance choreographed by Tebogo Munyai will see shacks erected in manicured gardens and the audience are reduced to voyeurs, only able see the performance through peep holes cut into the shack walls.

Catch the collaborations between composer Philip Miller and sculptor Gavin Young titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place based on the Marikana massacre. Jazzart Dance Theatre presents a work choreographed by Jacqueline Manyaapelo.

There are films by South African and Venezuelan team, Kim Munsamy and Sebástian Porras, titled Bones Don’t Lie and the controversial South African film called The Village Under the Forest, which is a collaboration by academic Heidi Grunebaum and film maker Mark Kaplan.

Look out for Terminal, a photographic exhibition on street poles including photographs by Lindeka Qampi and Nobukho Nqaba curated by Jean Bundrit. Don’t miss the Swiss performers Laura Kalauz and Martin Schick who will borrow your clothes and make you laugh about the need to acquire things and your attachment to them.

Land is about the importance of engagement. Pather may be uncertain as to whether art can directly cause political change, but he does envisage that these works will generate heartfelt debates and provide a real overview of where we are.

l See www.gipca.uct.ac.za

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